Marketing job search lessons: my top 11 tips

by Karl Sakas on August 2, 2010

Update: I found a job! For 12 more tips, see part 2 of this article.

I’m looking for a new job in marketing here in the N.C. Research Triangle (specifically, as an account manager/marketing strategist at an advertising agency or as a marketing manager at a growing mid-size company). After two years of focusing on marketing consulting for the tourist railroad industry, I miss working with smart, motivated people on a daily basis.

I wanted to a share a few of the lessons I’ve learned in the past several months. I’m not sure any of these are unique epiphanies (for instance, of course it’s a tough job market), but I’d love your feedback on anything else I should be trying, or anyone I should connect with. This is the first of a few occasional updates.

The Not-So-Positive (and Kind of Obvious)

1. The job market is extremely competitive. More than one hiring manager has told me I’m qualified but they found someone who was perfectly qualified. One position wanted eight years of experience. The manager eventually hired someone with 20 years of direct marketing experience. I have a strong track record but I can’t compete with that, especially if she’s willing to take the job at half her previous salary. This is frustrating but understandable.

2. Personal connections help but aren’t a guarantee. A referral seems to help to get a first interview, but that’s not always true. I applied for a marketing position at a university and got an endorsement from a contact who used to work with the hiring manager. I followed up twice but didn’t get an interview…or hear anything, actually. Two months later, I learned they hired someone. When I asked for any suggestions on how to stand out, the hiring manager said I didn’t need to change anything — the problem was that I had everything they needed, but the person they hired had all of that plus everything extra they wanted.

3. It’s on the candidate to follow up. Companies seem to be taking an attrition approach. Sometimes I don’t find out the result until after sending 2-3 followups over a couple months. Most notably, that happened with a company where I knew probably a third of the employees. As a huge fan of constructive feedback, hearing “No” is better than wondering. It’s like a professional version of my brother getting a high school summer job at the movie theater — he learned after he got hired that they only interviewed people who took the initiative to follow up on their application.

4. You can’t assume any one job will pan out. A marketing agency contacted me on the basis of my blogging and personal branding work here in the Triangle, for a new position that seemed perfect for my background and aptitude. The first two interviews seemed to go really well. Then, it suddenly turned into a non-specific “don’t call us, we’ll call you.” Too bad. But to counter the Groucho Marx quote, I want to work for a company that wants me.

I Can’t Blame the Hiring Managers

Putting myself in the shoes of a hiring manager, I’d probably do the same things. If I could choose from hundreds of applicants, I’d hold out for the nearly perfect person. If I could hire them at a 30% discount, I would. And if I didn’t really have to respond to non-prime candidate until they followed up with me, I wouldn’t. I’d have other priorities.

I’ve managed teams but haven’t hired and fired yet. I hope to remember my experiences as a candidate when I’m sitting on the other side of the desk.

The Positive (and Hopeful)

So what HAVE I learned in the past seven months?

5. Get my name out. I’ve focused on blogging about marketing, including interviews with experts, event recaps, and my own content. I also attend a variety of events, like TIMA and Triangle AMA meetings, and connect one-on-one with individuals in marketing and related fields.

6. Don’t waste time on the job boards. They’re like a black hole where I’m up against 200 or 400 or 600 candidates. I don’t have the hubris to think I’m the best applicant for every position. I typically don’t apply unless I know someone at the company, or know someone who can refer me.

7. Keep working. During my search, I’ve wound down most of my train-related consulting work, but I’m starting to work with a few local clients. This helps me expand my non-train-related track record, and to get some of that interpersonal interaction I’d been missing. It’s not a full-time replacement, but it helps. If you need marketing help to keep your business growing (email marketing, social media, analysis, strategy, or more), consider hiring me as a marketing consultant.

8. Articulate what I have to offer. I use research, insights, and relationships to quickly find new ways to help companies make more money. I have a track record of quantifiable results. I have experience in multiple industries — financial services, tourism, consulting, and non-profits. I’m always learning. I’m a resourceful troubleshooter, always on the lookout for ways to get better results. I also entertain my coworkers with my dry sense of humor, if that’s your sort of thing.

9. Let people know I’m looking. After being a little too self-promotional at the beginning of my career, I realize I may have swung too far the other way. In my attempts to avoid coming across as desperate, I’m not saying enough. A friend recently said, “I had no idea you were looking for a job!” Oops. I’ve found people in the Triangle have been very helpful, but I have to give them an idea of how they might help. I’ve met a ton of great people that I might not have met had I not been doing the job-search networking thing. I wish I realized the importance of networking earlier in my career. I’ll certainly continue networking once I’m back in an in-house position.

10. Maintain my perspective. I started looking in January. Juggling consulting with a job search is difficult. But I realize I have a lot more flexibility than many people. I don’t have a family to support. I don’t have a mortgage. I have marketable skills. This is worst time since the Depression but it’s only temporary.

11. Keep helping others. Not every company or job posting is a match for me, but I know plenty of people who might be a match. If you’re looking and haven’t shared what you’re looking for, please let me know so I can keep an eye out.

How Can You Help?

Work/life blogger and entrepreneur Penelope Trunk wrote an article on “how to talk to a friend who’s been laid off.” I’m glad I’m not in as desperate a situation as that, but I’m certainly looking forward to getting things sorted out. It’s a weird, fuzzy transition.

Please take a look at my LinkedIn profile.

If you know of an agency or other company in the Raleigh/Durham area that needs marketing help on a full-time basis, please let me know. Or if you know a company doing interesting things that doesn’t need someone full-time but who could benefit from a “virtual” marketing manager, I’d love to chat with them to see if I’d be a match as a short-term marketing consultant.

And beyond specific hiring, I’m sold on the value of networking and face-to-face meetings. If there’s anyone you think I should meet, I’d appreciate the introduction, regardless of whether they’re hiring.

What have you learned in your own job searches?

Update: I found a job! For 12 more tips, see part 2 of this article.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Grant Martin August 2, 2010

Hi Karl,

I know I’ve said this before, but it continues to astound me that some smart growing company or ad agency hasn’t snapped you up yet. I can only conclude, as you mentioned, that perhaps your message hasn’t been overt enough. Today’s post should clear up any misconceptions.

As you know, I have recently concluded an 8-month job search, and there isn’t a thing I’d add or subtract from what you’ve written here. OK, maybe one caveat: The job boards. They’re almost always a black hole except when they’re not. My new job appeared on the job boards and, unlike almost all of my other applications, I didn’t follow up or use LinkedIn to identify internal players or reach out to the hiring manager or any of that stuff. Go figure. So I might suggest that you allocate 10 percent of your time to the job boards. Think of them as the high-risk portion of your career portfolio.

Other than that, just keep on doing what you’ve been doing. I have a good feeling that great things are going to start happening for you soon.

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Karl Sakas August 3, 2010

Grant, thanks for your advice and encouragement! Good point about how job boards can be a potential diversification tactic — a friend in N.J. mentioned she got her current job (as the head of recruiting at a large financial firm) through a job board.

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Bexxie August 3, 2010

Hi Karl,

I have to agree with Grant not to discount the job boards. When I was looking for part-time freelance web design work, I found a design agency through Craigslist that was looking to outsource some work. It was a perfect fit and we’ve had a great working relationship so far.

However, I can understand not wanting to spend loads of time scouring these sites when you can use that time to network. So I thought this link might be useful to you: http://bit.ly/J2RXS
It basically shows you how to set up a job search dashboard in iGoogle. The post is directed more towards freelancers but I’m sure you can use it for your job search as well. Hope it helps and good luck with your job search!

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Cord Silverstein August 3, 2010

Great write up Karl, your thoughts are right on. Keep doing what you are doing, it will absolutely pay off for you!

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Phil Buckley August 3, 2010

Great advice Karl, and I agree with Grant on the job boards – that’s the perfect way to think about them.

I’ve found a having a strong relationship with a good recruiter can also be a big help. I’ve become friends with the recruiter that I first met when he got me a job with McClatchy. Nobody has a better idea of who’s doing what than a well-connected recruiter who works in your field.

My only addition is the “fit” aspect. Personally I know I wouldn’t “fit in” at every company. I don’t try to hide that in an interview. I don’t want to work someplace where I have to hide my “natural exuberance” ;-)

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Erika Roe August 3, 2010

Hi Karl,

I feel your pain. I too am looking for a marketing job very similar to what you’re looking for. I enjoy my job but I need more challenging work. I am also working on my MBA in Marketing at the University of Phoenix. My job is in advancement which is considered fundraising/development but I do a lot of e-mail communications and manage the department’s web presence. I applied for two internal positions (I currently work at NC State) in June and didn’t hear back from either one. The university has a policy that you are supposed to send a letter to everyone you interview too! I just found out about the second one which I interviewed twice for only because one of my old professors was on the search committee. Again, she said it was a very tough choice for them and they could not offer me a raise from what I am getting now.

I agree with Phil on the fit aspect. It’s very important to me because I have a lot of fit in my current job. I can go to marketing meetings (Triangle AMA, PRSA, etc.) whenever and my boss is very good about letting me go to professional development things and I know not everyone can. I also enjoy reading the Ask a Manager blog, I think you got me started on that. ;) I also have some job boards on my iGoogle so if there’s something that looks interesting I will look at it further.

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Recently hired August 3, 2010

Having been a marketing job searcher in the Triangle, I couldn’t agree more with your points. For an area the size of the Triangle, it still isn’t the best area for marketing jobs and add to that 3 major universities that offer competitive MBA programs and the competition is tight. Not to mention, someone always knows someone and a lot of jobs are filled before they are even posted.

I was recently hired and although the job was a good fit, I still had to swallow my pride a bit and take a 20% pay cut. But, a 20% pay cut is still better than no paycheck.

On the positive side, I have found the community in the Triangle to be much more helpful than cutthroat than some other areas, even in this economy.

I think you have a lot to offer any company that is lucky enough to have you.

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Tucker August 3, 2010

Karl,

Another great blog post and I agree with everything. The biggest thing you can do is what you are doing. Network, market yourself and keep pushing forward.

You have a great marketing mind and a good network of professionals and friends who think the same. It will happen. I guarantee.

Tucker

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Janet M. Kennedy August 3, 2010

Karl –
You are an excellent marketer and strategist. Your personal and professional advice is always welcome and refreshing. I especially appreciate your volunteer work with the TIMA Board of Directors. I have seen a jump in enthusiasm since you and I-Kong Fu stepped up to handle programming.

My fingers are crossed for you!

Janet

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Karl Sakas August 3, 2010

@Bexxie: Thanks for the suggestion on the dashboard — I’ll see how I can customize that for my full-time search.

@Cord: Thanks for your advice and encouragement!

@Phil: Good point about recruiters — I’m connecting with a couple this week. Even if their current positions aren’t a match, I figure it’s good to get on their radar. And yes, finding a company that appreciates taking the initiative will be an important fit.

@Erika: I love the “Ask a Manager” updates. Sounds like your current position has some good intangibles.

@Recently: Thanks for sharing your experience. Congrats on finding a position, even with the pay cut. I hope it pays off in the end.

@Tucker: Thanks for the encouragement — I appreciate your support!

@Janet: I’m enjoying helping on the TIMA board. I’m glad to contribute to our programming. Thanks for your feedback!

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Cole August 3, 2010

Karl,

I understand your pain. Searching for a job is an easy thing but searching for a career is something else. Being a guy whose trying to find his way in this marketing world, I completely understand.

I just recently got a “Social Media” position that I fell in love with but before that I was in the same position as you. My best advice is to just keep on doing, what you’re doing and eventually somebody will appreciate the talents that the rest of us see almost every day.

Cole.

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Karl Sakas August 4, 2010

@Cole: Thanks for sharing your experience — I’m glad to hear it worked out. Good point about job-search versus career management.

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Mandy Steinhardt August 4, 2010

Thanks for sharing these tips. I have one that may help other searchers. Use twitter’s advanced search to search for opportunities there. You can limit your search by a mile radius of a certain city although it’s not foolproof. Also follow tweetmyjobs for your city.

I’m still in your boat, we just have to stay positive and keep searching! Or start our own business… let’s talk.

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Karl Sakas August 4, 2010

@Mandy: I’m following several jobs-related Twitter channels (and @DanLondon is practically a job-retweeting machine) but I hadn’t thought to do a location-based search on Twitter. I will check that out. Talk to you soon!

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CAJ September 20, 2010

Did you find this blog had an impact on your search, such as building credibility?

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