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.

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