Wow, have times ever changed. Twenty years ago you could come out of either an undergrad or MBA program with 3-5 job offers without a whole lot of effort. Now, your degree does little more for you than get your resume looked at by hiring managers. Your success at being hired or even interviewed now depends on what else you have on your resume.
If you are currently working on your undergrad degree, you are probably even more concerned about job prospects because there are so few and you are wondering what you can and should bring to the table to separate yourself. Well, here’s where I can help. This post is not theoretical, but is rather about concrete action steps you can take to get yourself noticed and sell your candidacy for a job. We have to think beyond what your academic slate currently offers for opportunities to supercharge your application. They are definitely there. I segment these items into three buckets: Skills, Experience and Interest – SEI! (you’re not a credentialed marketer unless you invent acronyms, don’t ya know…)
Your relative youth (and lean background) is often seen as a barrier and can sap your confidence, but here’s where you can go on the offence. Big and small brands are constantly challenged to be more efficient with budgets while also being current in marketing trends. So that means technology-based marketing: social, digital, mobile. This is where you need to shine. Older schmucks like me don’t Snapchat or even have Instagram accounts. We find the best apps and hardware from our kids, nieces and nephews. We haven’t got a clue about how to craft a digital plan beyond old-school internet flat and rich web-based media.
I’m flat out charging you to become a nerd because this is what corporations of all sizes and types need…badly. And, even if you know a little bit you will become sought after because companies will depend on you to educate everyone else. So, I recommend you do as many of the following as possible:
- Take any course your school offers in technology-based marketing
- If none are offered, use your electives to find courses that give you technical skill, even if not specifically marketing related
- Almost any programming language is great to even have working knowledge, such as C+; you can learn many languages free at http://www.codecademy.com/
- Use summers and spare time (yes, you have time…don’t give me that), to take online or classroom courses in html / web design. Migrate to Java or Flash. Basic app development, Photoshop, anything. (Funny, shortly after I published this post, I read a blog article on digital trends for 2015. Check out the comments from Jason Miller from LinkedIn here)
- Find reputable online marketing-related courses. I have just completed Search Engine Optimization from distilled U, an authority on the area. I’m currently working on UX design (UX = user experience) and Google Analytics from udemy.com
- Subscribe to and follow blogs and social media on current trends in technology
It is not a requirement that you become an expert in all of these things. Being knowledgeable and conversant is a great start. It also shows that you are serious about being on the cutting edge of marketing which is in itself a huge plus. These skills will make you marketable to anything from a startup to a big company,which makes the above the #1 way to maximize your appeal.
Then we have our basic business tools; Excel is particularly relevant. We are in a data-driven world now so if you are a whiz in Excel you’ll get noticed both in the interviewing phase and on the job. Marketers take (and waste!) soooooo much time formatting data and creating presentations. If you’re quick, your productivity on the job will be fantastic. They say if you use Excel without a mouse or pointing to menus you’re an expert. Just the keyboard. I actually test analytical ability in job interviews by having a candidate outline for me the most complex analysis they have ever done. To ensure they aren’t just faking it, I ask them to tell me the three most advanced functions they can use in Excel. I’m looking for even things like @SUMIF, or macros. That gets me interested.
Powerpoint is so 2002. Move past it. Learn Prezi, for example. Does so much more. Marketing has so much to do with packaging, so you want to be pretty slick. Include this on your resume.
Finally, we live and function within a huge global economy. Languages will become increasingly important. Go learn some if you are interested. Any of French, Spanish, German, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Japanese would be awesome. I’m starting up Russian. Way fun. I totally looblyoo it! 🙂
UPDATE October 28: If it’s not too late, I would switch out and study something technical…even at a community college level. You’ll be almost guaranteed employment, while generating wicked ROI on your education investment. See the recent commentary in Canadian news on the technical skill gap.
Lots of opportunities here. Don’t worry about gaining marketing experience specifically although it never hurts. Employers know that teaching you the discipline of marketing isn’t that difficult if you’re an intelligent person. What they want to develop less is your ability to be a great leader and teammate. My previous post on the soft skills required to be a successful marketer outlines what you’re trying to get to; you must find opportunities within or out of school to demonstrate your soft skills. You have to set yourself up to answer the “tell me about a time when….” questions in an interview.
Look for any opportunity (any!) that will allow you to talk about:
- Being able to hit a goal (sales, on time, etc)
- Overcoming obstacles / dealing with difficult people / resolving conflict (you really prove your worth when you’re up against it)
- Managing or leading a team
- Your ability to execute; setting up a project plan and managing timelines
- Speaking in front of people
- How you are identifying your weaknesses or learning from failure…and how you are self-developing
- Worked through a complex or difficult problem / showed creativity in solution
- Showed initiative and/or demonstrated ability to go above and beyond
You can do this stuff anywhere. At J&J, when we recruited MBAs, we had a bias toward people who volunteered, were on a sports team, in the military or were in a music band for example. These experiences created loads of bullet points that simulate what you would encounter on the job. If the experiences were rich, they counted for as much as outright work experience.
Oh, and you know how you profs never help you when you are working on a team project and one or more teammates don’t pull their weight? Well, they are right; this DOES simulate real life. Be able to talk about how you handled it.
My big picture feedback is just to be passionate…about almost anything. Really. You need to show what makes you tick…what has made you tick in the 20+ years you’ve been occupying space on this planet. Personally – both within and outside of my work life – I gravitate to people who have passions they can articulate. It brings me closer to them and helps me truly know them and be inspired by them. If your hobbies and interests amount to little more than movies, music, watching sports and hanging out with friends you have already bored me, and likely won’t be making employers super jazzed about you, either. What will you be able to talk about?
So while having any passion outside of whatever has already been discussed is fine, let’s focus more on how you can be more relevant to your job search with your interests. Start with being current. Make sure you have latest technology / hardware or at least something not dated by more than two years. You should be active in social media in as many forms as possible. Manage your privacy settings on Facebook because employers will creep you. Keep your more controversial posts blocked from public view. Be active on Twitter, and be sure to be commenting on a number of things including marketing and technology based issues. Follow the right companies and bloggers and note how companies are using these spaces to conduct marketing. Be able to talk about these things in interviews
Your resume should look slick and modern but don’t go overboard to the point where you come off as distracting the reader from the content. See more tips in my post on resume strategy. Your email domain should not be from AOL or hotmail. Have something current, such as gmail or better yet, secure your own domain!
Consider starting a blog. This also shows what you’re passionate about.
Finally, I would highly recommend you start early to learn about industries and companies. Use secondary research and complement it with face to face or email exchanges with those who work in these industries and companies. For each there are great reasons to work there and there are also dark sides. Learn both. Also, follow them in social media and find select and opportune times to interact with the companies or executives therein. Don’t be too intrusive and be meaningful when you make contact. The best companies do use multi-media methods to get to know and evaluate potential candidates.
The goal is to be able to nail the question “why do you want to work for this company / in this industry?” with powerful insight. If you do this well, you have tackled one of the three key things interviewers want to know. There is something really compelling about a candidate who knows what they want versus someone who occurs like they are hoping to get considered because they have a degree and potential. I have complained bitterly already about the number of people who told me in interviews that they wanted to work for Warner Bros. because they love movies. Everyone does so you aren’t really selling yourself. If you understand the dark side of entertainment and can embrace it, you instill much more confidence in me that this is what you want.
If you have come far enough that you know what industries you want to work in, find opportunities to demonstrate your passion. Using WB as an example, you will convince me that you want to work in entertainment more if you ran a blog with movie reviews or took an introductory class in filmmaking. We hired a marketing manager at Phase 4 who had virtually no marketing experience but had a background that included filmmaking and working in contract administration in the licensing department of an entertainment-based company. She worked out very well. Her obvious passion for the industry made her a quick study on the marketing side.
I’m going to stop here as I have cut across the big things. Like in most posts, I could go on, but I feel you can take it from here. If not, contact me and I can help you with additional ideas or specifics on the above.
If I could ask you to do only one thing as a result of this article, it would be to embrace the idea that your degree just isn’t enough. You’ll be surprised at how many students take the approach of punching their ticket with an academic degree and cross their fingers that employers will take a chance on them. Most of these types will likely end up working retail or be otherwise underemployed. But, if you seize control if your career early on and build up your resume with the ideas I have supplied here, you will find yourself landing many more interviews…and ultimately a fantastic job. Count on it.