In spite of the dramatic growth of jobs in the field of social media in the past year, competition for entry-level gigs is still intense. As companies expand their internal marketing departments to include social specialists and agencies see rapid growth, a blog and a Twitter profile are no longer enough to convince savvy managers and recruiters that you’re the one for the job. In my first few months at Big Fuel I was directly involved in the screening and recruiting of entry-level social media hires and I did a pretty darn good job, I must say. While keeping in mind the general rules for job searching, resume’ writing and interviewing that hold true across all fields, here are a few additional insights specific to social.
Understanding The Market
The types of full-time social media jobs on the market today break down for the most part into 2 categories—company jobs and agency jobs. In other words, you can either work as a lone wolf or part of a small team within an internal marketing department at a company, or you can work at a PR, marketing or social media agency that large corporations hire to develop and execute initiatives on their behalf. Should you have the luxury of choosing between opportunities on either side of the coin, consider carefully the pros and cons of each. Company gigs may offer you a great deal more freedom to strategize, experiment and execute on your own in the early stages of your career, but you may face frustrations in pushing your brilliant new concepts through your ‘non-social’ supervisors. Agencies may not offer an enormous amount of creative freedom to entry-level hires, but being surrounded by dozens of other folks who are as passionate about and experienced in the subject as you will push you to grow and develop your expertise at a level beyond what an internal marketing department may allow.
Before You Apply
Even entry-level candidates are expected to have an active and established presence in social media. If you haven’t updated your blog in 2 months, do it now. If you aren’t on LinkedIn, get there now. Any social channel that is easily identified as yours must demonstrate that you’re serious about a career in social media and not just a college senior who spends all day on Facebook. Be sure to screen all public-facing content on your channels and edit appropriately. Delete any tweets, blogs, photos or YouTube videos associated with your name that you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see. Swap out that Facebook profile pic of you doing a keg stand for something a little more dignified. Delete that MySpace profile that you haven’t updated in 3 years. If anything shows up in a Google search of your name that you wouldn’t want an employer to see, launch an SEO campaign on your own behalf to bump your blog, website or LinkedIn profile to the top of the list. Not sure how to do this? Buy and read a book on SEO. If you haven’t taken related coursework, self-educate by buying and reading the latest books on the subject.
When You Apply
When I screen resumes for entry-level positions, I’m obviously not expecting extensive experience in the field. That said, your professional activities leading up to your first job should indicate a trajectory toward work in social media. When you construct your resume, think carefully about the experiences that may not have involved jobs or internships but are highly relevant to work in social media. Have you curated or contributed to a blog? Have you managed a social channel on behalf of an organization, business or artist? Have you taken relevant coursework? Do you tweet about a specific subject matter? Many applicants do not consider blogging or social channel management sufficiently professional for inclusion in a resume. Think again. Managing the Facebook page of your friend’s band tells me more about you than you think. Also, steer clear of terms such as Director, Guru, Seasoned, Expert, Experienced, or Executive. No joke—I once screened a resume from a college senior with the headline ‘Seasoned Marketing Executive’. Be confident but humble in your resume, and don’t make claims that you won’t be able to support in an interview with a savvy recruiter.
At The Interview
Be prepared to discuss and support all items on your resume in-depth and elaborate well beyond what you’ve written. Prove that you’ve shown high-level thinking in the work that you’ve done, even if you weren’t in a position to execute all of your plans and ideas. If you ran a Facebook page on behalf of an organization, did you just post updates, or did you give thought to curating content that your followers would benefit from? Did you just monitor the Likes on your page, or did you dive into insights and use what you learned to optimize the content and timing of your posts? Did you just write your blog, or did you do something to promote it? Again, no recruiter or manager is expecting you to enter your first job with high-level experience in social media. If you tell me that you were a marketing intern at a Fortune 500 company, I know that you weren’t involved in major decisions regarding social strategy, so don’t try to convince me that you were. Be ready to demonstrate knowledge of social platforms beyond the no-brainers (Twitter, YouTube and Facebook). Perhaps a Tumblr profile, a social bookmarking initiative, or a social-based customer service solution would benefit the company you’re interviewing for. This is especially true for non-agency jobs—always be prepared to share ideas. (Tip: measuring success in social marketing is one of the most important and difficult issues facing social media professionals. Show an interviewer that you’ve given thought to this and share examples of success metrics relative to your work.)
After The Interview
Continue to search and apply for jobs aggressively. A promising interview is further removed from a job offer than you may think, and a number of things that are out of your control may occur after your interview. Because social media is a relatively new field and the industry lacks a standardized job hierarchy, companies often re-assess their hiring needs and either scrap or drastically alter their openings. Recruiters that tell you they’re looking to hire ‘ASAP’ may not make decisions for months. Companies may interview you while intending all the while to hire an internal candidate or former intern. The manager who interviewed you may cease to be involved in recruitment. Do not let this deter you from following up; even if an interviewer really liked you and thought you were a perfect fit, they may not be able to offer you a position for any of the reasons above, but you may be a perfect fit for something else down the road.
Combine these tips with a great resume, outstanding academic record, solid references, realistic salary expectations, top-notch interview skills, the right timing and a bit of luck and you should be well on your way to your first job in social media. Best of luck.