The Ultimate Guide to Securing a Job in Social Media, SEO & PPC |

The Ultimate Guide to Securing a Job in Social Media, SEO & PPC

By Shaad Hamid / December 7, 2011


There are many misconceptions about the kind of skills and traits you need in order to find a job within the Search Engine and Social Media Marketing Industry (hereinafter referred to as ‘SE & SMM Industry’). In order to dispel most of these misconceptions and to provide a guide-like resource to anyone looking to make their first step into the world of search and social, I have listed eight tips that would keep you in good stead in your job search including how to answer the dreaded “what prior experience do you have in Search and Social Media Marketing?” question.

Tip # 1 – Turn the darn news off!

How many of us have heard of how bleak the current climate is in terms of employment for new graduates? Almost every day I see depressing stats thrown about on news sites. So please do yourself a favour and turn a Nelsonian eye on all the negativity regarding current unemployment levels. Why is this important? It’s important because you reflect the state you’re in to potential employers. You want to portray the best version of ‘you’ to them. Negative stories on the media only reinforce the belief that you will not secure a job (which obviously isn’t true).

Tip #2 – Learn industry jargon

The first thing that intimidates most people from absolutely anything is the unfamiliarity of a situation, a place or a group. This is true for the SE & SMM industry as well. We tend to use a lot of industry jargon to sound cleverer than we actually are. So for anyone not familiar with commonly used phrases and terms, this industry may seem quite intimidating.

For example read the following terms:

  • rel=”canonical”
  • Sitemaps
  • 301 redirect
  • Panda update
  • GWT
  • Robots.txt

If you don’t have a clue about what these words mean don’t think, “Oh man! This industry isn’t for me!” rather, make a note of these terms and find out their meanings. In times like these, the mantra I take solace in is “every expert was once a beginner”. So even today, there are times when I end up at meetings where I don’t understand what some people say. The key is to not be intimidated but to learn these terms and learn them quick. The beauty of this industry is that everyone’s constantly learning, including the ‘experts’. This is important to know especially when you start off because you will hear lots of new terms and words that are unfamiliar to you. So be comfortable in being in the realm of the unknown and enjoy the exciting but steep learning curve ahead of you.

Tip #3 – Start networking early!

Our Director of search, Kevin Gibbons, mentioned that he met final year university students at Pubcon (a search conference held in Vegas) recently, who were walking around meeting industry leaders and handing out business cards. They were networking even before finding a job, so make sure you attend industry events or even local networking events and build relationships with people within the industry. Once you’ve met with them make sure you continue fostering the relationship via Twitter and LinkedIn.

Tip #4 – Ask and you shall receive:

This links with the previous tip; once you’ve networked and met someone influential within the industry don’t go “could you give me/find me a job please?”, rather ask the right questions. Ask questions about current roles that are in demand, or what skills are valued the most and what’s hot within the industry right now? These questions will give you greater insights into the skills that are in demand and will help you focus on a particular role to go after.

Tip #5 – Find your niche that match your strengths

If you ask me what the best thing about working in the SE & SMM industry is, I’d say it’s the diversity of the individuals who make up this industry. Surprisingly not all of us are geeks, technical, or even tech savvy but we’re good at what we specialise in. no one can be amazing at everything, so there are niches within this big umbrella called Digital Marketing or eMarketing. If you take the SEOptimise team as an example, you will find some with degrees in computer science, business development, classical archaeology & ancient history, physics & philosophy, mathematics, mechanical engineering, business management and the list goes on. So if your degree has absolutely nothing to do with computers, it is perfectly fine! I believe this industry is big enough to accommodate your skills and talents.

Tip #6 – Leverage your existing skills

If you’ve got any of the following skills, make sure you highlight them in your CV:

You have web development and design skills – this is the most natural transition into the world of Search and Social Media. Simply because you know what it takes to build a site, so it’s only logical that you learn how to promote your site to your target audience. Most often these people you target are either searching for something on Google/Bing/Yahoo/Baidu or passing their time on Facebook/Twitter/LinkedIn. So the very basic objective of Search and Social Media Marketing is to make sure your website is in the faces of these people.

You are analytical – you love statistics, you love mathematics, you love excel then you might enjoy PPC or Paid Search. This is where you pay search engines and social media platforms to display your adverts and promote your brand, service or any offering.

Writing is your passion – the SEO industry is waking up to the fact that quality content is integral to all marketing activities. Big brands are taking web content really seriously! So if you love writing really engaging, thought provoking, high quality content then you can enter this industry as a copywriter. Tom Critchlow went to the extent of suggesting that every company should appoint a ‘chief content officer’ to manage and maintain quality web content.

You are creative and think out of the box – this trait can be useful in a number of ways. You could be creative in coming up with really interesting blog posts, you could come up with really creative ways of doing link building that others haven’t thought of. If you love expressing your creativity through art or graphics, you could be really good at creating and designing infographics. More importantly you could come up with loads of creative ideas for SEO, PPC or Social Media campaigns (as you would in an advertising agency).

You are a software engineer and programming is your thing – the SEO industry is always looking for new and innovative software and tools to be built in order to make their day to day work easier. So when you network with people within the SE & SMM industry be sure to ask “what kind of tools would you like built to make you work more efficiently?” find out what these are and build them. If you can go to an interview and say you built a tool that your friend (or an agency) uses to manage their Facebook ad campaigns or it helped them manage SEO projects efficiently, I can assure you the agency will be quite interested in you. Having someone in-house to develop tools that improve efficiency and productivity is a competitive advantage for any agency.

If you are a people person – you love a good social gathering and love meeting new people, or you are really good at picking up the phone and striking conversations with strangers, then you could get into link building and do some serious ‘blogger outreach’ activities. Link building is probably the most difficult and time consuming activity in SEO. Therefore, it helps if you are a natural hustler. And trust me; your skills will be worth its weight in gold!

At the top of my head, these were the skills that came to mind, if I have missed anything please do pop down to the comments and share with us what other skills that you think can fit into this massive puzzle called the SE & SMM industry.

Tip #7 – Find out what employers are looking for

Some very famous people within the industry have listed what they look for in a candidate in the post titled How To Recruit An SEO – The SEO Industry Leaders Reveal Their Secrets which I urge you to read. Bear in mind this particular post is aimed at people with a little more experience within the industry, having said that, it’s still a good idea to learn about the thought process of those who actually hire you.

Tip #8 – Answering the dreaded “so what experience do you have in SE & SMM?” question

OK so you must be thinking this is all well and fine. But every time I apply for a job they ask me what experience I have. How do I gain experience if I don’t get an opportunity to build experience? This is actually a great question and I completely share your frustration. But the beauty of the SE & SMM industry is that you don’t need to hold a job or a position in order to demonstrate your skills in SEO, PPC or social media. Yes, you read that right!

Here are some ways you can demonstrate hands on experience:

Be an active member in clubs and societies at university  

While at university join a club or a society and put yourself up to be part of these committees. Or if you don’t find any club interesting, you could go ahead and start your own club. Setup a Facebook page and a twitter page and start managing it. This experience will give you loads of insight into how difficult it is to actually manage and promote a Facebook page. Get familiar with tools like Hootsuite or Tweetdeck, learn how to schedule tweets, test out what works on social media and what doesn’t. If you could go into an interview and say I set up a Facebook page for my club and increased its fans from virtually none to 856 within 6 months and list out the activities you undertook in order to increase these numbers, I can assure you they’d be well impressed.

Don’t forget volunteer work, internships and work experience roles

I know there is debate about interns not getting paid and whether it’s ethical or even legal to not get paid for work experience. I shall not comment on the politics or the legality of this practice in this post, but in my case I worked two internships before landing my proper role within the SE & SMM industry. My first internship role was unpaid and the second paid me a very small wage! So at one point I worked two jobs at the same time and worked about 70 hours a week! One job gave me the necessary skills for my career and the second paid my bills. In no way am I encouraging you to follow in my footsteps (seriously, I was out of my mind!) but the fact that I took on internship roles that were directly related to the career I wanted to pursue, helped me look attractive to potential employers. So don’t ever write off doing volunteer and internship roles. Any experience that is relevant is good experience!

Go around asking SMEs if they need a hand with SE & SMM

Recently a couple of friends asked me what they could do to demonstrate their skills in social media. I advised that they go out and find ultra-local businesses such as restaurants, pubs and cafes and suggest setting up Facebook and Twitter profiles for these businesses and offer to manage these. Local business owners don’t have the time to invest in social media and probably even don’t see the point in it. If you can convince them that it’s a great way to retain customers and win new ones, chances are they will let you be their social media guy. Also speak to local charities and offer to do some volunteer work and devise plans on how you could help their fundraising activities through social media. Also make sure to organise events at university and use Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote them. All this is work experience and makes your CV look good to potential employers.

Make sure you blog (especially if you want a role as a copywriter)

If you want to get into SE&SMM as a copy writer, make sure you blog regularly and build a decent following. Write about subjects that excite you or are passionate about, such as reviewing movies, albums, books, restaurants and events. Show you can blog about different subject areas and build relationships with other bloggers. One industry where SEO, PPC and Social Media are integral to the success of their business is the travel industry. So make sure you write about traveling, hotels, countries and cities in an exciting and engaging way. Also it would be advantageous if you could demonstrate your ability to write copy in a completely different style to that of your own. This is because most often you will be writing on topics that may be alien to you.

You have your own website

If you know how to develop and design websites, then a really good way to demonstrate first-hand SEO skills is to set up your own website and implement SEO techniques. Test different title tags, landing pages and link building efforts and see how they affect search engines rankings, traffic etc. also include social elements such as the many Facebook, Twitter and Google+ sharing features. Set up Google Analytics, Google webmaster tools and Bing webmaster tools to your site and familiarise yourself with these interfaces and their features. Again, these are all demonstrable skills that are extremely valued by employers. The idea is to show you’re keen, enthusiastic and hungry to learn and improve your skills.

Some words of wisdom from people within the industry:

I asked around from active members of the SE & SMM industry what advice they’d give to someone embarking on a career in this industry. Here’s what they said:

“The biggest piece of advice I can give is two-fold. Always be learning and get involved in the community. There’s so much to learn about search every day and the community is invaluable, people are so helpful and generous and very interesting because so many people came into SEO from so many different backgrounds. It’s a ton of fun to meet and learn from so many diverse people. Don’t ever let your skills get dusty, always test, always challenge what you’ve learned and always be open to learning from other people.” – Michael King (aka iPullRank).

 “From my experience, graduates who are looking for jobs in this sector must be able to display some key attributes. Presence on the web – a Facebook profile alone isn’t enough. You have to be active on Twitter, LinkedIn etc. also it’s essential to have some other sort of project. It could be a Youtube channel, a blog or a website. Something you can show that you have an explicit interest in. Once you’ve got your first job you’re going to learn so much. Until then, its enthusiasm that’s going to get you the job you want.” – Gillian Cook

 “I would suggest setting up a site of your own and doing SEO for it. It will mean you can demonstrate understanding and you get to have a play. Also, use one of the free AdWords vouchers to learn PPC. I would also consider doing the Analytics and AdWords exams as they aren’t greatly expensive and will give you a really good technical start.” – Matthew Taylor

“Employers can be a lot more selective in their recruitment process nowadays, and as a result, are always on the lookout for the candidates who have something extra to offer.  Look for work experience whilst studying; put it on your CV.  Look for ways to practice things in your own time; put it on your CV.  Just get something that makes you look better on paper than the people around you.” Daniel Braddock

Here are some additional resources:

beginners guide to SEO: a must read if you are new to SEO.

The Ultimate Guide to Getting a Job & Getting Promoted by Marcus Taylor.

How To Interview for an SEO Job by Chelsea Blacker.

How to impress at an SEO interview by Kevin Gibbons

SEO and Social Media leaders to follow on Twitter, Facebook, Google+….

As with any industry, the SE & SMM industry have within its niche its own experts who have reached celebrity-like status. I have listed some of the biggest names within the industry here as you’re sure to hear their names regularly in conversation with SEOs and Social Media Marketers.

Danny Sullivan (Search Engine Land)
Matt Cutts (Google)
Vanessa Fox (Nine By Blue)
Aaron Wall (SEOBook)
Rand Fishkin (SEOmoz)
Danny Dover (author of SEO secrets)
Richard Baxter (SEOgadget)
Michael King (aka iPullRank)
Will Critchlow (Distilled)
Brian Solis (Altimeter)
Chris Brogan
Jay Baer
Scott Monty (Ford)
David Armano (Edleman)


I’ve tried to make this post as comprehensive and as useful to you as possible. However, if I have missed something, please do feel free to pop down to the comments section and add anything you think is relevant to the topic.

Finally, I wish you all the very best in your job search in the SE & SMM industry. I leave you with one last quote from Richard Baxter who was asked by Matthew Ogston what he bases his decision on when hiring someone new; his head or his heart?

“Most definitely my heart. It’s probably not ideal but genuinely, I look out for people I think will blend in well with the team (a cultural fit) – this can’t be measured with facts and figures, at least not in my experience. Obviously there’s a requirement to demonstrate previous achievements, but I also look for raw intelligence and problem solving over experience. SEO I can teach, attitude and aptitude I cannot.” (emphasis mine)

*Image credit: Tulane Public Relations on Flickr.

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