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The Complete Job-seeker’s Guide: From A to Z

The Complete Job-seeker's Guide: From A to Z

Sarah Steimer

A to Z block letters

There’s no perfect formula for getting a new job or promotion, but there are certain skills and qualities that can help marketers land in the “yes” pile and win the interview


Hiring managers want to see candidates who will take chances, even if some of those efforts result in failure. Ideal candidates bring fresh and well-researched ideas to the table. Ellen Slauson, executive vice president of account management at marketing agency Upshot, says being action-oriented, or decisive, is one of the most overlooked qualities a marketing job candidate can have. Job candidates should prove their ability to gather intel, decipher the information and find the pearl.


Should an interviewer pose a hypothetical problem, respond by asking follow-up questions and provide a firm conclusion. Your decisiveness will show confidence and an ability to act without wavering.



Don’t use them!

“There are buzzwords that are so overhyped,” Slauson says. “Big Data, strategic, results-driven—all that stuff on the résumé makes you feel like it’s an empty bag.”

The 10 most overused marketing buzzwords on CVs and profiles, according to LinkedIn, are:

  • Specialized
  • Leadership
  • Passionate
  • Strategic
  • Experienced
  • Focused
  • Expert
  • Certified
  • Creative
  • Excellent


Scan your application materials for buzzwords, and remove them. Have a trusted peer or mentor review the updates to ensure you chose appropriately descriptive words—you won’t get hired by misusing a thesaurus.


This means being able to collaborate within your team, with other teams in your organization and with outside clients. It’s all about breaking down silos.

“Collaboration is key in this industry,” Slauson says. “We don’t really believe that creative is just creative’s job. Partnership is absolutely critical.”

Some of the best marketing has come via collaborations; think Nike and Yeezy, GoPro and Red Bull, Uber and Spotify. There’s no reason you can’t find your own marketing magic this way. 


Highlight your collaborative skills in job interviews, particularly if they involve reaching outside of your immediate team. Provide examples.


Education shouldn’t end once you land a job. Professionals need to constantly evaluate their skills against industry standards. A willingness to continue learning illustrates your ability to be autonomous. If you see a shifting trend in the industry, educate yourself without being prompted—you may even be able to seek reimbursement from your current or future employer.


Show your current or prospective employer your desire to learn by taking courses, attending industry events, gaining new certifications or reaching out to thought leaders for insights. If you don’t have time for an after-work class, listen to an industry podcast on the way to work (may we recommend “Answers in Action”?) or grab lunch with a mentor.


Although you may not see this trait listed on job postings, Slauson says emotional intelligence tells an employer a lot about how you solve problems. Candidates can illustrate their emotional intelligence, or EQ, by describing a time they handled conflict in the workplace.

Harvard Business Review quoted Adele B. Lynn, author of The EQ Interview, as saying EQ accounts for anywhere from 24% to 69% of performance success.


Harvard Business Review recommends focusing on three measures of EQ when interviewing:

  1. Self-awareness and self-regulation: Understand the needs and wishes that drive you and affect your behavior. Keep your negative emotions from spreading to colleagues—90% of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in high-press​ure situations.
  2. Reading others and recognizing the impact of your behavior: Be aware of how your words and actions influence colleagues.
  3. Learn from your mistakes: Acknowledge your mistakes, reflect critically and learn from them. This is an excellent way to respond to the ever-popular interview question: What is your greatest weakness?


Marketing doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Companies hire marketers expecting them to have a wide range of skills and be able to fluidly work with other teams. 

Research from Pure360, Technology for Marketing and the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing found companies with fewer than 50 employees have an average of three people on their marketing team, companies with 50 to 249 employees average eight people on their marketing team and those with 500 to 999 employees average 14 marketers. If you work for a smaller company, you could be one of a few divvying up the work of many.

“I want marketers to understand the full breadth of what marketing can do and how it intersects with every other business function,” says University of Cincinnati professor Ric Sweeney. “Marketing is the center of the business universe—it integrates with and is essential to every other aspect of business. [Marketing] is not an isolated function. [You] need to build [your] understanding and skills in finance, accounting, analytics, operations management, international business, entrepreneurship and every other area impacted by the marketing function.”


Talk to co-workers outside of your immediate team. Learn how marketing is impacted by the financial team, IT team and the executive team. When building a campaign or creating new marketing materials, understand the financial implications, the resources you will need from other departments and how you will explain the value of your work to those stakeholders. Thinking beyond creative and the four P’s of marketing will make everyone else’s job easier and the work well-rounded.


LinkedIn’s 2017 U.S. Emerging Jobs Report found general or extremely saturated skills such as “strategy” and “marketing” are being replaced by more specific skills within those professions, such as “integrated marketing.”

Pure360’s report also shows a trend toward more specific roles: 33% of respondents said they expected their teams to become more specialized in 2017, compared to just 3% who are moving toward generalist roles.


“Marketing” may cover all your areas of expertise, but organizations expect all employees to be advocates of the brand. Get more specific and break out the exact types of marketing you have experience with: copywriting, analytics, direct marketing and/or artificial intelligence.


Job candidates must be honest about their experience and qualifications. This is especially true in the era of social media: 35% of hiring managers surveyed in a 2015 CareerBuilder survey said they had sent friend requests to or followed job candidates, giving employers the opportunity to confirm candidates’ pasts and personal details. The survey also found that 56% of hiring managers have caught job candidates lying on their résumés, with the most common untruths being embellished skills or capabilities. A quarter of survey respondents said they’ve caught applicants who claim to be employed by companies they never worked for.


Tell the truth. Explain gaps in work history, be clear about your qualifications and clarify exactly what your experience has been. If you’re asked about specific skills you lack, be clear about any related abilities you have and describe your learning style.


“Employers seek new hires who can contribute immediately,” Domeyer says. “Candidates who can communicate specific ways they can help the organization succeed often make the best impression.”


Visit the website and social media platforms of companies you’re interviewing with. Search for news articles about the firm and reach out to members of its network. After you’ve done some research, pull together anecdotes of when you solved problems or faced challenges relevant to the firm.

“Whether it be through a specific campaign or creative projects, marketing executives are keen on data points,” Domeyer says. “Cite how you helped grow revenue, increase customer conversion rates, improve usability or boost staff productivity. Contributions and accomplishments that can be attributed to your work can set you apart.”


Companies do not want to hire someone with a negative attitude. Researchers Michelle Gielan and Shawn Achor foundthat 75% of job success can be predicted from a person’s overall work optimism, positive engagement and support provision. They also found that optimists are five times less likely to burn out, compared with pessimists, and three times as likely to be highly engaged in their jobs. If that’s not reason enough to be optimistic, know that positive employees have also been found to make more money over the course of their careers.


Gielan wrote in Harvard Business Review that optimism can make job candidates appear more likeable and capable. “When a hiring manager asks about a recent challenge and how you solved it, the way you frame your response is telling for future performance,” Gielan writes. “Optimists focus more on the energizing aspects of work and the areas in which they have control. If an interviewee gives an empowered response with a focus on the solutions instead of merely discussing the problem, that person is worth a second interview.”


A broad understanding of the marketing industry will always be a competency that hiring managers seek in prospective employees.

“While the marketing industry continues to evolve, knowledge of industry best practices and trends remains essential,” Domeyer says. “Marketing professionals should always showcase their most current skills, especially when applying for digital roles. Employers want to hire talent who are keeping up with new tools and technologies and who show a continued desire to learn.”


Follow industry thought leaders, set up alerts for relevant industry news and sign up for industry e-newsletters (the AMA has a few).


Fifty-three percent of advertising and marketing executives surveyed by The Creative Group said that strong motivational skills are the most important factor they consider when promoting professionals to supervisory positions. “Being an effective manager means more than delegating tasks and making sure projects are completed on time,” Domeyer says. “Leaders also must inspire their teams.”


Domeyer points to a few qualities held by marketers in leadership roles: 

  • Vision: A keen understanding of where the business is moving in the future.
  • Focus: Effective managers know when to sacrifice short-term wins to pursue big-picture objectives.
  • Creativity: A willingness to flip established business practices upside down and foster a culture of intelligent risk-taking.
  • Flexibility: Change in the industry and the workplace is constant, and leaders need to pivot accordingly.
  • Resilience: The best leaders can bounce back and turn setbacks into gains.


Personalization is the driving theme of marketing today, so prospective marketing candidates should match their application to the job rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach. If you’ve never stepped foot on a fairway, you would be confused if a coupon arrived at your house for golf clubs. Similarly, hiring managers will quickly throw out a generic résumé indicative of spray-and-pray applying. Customization shows the hiring manager that you want a specific position, not just any job. 


Update your résumé, cover letter and portfolio each time you apply for a job. If you’re applying for a managerial position, pull examples of your leadership to the top of your skills list, or start your cover letter with an anecdote about your management abilities. Some career coaches suggest removing any experience older than 10 years, but you should also keep any role that would be relevant to the position for which you’re applying. In general, you can delete your oldest and least-relevant jobs.

Your cover letter should describe your qualifications and your interest in the specific position. Rambling on about yourself without mention of the job will play like a self-absorbed date. Your application should mirror the skills or qualities the job post emphasizes. It can also be beneficial to find the LinkedIn profile of whomever held the job previously and see where your skills overlap.


Never underestimate the power of knowing the right person. A LinkedIn survey found 85% of all jobs are filled by way of networking, and found about 80% of available jobs are never advertised. Checking in with your network can also garner insights about an organization before you interview, Domeyer says, helping you come armed with insider knowledge.

You also showcase your network to prospective employers. Consider how your personal or social network could benefit the team, department or organization. This is less about name-dropping and more about tapping into the resources you’ve accrued.


LinkedIn allows you to see if you have any direct or mutual connections at an organization. Tap these people for a recommendation or company insights. Don’t just network in the digital world. Find industry organizations in your region and attend events to make face-to-face introductions. Always carry a small stack of business cards, which should include contact information that won’t expire with your current job. 


“Marketers need an understanding of a wider range of channels than ever before,” says Celtic Chicago’s CEO Marlene Byrne. “Digital and social are moving at the speed of light, and keeping pace with how these new conversations affect the overall landscape is critical.”


Developing a strong personal brand can demonstrate that you’re an omni-channel-minded marketer. Your brand includes your visual identity (logo, website, business card, résumé, promotional materials) and your verbal identity (bio, elevator speech, résumé content, social networking profiles).

“A good way to nail down your personal brand is to create a one-page brief on yourself,” Domeyer recommends. “This exercise forces you to craft a targeted message based on your skills, qualifications, passion projects, accomplishments and career aspirations. […] Once you’ve defined your brand, you want to apply it consistently across all channels, including your résumé, social media profiles, portfolio or website and elevator pitch. Consider the look, feel and content.”


Slauson says everyone, not just creatives or designers, should have a portfolio to show their work. A portfolio describes your specific accomplishments, and gives you more time to discuss your soft skills and other qualifications. A portfolio provides proof of value to the hiring manager and further differentiates you from the other candidates.


Slauson recommends building a portfolio like you would a case study: Show the problem, ideation, solution and results.


Job interviews always end with the opportunity for the applicant to ask questions. This is a chance for you to find out if the organization and position are the right fit for your career and aspirations.


There are many great questions to ask depending on the responsibilities of the role, the culture of the company and how much information is already public. Here are some of our favorites:

  • What are the biggest challenges facing the company/department right now? Not only can you learn what hurdles you’ll encounter if you land the job, but the answer to this question may determine if this job is more trouble than it’s worth.
  • How will you measure the success of the person in this position? Every marketer knows that ROI matters, and your role in the company is no different. Find out how the organization tracks its employees’ progress and what milestones you’ll be expected to hit.
  • What differentiated the employees who were good in this position from the ones who were really great? Depending on their answer, you may be able to provide an anecdote that relates to this person’s qualities, or note it as one of your personal goals.
  • What is the typical career path for someone in this role? Hiring managers like candidates who are driven (hence the common question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”). It’ll also give you an idea of whether there’s room to grow within the organization or if it can serve as a launch pad for your goals.
  • What are the next steps in the interview process? Avoid waiting by the phone or checking your e-mail nonstop. Find out when you can expect to hear back from the company or if there are additional steps before the final decision.


LinkedIn showed future-proofing skills to be critical in its report on job trends. The survey found almost 30% of professionals believe their skills will be redundant in the next one to two years, if they aren’t already, with another 38% saying they believe their skills will be outdated within the next four to five years. “This feeling is largely driven by lack of access to adequate training to stay abreast of new—largely digital—skills that are necessary to be successful in today’s fast-paced jobs landscape,” the report says.


Continuously expand your skill set, especially computer-related skills. Competence in social media, Microsoft Office software and digital marketing is in demand for a number of jobs.


Soft skills aren’t typically taught in school, so they require personal development. A study from HR software provider iCIMS identified the top soft skills that recruiters look for as problem-solving (62%), adaptability (49%), time management (48%), organization (39%) and oral communication (38%).

LinkedIn found similar results, with hiring managers identifying top skills as adaptability, culture fit, collaboration, leadership, growth potential and prioritization.


Show up on time, dress appropriately, make eye contact and keep your phone put away during the interview.


It’s critical that candidates have knowledge of relevant software and technology, but don’t waste space on your résumé listing every app and platform you’re fluent in.

“We assume that any marketing candidate has a basic understanding of business software,” Byrne says. “The real estate on your résumé is precious. Use it for your unique qualities and skills that set you apart.”


Instead of highlighting your knowledge of specific technology, mention it as a tool used in projects that showcase your other abilities.


“Step Up Your Digital Game,” a report by The Creative Group, surveyed almost 600 creative and marketing professions with hiring authority, finding data analytics to be a top area of need. “There’s strong demand for professionals who can improve customer experiences and create measurable ROI, like UX designers, digital strategists and e-commerce marketing managers,” Domeyer wrote in the report.

Out of 22 skills identified by Pure360, data analysis and reporting was reported the third-most important skill in B-to-C marketing and sixth-most important in B-to-B and nonprofit marketing.


You can find free resources online to hone your analytics skills: Google’s Analytics AcademyQuoraMoz blogand Online Behavior​ are good places to start.


Domeyer identified vision as one of the top qualities that managers look for. “A sharp understanding of where the business is going is essential to success,” she says.


Research the companies and industries you apply to and provide the interviewer with your thoughts on where you see the industry and company heading and the role you would play in that future. If applying for a promotion, make it clear how your efforts align with your inside knowledge of the company’s goals.


Perhaps one of the most basic marketing skills is the ability to write. “Strong writing skills and the ability to craft a compelling narrative are essential to success in business,” Sweeney says. Marketers need to be articulate when explaining data and able to tell a story that convinces and compels action. 


“I recommend marketers consider taking a creative writing class so they can hone their skills in crafting well-written, compelling messages for a variety of audiences,” Sweeney says.


Every so often there’s a résumé story that goes viral, like the guy who dressed as a Postmates delivery man to deliver his résumé inside a box of donuts. Slauson says she once received a rubber ear from a job candidate to symbolize that person was a great listener, and another time the office received a cake with someone’s résumé printed on top. She wasn’t particularly impressed with either. 

“Somebody who I did hire came in and gave a PowerPoint presentation about themselves, built like the brand pyramid,” Slauson says. “They had a brand positioning statement and turned themselves into a brand. Not only did it tell me something else about the person, but showed me they understand marketing and how to build a brand. It was interesting, yet relevant to marketing.”


Don’t do a stunt for the novelty of it. Stand out in a creative way that showcases your marketing know-how.


Despite the effectiveness of automation and algorithms, you’re not going to get a job by being a robot. Be yourself, the hiring manager doesn’t want an entirely different person performing the job than the one who showed up to the interview.

Make your needs clear. Domeyer says job postings are showing a greater emphasis on corporate culture and what the organization can offer the employee. “In today’s candidate-short market, hiring managers need to be asking, ‘What can we do for you?’ versus, ‘What can you do for me?’” she says. “In job postings and during interviews, they should emphasize perks such as remote working options, tuition reimbursement programs and career advancement opportunities, and provide a complete picture of life at their organization.”


Be professional and be yourself. While showcasing what makes you the ideal candidate, ask about what you need from the position. 


Demonstrate your ability to respond to challenges with pragmatism. This creative flexibility is at the crux of marketing.

“At the end of the day, we’re here to solve problems, and many professionals, while good at doing, often lack the ability to assess a situation and develop a plan for solving that problem,” Sweeney says. “It is the forward-thinking approach to solving problems that gives a marketer the edge in this competitive environment.”


Provide examples of how you’ve solved problems, especially in a way that was counter to what your competitors were doing. 

Sarah Steimer is a writer, editor, podcast producer, and yoga teacher living in Chicago. She has written for Marketing News, Chicago magazine, Culture magazine, the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette, and other outlets.