The eternal conundrum…

We all know the conundrum – no one will hire you without experience, but until someone hires you, you can’t exactly get experience.

As you all PROBABLY know from my previous blog posts, this is my first job in the world of SEM – I came from a newspaper background. I can vouch that there are some companies (I know of at least one!) that are willing to hire qualified candidates without any direct paid search experience. However, ‘take a chance on me’ is always a tough sell, especially in a sea of qualified candidates. Here is my advice on how to best prepare yourself for a career in paid search and how to best convey to potential future employers that you were meant for paid search all along.

Get to know Microsoft Excel. It can probably benefit you in your current career, as well as for your own personal record-keeping (budgeting, etc.). However, a good demonstration of understanding Microsoft Excel can show a paid search company you have the foundation to succeed in this line of work. Also, if you can learn and understand Excel, you probably can learn and understand the other tricks and tools of the SEM world. Think there’s a lot to Excel and don’t know where to start?  For paid search, know the following:  vlookup, concatenate, text-to-columns, conditional formatting, filters, advanced find/replace (with the asterisk), pivot tables, inserting a symbol, general math formulas, and if/then functions as a starting point. That should keep you busy for a while.

Get to know Google AdWords.  Google offers an awesome, FREE online learning center where you can read up on everything you need to know on AdWords. Although there’s a lot of material to cover, once you master all this material (keyword being master), you will be ready to take the AdWords exams and have an official certification recognized by Google that a) shows discipline on your end and b) is another valuable skill in the world of paid search. If you do not get that far through all the material, just reading and knowing some of it will put you in a good position to speak intelligently in an interview or cover letter.

Get to know Google Analytics. An awesome and FREE tool (you just need a Google account to use it – have gmail, will travel!), along with yet another free learning center. Again, this is up the same alley – learn about a program that is a part of the paid search world, speak intelligently and demonstrate some understanding of it to a potential employer – suddenly, it seems like you are someone who is actually interested in and valuable to this line of work, instead of someone on autopilot who hit ‘apply’ for every job opening out there.

Bear in Mind That This is an Internet-Related Industry, Part 1.  On the interview, you probably shouldn’t ask any questions that could easily answered by a quick and simple Google search (What does your company do?  Who is your biggest competitor?  What does XYZ mean?). If you’re not from the industry to begin with, an employer knows off the bat that he or she might need to put some time into training you. However, show that you are not someone who needs some hand-holding and, instead, can be proactive and resourceful on your own. That, and, obviously, in the world of paid search, no one wants to hire someone who doesn’t have a basic understanding of how to use the internet – what would be job interview faux pas in most industries can be deadly errors in this one.

Bear In Mind That  This is an Internet-Related Industry, Part 2. Your potential future employer has probably put some time and thought into the questions he or she is about to ask you on the interview. And, as stated above, as an internet professional, he or she probably knows Google cold. So if/when he/she asks ‘what’s your biggest weakness’, regurgitating something from the top 10 results of “what’s your biggest weakness job interview answers” is PROBABLY not a good idea, RIGHT?  Or when asked about your understanding or opinion on something SEM-related, quoting Brad Geddes or Danny Sullivan (and trying to pass it off as your own idea) is PROBABLY going to raise some eyebrows (and not in a good way!), RIGHT?  Although, as mentioned above, you are demonstrating that you can use the internet for research purposes, it probably won’t get you anywhere positive (but it might get you a mention in a ‘what not to do’ blog).

Use the Internet to Your Advantage. Although Twitter and Facebook are not typically known as friends of employers, they are highly relevant in the paid search industry. Follow and like major players in the industry. Read industry news. Follow and use the #ppcchat hashtag. You might make some ‘friends’ you don’t know in real life who can lead you to connections, job openings, advice, or valuable articles (like this one!) on how to succeed in the world of paid search.

Use Your Special Skills. Don’t fail to mention any hobbies, interests, or skills, no matter how obscure they might seem. Know a foreign language? Those are very helpful with international ads. My special skill is journalism. Perhaps, if you look very closely, you can see it being put to use? And even obscure interests can be valuable – perhaps the agency is about to acquire or already has a client from an industry in which you are interested. (Of course, researching the agency’s clients, then specifically making the match with your interest, probably would get you bonus points.)

Keep an Open Mind But a Closed Wallet When it Comes to:

Various ‘Paid Search Certifications’ From Local Schools. I’ve noticed several local colleges and universities (as well as some private organizations) offering up some kind of boot-camp classes that result, in the end, with an ‘official paid search certification’ or something of the like (oftentimes for a hefty price tag). Although there are a lot of factors I cannot weigh in on (the professor’s reputation, the school itself, etc.), I often find the curriculum is rather similar to the aforementioned (and, once again, FREE) AdWords learning center. Mostly, you are paying for the ‘official certification’ and the university’s name, when the program might not even be recognized by agencies, or, at the very least, not as valuable as the official AdWords certification. I’d recommend setting aside a couple hours a week over a series of several weeks and learning AdWords instead.

Books. Of course, there are many great books on the subject of paid search. However, in a sea of them, it could be hard to find the best ones. Do research, read reviews. And, once again, some of the very simply named books that appear to cover ‘all the basics’ are simply the same material already available in the AdWords/analytics learning centers, only packaged slightly neater and with a price tag attached.

Various AdWords Study Guides. Same concept as above. There could be some value, but it is often is accompanied by a price tag, and all the information you need is already in the learning center.

These are my best tips for anyone trying to break into the world of SEM. Anything I missed?  Anything you disagree with? Please weigh in!

- Jaime Sikora, Production Manager

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