"…I Know There Just Gotta Be A Better World Somewhere." B.B. King
Over the last several months, I've read multiple threads that noted the explosion in the number of SEO job listings. In these postings, people speculated whether this meant Corporate America was finally recognizing that Search Engine Marketing (SEM) has become an essential core competency that needed to be brought "in-house". I've also read a very funny article about the SEO hiring process from the employer's perspective. However, I have yet to see any experienced SEO/SEM veteran write openly about their experiences looking for a new position. So, I figure that I have an opportunity to write one of the few SEO articles that has yet to be written:.)
My former company embarked on a new strategic direction and I made the decision not to continue with them. I had talked to others in my "mostly local" search engine marketing network in Portland and did not see the right opportunity working with any of these folks. So, like any other person looking for something better, I updated my resume and started my job search.
My Background & Job Search Strategy
I have six years experience in SEO/SEM. I spent two years doing internet marketing in a corporate setting and two years in an agency setting. In addition, I have four years experience in affiliate marketing: 2 years full-time and 2 years as a "side gig" to my agency position. Also, I am a frequent contributor to Search Engine Guide.
I relied upon Indeed.com as my meta-job search engine. I set up the following search: http://www.indeed.com/jobs?q=search+engine+optimization+jobs&l=&radius
I sent my materials to any and all "advanced" SEO positions no matter where they were located. Each day, I received newly posted positions in my inbox and applied to those that met my criteria.
I had no intention of relocating from my Beaverton, Oregon home, but I figured that SEO/SEM could easily be performed from my home office and that forward-thinking employers would get that. I also created a "jazzy & memorable" email address just for my job search and used the following (hopefully catchy) subject line in each of my emails: Successful SEO Seeks Superior Situation. Every potential employer got the same cover letter & resume…I felt that if anyone didn't obviously grasp what I could offer them as an employee, I shouldn't be working there anyway.
I thought I wouldn't have a problem getting prospective employers interested in my services. I did not foresee the utter onslaught of interest that my resume generated.
I got phone calls and emails:
Unofficially, I was contacted by 20% of the people to whom I sent my resume and approximately 98% of my resumes were sent outside Portland. Roughly 20% of the non-local employers were open to a telecommuting arrangement.
When people asked for my compensation requirements, I gave them an aggressive number. Almost nobody blinked.
What Can Be Learned From My Job Search Experience
If you are still a student: LEARN SEM!!! The demand for experienced SEM folks is incredibly intense. While the field is constantly evolving, anybody who can keep up and continually demonstrate tangible results will have guaranteed long-term employment. Plus, monetizing your own websites through affiliate marketing & contextual advertising can make your life as a student much more comfortable.
A business or law degree will take 6-7 years of education and could give you six figures of debt. 6-7 years of SEM experience could equate to six figure compensation. What makes more sense?
If you are a beginning to intermediate level search professional: LOSE YOUR ANONYMITY. My former boss gave me the suggestion that I should write SEM articles. I wrote one, submitted it several places, and got it picked up by Search Engine Guide which has continued to publish me. Writing articles (or blogging or forum posting) is an excellent way to establish your professional credibility. Last time I was in contact with Jennifer, she was looking for more writers…
If you run an agency that employs search professionals: It's quite OK to offer entry level wages to search newbies. However, once your employees have proven their mettle, you must act proactively with their compensation. For any of your people willing to make a move, Corporate America will offer them enough money to leave your company.
If you are a corporation searching for a search professional: Be prepared to offer a non-standard employment arrangement. The SEM field attracts a lot of maverick personalities and many SEM's would never consider "going corporate" because they learned search in an effort to escape a traditional working arrangement.
From talking to prospective corporate employers, I got the feeling that NOBODY answering their ads had my qualifications. So, I still was amazed that so many people were not open to a telecommuting arrangement (and I let everyone know that I was ready and willing to travel as needed).
If you are a corporate hiring manager, you should know that most experienced SEM's will perceive your position to be unstable for many different reasons. Will the SEM suggestions be acted upon? Will important people in the organization "buy-in" to the internet marketing efforts? Will the company understand the SEM process and have the necessary patience and budget to implement an effective search strategy?
Therefore, you aren't likely to get somebody to sell their house and move their family just to work for you…especially when any experienced candidate has many other opportunities to choose from. So, you really need to think non-traditionally in order to reel in an experienced employee.
If you are a well-networked search professional: Consider getting into SEM Executive Search Placement. A typical executive search fee is ¼ to 1/3 of the placed candidate's first year compensation…even if you are making Shoe-like money in search, these are substantial checks.
An executive search professional that is also experienced in SEO/SEM has a massive competitive advantage in the marketplace because people without such insider knowledge aren't really qualified to evaluate somebody's SEO/SEM competency.
When I talked to recruiters, they tended to ask me reasonably superficial questions about search engine rankings and ROI. A "search pretender" with a little bit of knowledge and a lot of guile could have easily duped these folks.
However, if an upper echelon search professional such as Graywolf, Stuntdubl or Aaron Wall were to chat for 10 minutes with an SEM job candidate, they could evaluate the prospective employee's search competency with a degree of precision that a non-search professional is incapable of doing. I believe that forward-thinking corporations would pay a premium for a SEO/SEM professional to find them a qualified employee. If this same person is also well-networked within the search community, they could make very large fees from just introducing someone from their SEM network to a prospective employer.
Where did I end up? With the company where I first learned SEO…a real estate development / residential & commercial construction executive search / recruiting firm headquartered in Fairfax, Virginia. I had many opportunities to choose from but the stability of the company and the ability to work with people I had known and liked from my home office outweighed all the other opportunities I received. I also thank God that I am part of an industry that is exciting, dynamic and allows me to support my family quite well.
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Todd Mintz is the Director of Internet Marketing & Information Systems for S.R. Clarke Inc., a Real Estate Development and Residential / Commercial Construction Executive Search / Recruiting Firm headquartered in Fairfax, VA with offices nationwide. He is also a Director & Founding Member of SEMpdx: Portland, Oregon's Search Engine Marketing Association.
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