So You Want a Job in Paid Search? How to Break into PPC
As summer begins, the market is flooded with hordes of recent college graduates eager to join the workforce. Searching for a new job in an increasingly competitive market can be a daunting task, especially for those with limited work experience. I remember back when I was first applying to jobs, this felt like an infuriating Catch 22—how was I supposed to gain experience if no one would give me an opportunity?
Welp, the good news for aspiring PPC marketers is, you don’t necessarily need to have a lengthy CV to make an impression on hiring managers. If you play your cards right, you can get your foot through the door with little to no professional experience.
If you’re looking to get your first big break in the PPC industry, here are a few tips:
Apply for the right position.
Be realistic and seek out entry-level positions. Not only are you more likely to be a competitive candidate for these, starting from the bottom will allow you to hone your marketing skills and learn from more senior PPCers. If you only shoot for more intermediate positions, you’ll face fierce competition and your chance of getting hired will be slim to none.
Prepare your defense ahead of time.
Your interviewer is going to address the fact that you lack experience, so you need to go into the conversation with a game plan. Take the time to thoroughly review the job description and qualifications beforehand. Most companies provide a pretty clear outline of the tasks you will be responsible for, which you can use as a roadmap to prep for the interview.
If you don’t have direct experience with some of the tasks, don’t skirt around these in the interview. Instead, link these back to hard skills that you DO have. This demonstrates that you have done your research and have truly considered whether you can fulfill the position.
You also may find that you can change your interviewer’s perspective on your weaknesses. For example, when I applied to WordStream, I had no PPC expertise whatsoever. I reframed this as a positive thing—since I recognized how daunting paid search was to someone who was new to it, I could better empathize with how clients were feeling and break difficult marketing concepts into layman’s terms. Worked like a charm!
Don’t tell me you’re interested in the industry, SHOW me.
By far, my biggest pet peeve is when candidates swear up and down that they’re excited to work in paid search and then, as the interview goes on, it’s apparent that they don’t know anything about it. Look, I understand that you’re enjoying your post-college freedom, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break from your pool-side tanning and Netflix bingeing schedule to study up on PPC (and take an hour or so to improve your LinkedIn profile). Employ these tactics to get some quick PPC chops ahead of time:
Master the basics.
If you’re genuinely interested in the industry, you should be able to talk the talk, even if you’re still a little shaky when you try to walk the walk. When I interview candidates with no solid PPC experience, I like to ask them to explain paid search to me as though I was a fourth grader. My goal here is to determine whether they understand the overarching concepts. If they can’t, it totally discredits their claim that they LOVE PPC.
Another word to the wise—don’t confuse SEO and PPC. Although they both fall under the SEM umbrella, they are not the same thing. If you use them interchangeably, you can kiss your paid search career goodbye.
Mingle with the experts.
There is no shortage of PPC content online, so take some time to geek-out with SEM blogs, webinars and live chats. When I first got involved in paid search, I put together a feedly account to help me stay on top of industry news. Even though 90% of it went over my head, I was introduced to all sorts of new strategies and vocabulary that enhanced my overall understanding of the field. A few of my favorites are Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Land, PPC Hero and of course WordStream!
I also highly recommend following the #ppcchat conversation on Twitter, where the best and brightest of the industry discuss new trends and techniques. You can read the streamcap at any time, but if you want to participate, you’ll need to show up on Tuesdays at 12PM EST.
Go the extra mile and get certified.
Any reputable PPC agency requires its strategists to get certified in AdWords and Bing Ads, so why not get a head start on the process? Lucky for you, both sets of exams and their study material are available online for free. If you need some pointers, check out my coworker Billy McCaffrey’s keys to certification success. Taking the initiative to get certified (or at least pass the fundamentals test) demonstrates your dedication to paid search. Think about it this way, everyone says that they are committed and hard-working during interviews—having those certifications gives you solid proof. Remember, actions speak louder than words, kiddos.
Nailing the PPC Job Interview
Aside from prepping your PPC pitch, there are a few interview etiquette items to be mindful of as you embark on your job search. While many of these seem like no-brainers, you would be shocked by how many candidates neglect to follow through with them!
Mind your manners (via Karen)
Knock your interview out of the park by applying these simple practices:
Cater your cover letter to the role that you are applying for.
When I think back to when I was looking for my first real job, I made the colossal mistake of using the exact same resume and cover letter for every role that I applied for. Sure, my resume was perfectly crafted and my cover letter struck just the right balance of confident but not braggy but *newsflash* it didn’t matter! The crux of the issue is this—my resume wasn’t strong enough to stand alone. I lacked experience and didn’t have a strong professional background. That said, I needed to use the cover letter to make a case for myself and prove that indeed I was the ideal candidate for that specific role, despite my lackluster resume.
Nowadays, I look at about 20-30 applications a week. I automatically toss out anyone who doesn’t have direct experience in the field unless they include a bang-up cover letter proving that they are indeed a good fit for the role. I know it can be time consuming to write a cover letter for every job that you apply for but, learn from my mistake, it will be well worth your time!
When you come in for your interview, give me your undivided attention.
This should go without saying, but you’d be amazed by how many people struggle to stay engaged during interviews. Many candidates fail to make eye contact during interviews, click their pens or doodle on their paperwork. I kid you not, we even had one candidate leave the interview halfway through to feed the meter and make a pit stop at Starbucks! Guys, I know interviews can be nerve-wracking, but try your best to quell your nervous habits during interviews. The more cognizant you are of them, the better you can combat them.
Come prepared to ask questions.
When an interviewer gives you the opportunity to ask questions, they are essentially handing over the reins and giving you control of the conversation. Use this to your advantage! Not only is this your opportunity to learn more about the role/company and determine whether it is a good fit for you, it is also an opportunity to show the interviewer that you’ve done your research and have prepared for the conversation. Never, under any circumstances, say that you don’t have any questions. This is a HUGE red flag for employers. We want to see that you are engaged, committed to learning more about the position and did your prep work ahead of time.
Give quality references.
If you’ve gotten to the point where a potential employer is doing a reference check, things are looking pretty good. Remember, these people are representing you, so pick them wisely. Select someone who has a professional demeanor and knows your work ethic. Take the time to meet with them ahead of time to ensure they are comfortable serving as a reference for you. This gives them the option to bow out if they are too busy, their company does not allow them to provide references for current/former employees or if they don’t have positive things to say about you. It’s much better to catch this up front, than to provide your potential employer with a bad reference. Also, be sure to meet with your reference ahead of time to give them some background on the job that you’ve applied for. The extra prep will pay off in the long run.
Lastly, take the time to write a follow-up email.
I can’t tell you how much it warms my heart to receive an email from a candidate post-interview. A quick thank you note is nice, but I’ll totally give you bonus points if you personalize it and refer back to something we chatted about during the interview.
Alright rookies, now that I’ve divulged all of my secrets on how to nail the application process, I’ll share a lead with you—WordStream! Here at WordStream HQ, we are always looking for passionate PPC marketers to join the team. If you’re interested in working for a world-class start-up in downtown Boston, we may be just the place for you. Check our job listings page to see what roles you might be interested in. Happy hunting!