One of the most important and difficult questions when starting a career is deciding where to work. In SEO choosing a good first role is essential as it will form the basis of what you will learn and what sort of work you will be exposed to.
As the process can be a bit difficult and just about every SEO company is hiring at the moment (or at all times it seems) I thought it would be worth leaving a few tips to new entries into the community or people thinking about a career change.
Questions anyone looking to get into SEO should ask their future employer:
I know this one can be a bit hard to figure out when you’re in the interview process as you don’t want to overstep your bounds when you get the inevitable question “do you have any questions for us”, but you should have a good idea of what access you will have to what people, whether you will get exposed to all types of work or whether you will be placed on an assembly line in some dingy basement, and so forth.
There are a lot of phenomenal SEOs out there who I doubt make very good managers and from whom you may not learn a great deal. Ultimately, the best situation (in my personal view) would be to go someplace where they are quite open about the fact that they are going to drop you right in it – but the right people will be there to support you and teach you new things. I know this will get a lot of negative feedback but I genuinely believe you can teach yourself to do basic SEO quite well from material that is available online – what you really need is people who will help you learn from your mistakes and give you the opportunity to make them.
As many of you will know, I’ve worked for a small niche SEO agency and I currently work for one of the largest media agencies in the world – so I’ve been exposed to very different ways of working. One thing that seems fairly constant across the industry is that getting a solid and honest answer about “how will I progress from here” is not always a straightforward answer – and if it is, for me personally it’s not a place I’d want to work but to each their own!
What you’ll hear: “Well we tend to move people from the associate level, to the executive level, to a specialist role, up to…”
If the conversation sounds like this the agency more than likely has a clearly defined hierarchy . The benefit of this model is that it’s always clear how you might progress… but the downside is the fact that most everything the agency does will be formulaic, you will feel the hierarchy and though you may have more clarity over you future, you probably will not have as much control over your future.
What you’ll hear: “Well we’re a pretty flat organisation” or “SEO is a pretty new offering”
These are great things to hear if you are more concerned with potential to grow and to learn but not too bothered about how you get there. If you prefer a situation where you can speak to the most senior staff then this is probably a better fit for you. The big negative for this model though is that you will probably outgrow your position long before anyone knows what to do with you next. This can be a good problem to have but it can also be a source of frustration if you’re not entirely sure what you’d like to do next.
By this I don’t just mean “will I get to blog for major industry blogs?” – exposure comes in a number of facets. Some agencies boast that you can get client exposure really quickly, others will provide you exposure to the really technical elements, and others will come with some added perks of visibility within the industry. I’ve been fortunate in my roles to have a combination of all of these things but if I’m being honest I think I could have done with a bit more on the strictly technical side at an early stage. Once you’re taking on your own clients and soon after running your own team it is very difficult to improve your technical game and means this will come out of your own time… which you’ll have even less of if you’ve got obligations to write blog posts and speak at conferences as well.
Again, these can be good problems to have but I would strongly advise any new SEO consider what they hope to gain from the career and know that to be a Head of SEO at some point (if that is your dream) you’ll probably need to be one of the best technical SEOs in the room, not just the best manager – so I’d advice patience over promotion if I’m honest.
This is another question that might catch an interviewer off guard but I think it’s a valid one to ask. Personally, for me I think it’s more important to know – how often will the company consider rewarding me for improvements and good work than in how much the initial offer is worth. The one truth in this industry is that if you can manage to get recognized you will have the opportunity to get a pay rise. There are too many great jobs out there and not enough great SEOs to fill them at the moment so it is an employees market for sure (though this is obviously a temporary thing). I am of an opinion that a good employer should be prepared to have scheduled pay reviews every year at a minimum and probably should do so every six months. This is not because everyone deserves a raise every 6 months but because SEOs can learn and progress quickly with the right attitude and the market is competitive. If your employer is having a candid conversation about your progression and rewarding your improvements then they will be more likely to hold on to you and you as an employee are more likely to feel valued.
I hope this is a good start, there are certainly loads of other tips out there for new SEO job searchers and I’m happy to provide a few more if you want to ping me any questions on Twitter. I’d also greatly appreciate any thoughts and experiences from other SEOs about how they got their start below!
And finally, as with most every other agency at the moment, we are currently on the lookout for some fresh starters (experience not required) so please feel free to get in touch and ask me some challenging questions about what we offer new members of the team!