Getting Your First SEO Job – How to Stand Out
As an industry we’re extremely lucky to be enjoying a time that is full of opportunity. Whilst many businesses are suffering from economic problems, it seems that the SEO industry is struggling to hire quick enough. With no formal qualifications or courses, a career in SEO isn’t most graduate’s first choice for their entry into the jobs market. If you speak to most successful people in the industry you’ll hear a very familiar story of ‘falling into’ SEO without really realising what they were getting into. Many people have come from a range of different jobs including traditional marketing, web development and pretty much every career you can imagine and found that SEO started to become a part of their current role. Others (like myself) simply got intrigued with how it works!
Despite all of this opportunity, speaking with many people who are looking to recruit staff you’ll hear that finding the right people is tough, even when you’re looking to fill junior positions that don’t necessarily require any pre existing experience. From a job hunters point of view it might be easy to find job opportunities and get an interview, but how do you stand out from the crowd and get the job you want? There’s some great material available with some fantastic advice on how to land a job in SEO, but I thought I’d chip in with some thoughts based on my own experience.
Personally, I’d have to say that one of the biggest things to show is a good degree of intuition. If you’re going for an interview, chances are that the people sitting on the other side of the desk will have started their careers in SEO by having to figure it out for themselves. Personally, I started out in SEO because I was running some personal projects and couldn’t afford to hire an agency. I basically ended up in a position where I HAD to figure it out. Many of my colleagues are the same; for many different reasons they ended up working in positions where they had to learn SEO, and learn it quickly! Expecting things to land on your plate, or waiting around for someone to spoon feed you the knowledge simply won’t cut it.
Thankfully there are many ways to show a bit of nous and intuition. It’s worth noting that for most junior roles you won’t be expected to know everything – far from it, the main thing is being able to clearly demonstrate that you’ve put a little bit of effort in and tried to figure something out. Starting your own blog is a brilliant way to do this. If you’ve got a passion then start writing about it. If you go down this route then you’ll have the chance to start to learning the basic SEO fundamentals, learn about blogging platforms such as WordPress, learn about Google Analytics and hopefully be able to say ‘I started this blog and built the traffic to ‘x’ by doing ‘a, b and c’. That’s a pretty good place to be in.
Working in SEO you’re likely to be facing challenges on a daily basis, so if you’re the kind of person who loves working something out, chances are you’re going to be fine!
Gaining a Basic Knowledge of SEO
This kind of leads directly on from the point before; being able to demonstrate a basic understanding of SEO really does help. If you’re looking for an entry level job you really do not have to be an expert, but having a basic understanding can help you stand out from other candidates. As an example, try researching and finding out why are links important? How and why might Google use links as a ranking factor? What might a good link look like compared to a bad one? How would you go about getting another website to link back to yours? There’s not necessarily a right or wrong answer, but demonstrating that you’ve got a grasp on these things should help you form a good impression.
Understanding mark up and how a basic page is constructed will also help. Being able to briefly explain what elements can act as strong ranking signals will help even more. As with the first point, having your own blog as a testing ground will give the chance to demonstrate a basic knowledge with evidence. Saying you understand something compared to showing real results are two completely different things.
Have an Understanding of the Industry
This is one element where it’s really easy to real off the ‘right answers’. Anyone can say that they read SEOmoz, Search Engine Land and State of Search (of course!); but it’s another thing to be able to talk about why you read each site, how does each blog differ and what do you gain from reading each one? Are there any things you don’t like about particular sites? Being moderately active on Twitter and following some people in the SEO world will quickly open you up what’s happening in the industry.
Perhaps the better thing to do here is to get involved. There’s so much going on that it’s not hard to find a free meetup you can attend, a webinar you can listen to or a Google+ hangout you can join. I actually wound up working at SEOgadget by meeting Richard at a conference party (can’t remember which one). I wasn’t even looking for work, but by just getting out and about we’d ended up meeting on several occasions and having a bit of a laugh – long before the conversation turned to work. Fortunately most people in SEO are friendly and approachable and there’s always an event or meetup to get to. If you’ve got a new interest in SEO then get yourself out, have a few beers and at the very least you’ll have some fun!
Research the Company you’re Applying For
I guess this is pretty standard interview stuff, but you really need to do some research into the company you’re applying to work for. However, unlike most industries many SEO agencies are very transparent when it comes to giving away free advice and writing publically about the work they do. Be this through a blog, events or staff members on twitter; doing a bit of research (not freakish stalking!) will give you some good insights into the company you are looking to work for. It sounds simple, but reading the company blog and picking out some points of interest is a great way to prepare for the dreaded ‘how do you see yourself fitting in’ type questions.
Beyond this it’s probably wise to abide by the standard interview preparation. Be presentable, be enthusiastic and if you’re the right kind of person make sure you can demonstrate it! The great news is that this is a truly growing industry with plenty of work for smart people with the right attitude. If you are looking for a job in SEO then we’re currently hiring (shameless plug!) but so are Distilled, Ayima and a large number of other great agencies.
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