Most careers in advertising started in the mail rooms of large agencies or brands. For a career in search engine marketing, the equivalent path is to start as an intern. I started my marketing career as an unpaid intern after college, and since then, I’ve built teams and organizations. For the past 20+ years, I’ve interviewed and hired interns and other junior talent for SEO, PPC and social media positions and have helped guide careers. Based on my personal internship experience, combined with watching our interns learn and grow over the years, I’ve developed five strategies for young talent looking to turn an SEO/SEM internship into a full-time job opportunity
1. Find the Right Fit. On the first day of your internship, if not sooner, figure out management’s expectations for you in your role. Review the job description and ask questions until you have complete clarity regarding key elements of your job. What type of training will I receive? Who is my direct manager? How does information flow through the organization? What tools do I need to know to do my job effectively? What does success look like for me? How can I stand out in a good way? These are all questions you should be asking in the first week of your new internship.
2. Get to Know the Players. While you should know on your first day of work who your direct manager is and start building a relationship with them, there are other decision makers and influencers that can impact your career. Unless your manager is the business owner, it is important to understand that the President/CEO is a constituent that can help expedite, or end, your career. Unfortunately, many decisions can be made based on perception, so it is important to ensure the owner is familiar with you and your value to the organization. Figure out what makes your manager and other key influencers in your company tick and do your best to make them happy. If the owner makes a request of you, make sure you deliver, or quickly clarify why you’re unable to meet their expectations (and it better be a good excuse!).
3. Do It Right and On Time. The only thing worse than missing a deadline is missing a deadline AND doing spotty SEO/SEM work. When asked to complete a project or task, ask questions until you fully understand the expectations. Pro tip: recite or restate the request back to ensure you are both on the same page, especially regarding deadlines. As a junior hire, you should be given some leeway regarding errors and omissions, but most high performing companies do expect a steep learning curve like we do at Anvil. There is no excuse for making the same mistake twice. Pro Tip 2: learning from the mistakes of others is much cheaper than learning from your own mistakes, so ask peers for insights before tackling a project.
4. Be Humble and Fail Fast. Being humble is an important trait. Humility includes quickly and thoroughly apologizing for any missteps you make in your career. More importantly, however, is the need to fail quickly and move on. Nobody is perfect and everyone around you has made mistakes and failed. I’ve failed tragically throughout my career, but I’ve learned from each experience, rebounded and been better for it. The best places to work embrace failure, because without failure, you’re not trying, learning and growing. Some of the world’s most important inventions were born from product failures, in fact (Post-it Notes, microwaves, etc.).
5. You Get Out What You Put In. Even though my first internship at a Seattle agency was neither smooth or nor easy, I did learn a good deal about what it takes to make it in the real world and a good deal about myself too. I worked hard for virtually no pay and did whatever was asked of me. I spent time getting to know the people on my team and across the agency and even asked my coworkers to complete a survey to give me helpful feedback for my next job. One of my coworkers wrote out an entire page of feedback that provided invaluable insights and aided in my career development. My fellow interns at the agency did none of this and I doubt they received the same value as a result.
I’ve learned a great deal in my career journey across 9 agencies and two client-side digital marketing roles. I wish this information was imparted on my before I started my journey. My hope is that you can avoid making potentially costly mistakes on your search marketing career journey.