Ask the HR Experts, Part 1: 5 Tips for Marketing and Sales Job Seekers

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Since the economic downturn in the last decade, it’s been harder to find a good job – that is, one that’s not only a great fit for Job Interviewyour skills and offers a bright future, but that’s also a wonderful place to work (with good pay and benefits, and great coworkers). A lot of (well qualified, smart, adaptable) people have had difficulty finding any kind of job at all. But it’s a situation that’s (finally) changing. As reported in the New York Times on February 6, the economy is “adding jobs at the fastest pace since the boom of the late 1990s and lifting employment and wage prospects for millions of Americans left behind in a long but mostly lackluster recovery.”

According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, 36% of employers plan to increase their full-time staff in 2015, up from 24% last year and the biggest increase since 2006. The top five areas where employers are planning on adding full-time, permanent staff are:

  1. Sales: 36%
  2. Customer service: 33%
  3. Information technology: 26%
  4. Production: 26 %
  5. Administrative: 22 %

Plus, the emerging fields that are expected to see strong job growth this year include cloud, mobile or search technology, cybersecurity, and managing and interpreting big data. If you’re stuck in an employment rut, it’s a good time to start looking around again.

When you start the process of looking for a new job, it’s always nice to know what hiring managers are really after. So here’s the inside scoop: We (“we” are senior writer Lisa Cannon and Marketing Action blog editor Sherry Lamoreaux) recently sat down with Dawn Glockler, Director of Human Resources at Act-On, and Brian Gelfuso, Act-On’s Corporate Recruiter, to talk about best practices for job seekers today and to get insights into what employers are looking for in a candidate for sales and marketing jobs. Here’s an edited transcript of part one of the conversation, and it focuses on advice for job seekers.

Tip 1: Network to Get Work

SHERRY: So let’s start off by talking to the applicant. Let’s say that our audience is full of marketers and sales people, which it is. And let’s say that 25 percent are thinking about making a change this year, and they want be ready to go for something if a position looks really good for them. What’s your advice to the person who either is a job seeker or thinks they may become a job seeker?

networkingBRIAN: The best advice I could give to somebody that’s looking for a job or wants to get into a certain company, is that it’s all about networking. So just network, network, network. And do your research. There are a lot of tools out there on the web to help you find out about a company, and the benefits of a company, work life balance, all those sorts of things. If you find that right fit, the best thing to do is network within that company. Make connections on LinkedIn, reach out to folks within that department, make those introductions, and that way you can stand out, as opposed to just applying on a job board. In today’s world, everything’s all about who you know, getting those connections, and getting your foot in the door a different way.

SHERRY: Do you think people ought to walk in the door with a portfolio under their arm? Or have an online portfolio?

BRIAN: I’ve had the front desk person say, “Somebody’s here with their resume. They want to talk to somebody who’s hiring.” And I definitely spend the time to shake their hand and take their resume. But it’s different now. I feel that doing it online via LinkedIn messages, introducing yourself that way, getting connected that way, is not as abrasive and brash. It’s just kind of how the times have evolved. And it comes across better if they’ve taken that approach, as opposed to just walking in the door.

LISA: What about other social situations or live events? I’ve seen people go to trade shows, resume in one hand and business card in the other. [LAUGHTER]

DAWN: Typically at trade shows, there’s not going to be a representative to take that resume. They can hand it to a sales person, who’s there to sell the company. Or, potentially, there might be someone there from marketing, who could be a right target. But the chances of that getting lost are probably pretty high. [LAUGHTER] But you never know.

BRIAN: I think everything’s changing too in terms of the events where you’re networking with people. In particular, job fairs aren’t as useful anymore for seasoned folks in the industry, or somebody that’s maybe been with a company for let’s say five or six years and is potentially looking for a change. I see the job fairs as more geared towards new grads or folks who haven’t been working in a while.

The advice I’d give job seekers is to stay in tune with what’s happening in the industry; not trade shows or job fairs, but look for networking events, particularly if a company that you’re interested in will be there, or maybe the CMO or one of the VPs of that company is speaking at that event. That’s becoming a better way for folks who are looking to get their foot in the door with a company that they’re interested in.

Tip 2: Be Current

DAWN: Paper resumes are old school. If you’re handing somebody something, you want it to be new school. [LAUGHTER] Something different.

LISA: Like an infographic resume?

DAWN: Yes, especially if you’re in marketing. You’d better be creative and show resumesomething cool. Because if you just hand them a Word document … a white piece of paper, or even worse on a marbled piece of paper, that won’t cut it. [LAUGHTER] Unless that’s the impression you want to make. Be aware that you’re making a statement by how you interact at that very first point of contact.

SHERRY: So if that’s who you are and that’s what you’d want them to hire you for, it’s a good idea. Because then there are no surprises.

BRIAN: Especially if you’re somebody that’s coming into a very forward, cutting-edge company. You don’t want to come across as somebody behind the times in terms of your industry experience. You want to be cutting edge as well. And you want to stand above the rest.

LISA: So let’s talk a minute about representing yourself accurately to a company so that if they’re interested in you, there’s a transparency about what they’re getting. It’s the real McCoy, it’s the authentic person, etc. So you’re the job seeker, and you have a pretty good idea of your strengths and your weaknesses and what you like in a company. So how do you evaluate those companies out there in terms of how good a fit they’re going to be for you?

BRIAN: There are several ways. One is, let’s say there’s a company that you’re interested in. The first thing I would do would be get on LinkedIn, see who I’m connected with that might work at that company, or know someone who works there. To give a personal example, I was interested in Act-On and I had friends that worked here. I reached out to three different individuals to talk about Act-On, what it’s like, should I put my name in the hat. I wanted an insider view on how they felt about the company. So that’s always one avenue. I think that’s the best one, talking to people you know or trust that can give you some good insight.

DAWN: Yes; nothing replaces a conversation with someone you trust.

Tip 3: Do Your Homework – and Spell Check/Spell-Check/SpellCheck it

SHERRY: What are some of the mistakes that you see most commonly on resumes and in interviews, what are some of the deal killers that you get?

BRIAN: The resumes that stand out the most aren’t just fluff. A good example of fluff would be somebody saying “top performer, managed several projects.” I want to see results and I think managers will want to see the same thing. So if it was a sales-specific position, we want to know, what percentage of their quota they hit at their company consistently throughout the year? What was the average size of the deals? What did their day look like?

In a resume you should be very specific about your results, whether that’s a sales position, a marketing position, a staffing position, whatever it is. I think that’s what stands out and gets right to the point. I think sometimes folks get a little bit too fluffy on the resume and wordy. You can read one of those and you really still don’t have an idea of what they did. [LAUGHTER]

In the interview process, the biggest mistakes I’ve seen are folks who don’t do their homework on the company. They come in wanting to sell themselves and haven’t found out what the company they’re interviewing for is all about. Know a little history about the company. I don’t think the potential employer is looking for them to come in and be an expert on what the company is, but it definitely makes a good showing if they do a little homework, put in the extra effort to do some research, some reading, maybe they’ve watched some videos. That stands out.

DAWN: You would be amazed how many times I’ve done a phone screen with somebody who has applied for a position, sent me their resume, confirmed the call. They get on the phone with me and they say, “Now who are you with?” It’s amazing.

BRIAN: Oh absolutely.

DAWN: “Now remind me what company this is? What position is it?” And my name and my title and my company are all in the email interaction that we’ve had, and the subject line is the job, the position title. So it’s obvious that the person isn’t really interested in the job; they just want a job, they’re not particularly interested in this job.

Another thing that’s amazing … especially considering how often it happens … is misspellings and grammatical errors. This happens more in emails than resumes. I think a lot of people get resume help. But in emails, turn on your spell check – it’s not that difficult. And that’s attention to detail, in my mind. I am a horrible speller. I have spell check on everything. I’m obsessive about it because I don’t want to come across as looking dumb because I don’t know how to spell a word. And I double check my emails. You always proofread. It’s just little simple things that  lot of people miss.

SHERRY: A long time ago I did a stint as a resume writer, which is … boy that’s an interesting exercise in creativity. [LAUGHTER] But even for writers and editors … don’t take it for granted that just because you’re a master at writing that you can, A, write a resume, and B, write a resume that has no errors. You just can’t proof your own stuff.

DAWN: Absolutely.

Tip 4: Keep it Professional

LISA: So, do you have any funny war stories?

BRIAN: I’m just never surprised by what people sometimes say in an interview. And in particular when you’re talking to them about previous employment, why they’re looking for a change, why did the last position end.

DAWN: It’s amazing how honest they are when they really shouldn’t be.

BRIAN: It could be something as simple as just the environment wasn’t right for them and they need a different challenge. But they often dig into the details of all the arguments or disagreements they’ve had with their managers and coworkers, which just throws up every red flag as to why this person could be an issue in our company. [LAUGHTER]

LISA: So how should someone handle that? Say you’re interviewing with me and I say, “So, Brian, tell me, I noticed that you were with XYZ for five years, why did you decide to make a change?”

BRIAN: So I would say, “That’s a good question. I decided to make a change because after five years I’ve accomplished everything that I could with a smaller company. I’m ready for kind of a new challenge, a change. And I’ve just hit that point after five years, that it’s just time for a different direction and new motivation for myself.” And leave it at that.

Tip 5: Come Prepared with Questions

SHERRY: Now, can you speak to the difference, from the candidate’s point of view, as to how they should handle two Interview Questionssituations? Number one, you’re in a one-on-one interview, and you’re talking to somebody. Number two, you’re in a one-on-eight interview, or a one-on-six, or a one-on-four, whatever. You have multiple people that you need to pay perhaps equal attention to and listen to. How do you advise the candidate to manage that process?

BRIAN: Group interviews are tough because you have lots of eyeballs looking at you at the same time. The best advice I can give is to just take your time. Take the time to listen to everybody’s questions, make sure you’re addressing everybody in the room, you’re engaging with everybody, you’re not just focused on just one individual – even if it is just one individual asking you questions and the others are observing. Make sure you’re making eye contact, being engaging. Just take your time.

DAWN: Another good tip is to come prepared with questions.

BRIAN: Absolutely.

DAWN: It’s hard for an interviewer, after you’ve run through all these questions and you say, “So do you have any questions for me?” – and they say, “Nope, I’m good.” [LAUGHTER] It’s an awkward way to end it. Often the interviewer will want to know, what do you want to know, what do you want to hear about? And that goes back to Brian’s point about research and being prepared. That also tells a lot about the employee, what their questions are says a lot about what they care about, what’s important to them.

The first question from a lot of people is, “What are your benefits? What’s your vacation policy?” And that may seem negative, as though perhaps this person doesn’t like to work. But really, these questions tell me that they’re focused on the work/life balance and they want to make sure that’s clear from the beginning.

BRIAN: Dawn makes a really good point. Definitely come prepared with questions. Most of the times when you’re getting an interview set up, they’re going to give you the interview schedule. And you’re going to know if it’s a one-on-one or if you’re meeting with several people. If you are meeting with several people, you’ll have an idea of who that audience is and how to gear your questions. If it’s somebody that’s doing the same role that you’re being interviewed for, have questions for them about the day-to-day. If it’s with managers, have questions for them about what their expectations are, and what successful people have been doing, and what are examples of what people haven’t been successful doing in that role.

I’ve personally been in interviews myself where the first question the interviewer asked was, “What questions do you have?” [LAUGHTER] Just right out the gate. So if I didn’t have questions prepared, I would’ve been, um, um, fumbling with myHigh Performance Marketing Dept questions. So be prepared.

To learn more about the skills modern marketing departments are hiring for take a look at our eBook, The High-Performance Marketing Department: A Guide to Staffing, Team, Structures, and Budgets.

Looking for work? Act-On is hiring! Check out our job board to see if the perfect career is waiting there for you. And if you’re thinking about hiring new talent, be sure to read part two of this conversation to get tips for recruiting the right sales and marketing professionals for your team.