Talking about yourself is hard. “How To Objectively Sell Oneself” is a blog – no, a novel – of its own. Yet here I was, filling out job applications again and again, tweaking my resume and rewriting my cover letter in the hopes that my “personal branding” would strike a chord.

After an 8-week period of juggling phone interviews, networking events, and compensation conversations, I signed a job offer. It’s a relatively short period of time to be on the job hunt, especially as a recent college graduate. Nevertheless, it was the first time since I started working that I was without a paycheck. It was time to rejoin the workforce.

Here’s the story of how I tried to hack the job hunt, what was effective, and what I wouldn’t do the next time around.

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The Math

Alright, here are the numbers for you. I applied to 60 jobs. Yes, 6-0. I’m a very aggressive job hunter.

Out of those 60 applications, I landed 8 phone interviews. Those translated into 6 in-person interviews. Those amounted to 1 formal offer.

From application to phone call, that’s approximately a 13% conversion rate.

From phone call to interview, that’s a 75% conversion rate.

Interview to offer is about a 17% conversion rate.

Is this good? Is this bad? I don’t know. Next time you job hunt, let me know how it goes.

Clearly, I’m better at landing interviews than jobs – here are some, but not all, of the reasons why the coveted offer was rather elusive.

The Challenges

This job hunt had 2 prominent challenges:

1. An appropriate job title
2. An acceptable pay range

My experience is far from a linear trajectory. I’ve been a social media manager for a hair salon, a SEO Specialist in a B2B digital marketing agency, a marketer at an early stage SaaS startup, and a freelancer in between.

I could apply to jobs for social media, SEO, content marketing, digital marketing, or marketing coordination and do them all with equal proficiency. Those skills were disguised in a lot of fancy titles:

  • Digital Strategy Associate
  • Account Executive
  • Digital Marketing Associate
  • Media Platform Assistant
  • Analyst, Strategy & Analysis
  • Web Content & Online Community Coordinator
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Full Stack Marketer
  • Senior SEO Manager
  • Digital Marketing Manager
  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Marketing Specialist
  • Product Marketing Associate
  • Research Associate, Supporting Chief Marketing Officers
  • Product Associate
  • Senior Digital Marketing Associate
  • Marketing Associate Project Manager
  • Consumer Marketing (Circulation)
  • Marketing Analyst
  • Digital Media Expert
  • Associate Marketing Manager – B2B Digital
  • Content Marketing Specialist
  • Senior Associate, Social Content Systems
  • Online Marketing Specialist, Traffic Acquisition
  • Marketing Project Manager
  • Marketing Communications Manager
  • Social Media Specialist
  • Performance Marketing Manager
  • Assistant Account Executive
  • Digital Project Coordinator
  • Marketing Programs Associate
  • Account Manager, SMB, New Grad
  • Associate Digital Marketing Manager
  • Marketing Technologist Coordinator
  • Digital Marketing Campaign Planner – Manager
  • Associate, Growth Marketing and Strategy
  • Digital Marketing Strategist
  • University Grads in Marketing
  • Brand Strategy Associate
  • Interactive Marketing Associate
  • Product Marketing Manager
  • Event Coordinator

That’s 42 titles across 60 jobs! How’s anybody supposed to know what they’re applying for?! Maybe this is why it’s so tough to hire a marketer.

The latter challenge was pay – firms who deemed themselves “competitive” were 20% below my minimum acceptable salary. Timing the compensation discussion could make or break the deal.

Know Thy Worth

Best practices in salary negotiation involve having a minimum acceptable, target, and reach compensation. I would ask for the range between target and reach, knowing most places probably fall between them.

Based on quotes previous employers had given me, I knew what was appropriate, commendable, or downright deplorable. Thinking about the total compensation package, salary could rise or fall based on benefits including insurance, equity, and vacation time.

Resources like Salary.com make it easy to look up median income levels for specific job titles based on city. It’s employer-reported, so you don’t have to worry about angry ex-employers posting their salaries haphazardly.

I also read a lot about the gender pay gap. It exists, it’s a problem, and I felt compelled to do my part to close it. That was a huge motivating factor. If you’re nervous about asking for even more money, read how Anna Marie negotiated for an addition $15k at Yammer.

Now listen to Nike and just do it.

My dilemma was when to broach the money issue. For some firms, the salary range at entry level was unmovable. If I waited until a later interview to ask for their range, they wouldn’t be able to match my request and we both would have wasted a lot of time.

Others had some negotiating opportunity, but if I asked too early, I risked making money the priority before establishing why I might be the right candidate.

If employers post the range with the job listing, this problem would be solved. And guess what? This could be put into effect in 2016 in Massachusetts. Contact your rep directly to improve pay transparency. 2 minutes to fairer compensation.

The Interview

Sitting in front of a hiring manager, recruiter, or CEO is like customer service – you get feedback really damn quick. From their eyes glancing towards your resume to their glazed over look as you speak, you learn what holds their attention and what’s missing the mark.

These were my top answers to have at the ready before every meeting:

  • What you want

“Product-market fit, a leadership team I can learn form, and the opportunity to have a hands-on impact with company projects”

  • Your weaknesses – and your solutions

“I can be too much of a perfectionist and devote too much time to a task, so I like to over-communicate deadlines. I’m chronically late so I set my clocks back five minutes. If something isn’t going well for me, I hesitate to speak up in case the issue resolves itself. In the meantime, I like to maintain regular meetings with my manager to keep communication open.”

  • How to explain your last exit

“I loved my role there and was really proud of the work I did to build that company. There were a lot of leadership changes. Those brought culture shifts, and I didn’t see the opportunity to learn at the same pace going forward”

  • Why you want to work here

“I’m interested in learning from people with a breadth of experience in digital marketing, I’m seeking experience at the enterprise level, and there is opportunity for professional growth here.”

I also like to remember that I’m interviewing them as much as, if not more than they’re interviewing me. Here are my favorite questions to put the interviewer on the hot seat:

  • What quality or skill do you expect candidates to have that you often see lacking in this role?
  • What’s the challenge that you’re really grappling with when you sit down at your desk every morning at 9AM?
  • Why did you join [this company]?

How they answer these questions not only tells me a lot about them, but gives me some insight into if this is a fit.

One firm was “upgrading their staff” and a lot of turnover was about to happen. Another wasn’t sure what it wanted in a marketer. The interview is supposed to be the honeymoon stage, so red flags are not to be ignored.

How to Find the Jobs

Recruiting is big business. I found niche sites had more tailored job boards and the larger sites had a greater variety of titles and industries. Here were my top sources, just to name a few:

A secret gem are email alerts. Receive them daily, weekly, or monthly. They show you the newest postings and help you keep tabs on gigs that haven’t been filled. My favorite is Hireable – their emails are well-designed and the jobs are up-to-date.

Leveraging a network I’d built over college, I reached out to a handful of contacts and received some amazing advice. One friend was kind enough to give me a thorough critique of my resume and cover letter. She made them a lot stronger. Another put in my name at some big firms. The generosity of people to extend a hand is truly humbling.

Where did I find my job? Indeed.com. The very place I least expected.

How Not to Hack the Job Hunt

A story so good, it deserved a post of its own. Let’s just say Snapchat, AdWords, and landing pages aren’t always the right combination to score an interview.

The Job

Well, I made it. Offer signed and on the table. How’d that happen?

I found the gig via Indeed. During a phone interview with the recruiter a few days later, our salaries aligned and my experience fit the job description.

Following a phone interview with my future manager, I was invited for an in-person interview. After almost two hours meeting with the HR coordinator, my future manager, the Director of Marketing, and the VP of Marketing, I left there feeling hopeful.

The offer came through shortly thereafter, at the top of my reach salary. It was too good to turn away. What almost felt better than having the job was not having to job hunt anymore.

The Falling Action

Boston is a really small town. I can walk across downtown in 45 minutes. This means I’ve met the people they hired for the jobs I applied to. Without admitting that I sought after their job, I learned the reasons why they scored the position:

  1. They had a different expertise
    Even if the position didn’t explicitly say they needed certain experience, it was the selling characteristic
  2. They knew somebody
    … who knew somebody. It’s about who you know, not what you know in some cases.
  3. You pay for the talent you get
    A particular position low-balled salary and I’ve since learned that hire hasn’t been a great fit. Good talent knows their worth.

What I Would Change

In future job hunts, I’ll start by asking within my professional network. Job boards have a very low success rate compared to friends (or friends of friends).

I’d narrow my requirements. As you can see from the vast range of titles, I was open to many positions. In hindsight, perhaps too many. Limiting my focus may have produced more fruitful results earlier on in the search.

Keep an eye on my benchmarks. Now I know the approximate conversion rates. If the number of applications skyrockets again, I’ll pause to reevaluate how my resumes represent my work.

Salary negotiation takes practice. Waiting until the in-person interview gives the advantage that you can prove your worth and show that compensation isn’t a primary motive.

Starting from a position of employment also means I can be more selective in my next job change. There’s a clearer vision of what I’ll look for professionally and how I’ll begin a search.

That’s the story of how I landed to my 9-5. I send a weekly newsletter of my interests 5-9.
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