I hate to be the bearer of bad news. But I believe it’s better you hear the truth than to ignore it.
The odds of landing your dream job are stacked against you. On average, you are competing against 249 job candidates. And only one person gets the job.
So how do you stand out from the competition?
I surveyed 19 co-founders, business owners, and marketing directors to find out what you can do to become a top performer, separate yourself from the competition, and win your dream job.
Begin at the End
Stop for a minute.
Hold up, slow down! (Source)
What’s the first thing you would do if you were applying for a job? Chances are, you would start by creating a résumé and cover letter.
But you aren’t going to play the same game as everyone else.
Because you need to do something different if you want to set yourself apart from the competition.
Why not start with a résumé?
First, hiring managers spend an average of ten seconds on your résumé. If you don’t immediately wow them, your résumé goes into the trash bin.
But what if you can impress the hiring manager (or her boss) before she sees your résumé? Now you can stay in the fight a few minutes longer.
Second, you are a good fit for the job you are applying for. If you don’t have the passion, skills, and mindset necessary to do the job, there’s no résumé you can create to make up for your weak points.
Third, marketing is perhaps one of the hardest positions to hire for. You can see the website of a designer or look at the code of a software engineer. But for marketers? It’s a little more ambiguous what your part was in the results.
So what should you do? I recommend you begin at the end.
To begin at the end, you need to clearly define your dream job. Let’s say I want to work as a content marketing manager for an established marketing agency that does influencer marketing. Here’s a potential job at TopRank Marketing.
Notice how specific I am in my example.
I know the job position and the skills I want to use. I know the type of environment that I believe is best – working for an established marketing agency. It’s not that I’m opposed to other opportunities. But having a standard makes it easier to judge each opportunity.
Now that you know the job you want, let’s learn how to stand out from the competition.
Finding A Blue Ocean of Opportunity
Hiring managers are on the hunt to find star employees. But it’s not easy when there are hundreds of applications to go through.
How can you remove yourself from a shark-infested red ocean, and swim in a clean, blue ocean of opportunity? When everyone zigs, you zag.
1. Work for the Company, Before the Interview.
Doing work for a potential employer before they hire you feels scary. Because if you don’t work for them, it can feel like a huge waste of time.
But if everyone fears taking action, you can stand out from the crowd by showing your value to the company for free.
Here’s what one designer did to impress Andy Crestodina, Co-Founder of Orbit Media:
We once interviewed a design candidate who mocked up a mini-campaign for our company.
He took some fantastic pictures of our building and combined them with a nice piece of copywriting. This designer took a risk by showing his talents before he got hired. And we hired him.
This designer removed some of the risks for Andy to hire him by taking on the risk himself.
Another way an employer can learn about your knowledge and skills before an interview is by writing an article.
Back in 2011, I started an SEO blog.
I was very excited about Distilled’s upcoming conference. Distilled was new to conferences and needed some promotion help. I offered to write Distilled a post about why I was excited about going if they would agree to share the article out. I wrote it, they shared it.
So when I went to the conference and introduced myself to the team, the founders already knew who I was.
At the conference, Distilled announced they were opening a new office in New York City. I lived in Philidelphia and was ready to move. So with a bit of luck and hustle, I got the job.
Dan Shure of Evolving SEO did something similar and wrote an article that accidentally led to a paid client:
In 2011, I wrote a blog post laying out an SEO strategy for Vosges Chocolate. From that post, the team at Vosges organically found that article. One year later, they reached out to me and became a client of mine.
If writing isn’t your thing, Sid Bharath shares how he took initiative to become the VP of Growth at Thinkific:
I start by reaching out to key people in a company, such as the CEO or anyone on the leadership team.
Instead of asking for a job, I send an email with 10 ideas for them to improve their marketing. I end the email by saying I’d be happy to explain more over coffee or a phone call.
Once I meet with them, I add more value. This usually impresses them so much, they offer me a job.
Initiative helps employers know you are passionate about the job. Add a little creativity to the mix, and you might find yourself getting free media coverage too. Benjamin Beck, the owner of Online Stampede, recalls a story how one guy did just that.
I love the example of Phil Dub, who built an Amazon page to look like a résumé. Phil got a lot of coverage and 1.5 million visitors to his site. All because he was willing to do something unique to show off his skills.
But sometimes it isn’t your creative flair that sets you apart. Sometimes it’s proving to an employer that you can put theory into practice. Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard shares his experience landing his dream marketing job:
In school, it was drummed into me that qualifications were everything.
The concept of starting a business or doing a side-hustle was foreign to my career advisor. It was all, “Go to school, get a degree, and get a job,” nothing more.
But I’m a tinkerer at heart. When I was 12, I built my first website. In 2009, I learned about marketing.
One of my sites was earning a decent amount of cash, but quickly fizzled, thanks to some dodgy SEO advice I read online. I learned a hard lesson that day.
I applied for a marketing job to learn the ropes, despite being filled with self-doubt. I had failed at SEO. I had no relevant qualifications. My degree in music technology wasn’t going to help me win a marketing job.
Then it got worse.
I couldn’t get the time off work and missed the group interview. The managing director’s business coach told him flat out not to hire me.
But I got the job. Not only that, I thrived in my job.
I headed up the launch of a new service that grew to 5 figures a month, in four months. Not bad, considering we had a tiny budget and only had a few days each month to market it.
What set me out from the crowd? Everyone else had a piece of paper telling how they could do the job. But I actually had experience doing it. Sure, it was limited but it was experience based on work I did off my own bat & I was hungry to learn as much as I could.
Passion projects are valuable for employers. Speaking from the other side of the table, Martin Weinberg, US Director of Marketing at SEMrush, shares why:
Our industry is always evolving. If someone isn’t keeping up with the trends and actively experimenting on their own, then they won’t be a valuable contributor.
A social media specialist should be active on their personal accounts, and always testing new platforms. If someone designs websites, I want to see a website or two they designed that wasn’t a work assignment.
Creativity and initiative are important. But not every employer will be impressed. So here’s a second way you can stand out from the crowd.
2. Pay Attention and Sweat the Details.
Employers care about the work that you do. By putting a high level of excellence into your work, you can show a future employer that you are a valuable employee.
Ty Magnin, Director of Marketing at Appcues explains:
Honestly, it’s never something out of the box that catches my eye.
It’s doing the small things well. It’s “dotting your i’s, crossing your t’s” and going that extra mile that gives me the confidence that a candidate takes pride in their work and will hustle to crush whatever I give them.
This makes sense too. After all, it’s your work ethic that will grow a company, not just your ability to pull off a PR stunt. Here’s Shayla Price:
Attention and extraordinary acts can be orchestrated.
I believe in looking for commitment and consistency. The best job candidates talk about their career journey: how and why they started, the obstacles they faced, their learning process, and the goals attained.
Failing to pay attention to details is a deal breaker for some employers, such as Ashley Faulkes, founder of Mad Lemmings:
In the job application, I ask for specific requirements in the ad to see if they are attentive to details. 10% of people notice what I ask for, which weeds out anyone who does not care enough about the job.
Then, I look for people who are willing to go the extra mile. My current writer did this in her application by using this headline: “I am your next writing and marketing maven”. Sure it’s not extraordinary, but it stood out.
What Makes a Top Performer, a Top Performer
You’ve figured out how to stand out from competition. Now how do you show an employer that you can walk-the-walk?
Of the influencers I surveyed, top performers do four things well: They show their work before getting interviewed, they fit with the company culture, they have the right mindset, and have a passion for their work.
1. Show Your Work Before the Interview.
Don’t be afraid to let a potential employer everything you know. This isn’t the time to fake humility. You need to put your best foot forward. Andy Crestodina explains:
The best indication of future performance is past performance. I’m looking for evidence that this person has solved similar problems in the past.
Many top performers are able to get their dream job because the quality of their work proceeds them. This important to show employers, like John Doherty:
If I’m hiring someone who is at the top of their game, usually I already know what they are capable of doing.
They’ve proven themselves, whether speaking, giving case studies, in their writing, or in conversations we’ve had over dinner.
I rarely hire a high performer without knowing them personally.
Sometimes you will be expected to show your skills before getting hired. Don’t be afraid to share what you know beforehand. Here’s Benji Hyam of Grow and Convert:
When hiring, I use a test that relates to the job to screen candidates.
For example, let’s say I was hiring for someone to do ads. I would give the candidate an exercise like this: “If I were to give you $5,000 a month to spend on ads, how you would spend the money and what platforms you would use to advertise?”
Raw talent is important. But future employers also want employees who will work well with others in the company.
2. Know the Value of Culture and Personality Fit.
A job is more than just a place you go to work at for 8 or more hours a day. Employers want to make sure you enjoy going to work and enjoy working with you.
For some employers, culture fit is more important than qualifications and skills. Here’s Jonathan Chan, Content Crafter at Foundr:
An employee’s attitude is always key.
You can always train someone’s skills and help them level up their abilities, but you can’t always train someone to be a better team player.
If someone’s attitude doesn’t align with the company’s core values then we’ll always turn them away, no matter how good they are.
It may sound silly to hire for personality and culture over skills and qualifications. But company culture is the glue that holds an organization together. John Doherty elaborates:
If I know someone is good at what they do, I want to know if I or my team could work with them every day.
Work style, personality, and ability to give and receive criticism in healthy ways are the biggest things I look for in potential employees.
For some marketing organizations, you need more than just the right personality to be a fit. You also need the right mindset.
3. Understanding the Marketing Mindset
Marketing is both science, and art. It’s a thinking game, to try to outwit, outplay, and outlast the competition.
In order to be successful, employers want to hire people with the right mindset. Here’s Shanelle Mullin, Content and Growth Marketer at ConversionXL:
When hiring and choosing a team to work with me, I want someone analytically-minded, data-driven, process-oriented, curious, and studious.
When hiring top performers, I’m looking for three things:
1) Someone who understands how their activities connect to tangible, bottom-line results.
2) Someone with a real passion for problem solving and growth (both professional and personal). You can’t teach passion or work ethic.
3) A cohesive story that fits a direction or progress down a path toward a goal. I want people who know what they want, and where they want to go.
On the other hand, those like Brittany Berger, Content Marketer at Mention, looks to hire those who are both data-driven and creative.
Marketing is often viewed as either a technical discipline or as a whimsical, manic-pixie artistic thing that can’t be controlled.
Great marketers can do both.
The most important challenges I’ve had success with is when I find the balance between following best practices, and letting creativity guide me.
For others like Nathan Resnick, CEO at Sourcify, the right mindset is having an extreme focus that will help improve the company’s sales.
When I’m hiring a top performer, they need to be able to have laser focus and be results driven. I hired a freelancer who used the extra time on the clock to go above and beyond their goal and found us even more leads.
The right mindset is important to employers. But there is also a place for what you desire too.
4. Have an Enthusiasm and Passion for Your Work.
You are one of the biggest assets to a company. Why would an employer hire you if you aren’t excited about working in your industry?
So many employers are looking for signs that you are enthusiastic about your work. Dan Scalco, owner of Digitalux had this to say:
The number one thing I look for when hiring a top performer is enthusiasm and passion for the industry.
A lot of things can be taught but if there is no enthusiasm about what they’re doing, there is nothing that is going to give them the push to go the extra mile.
I want a team full of people willing to go the extra mile with me. People who are curious and have a hunger to learn often are more likely to take initiative to solve problems on their own.
Showing passion can be somewhat hard to quantify. How can you demonstrate your passion beyond a few words on a résumé? Here’s what Danavir Sarria, founder of CopyMonk had to say:
I want to see proof of someone’s passion.
Maybe they’ve blogged about the niche. Maybe it’s all they talk about on social media. Maybe they’ve gone to every event about in the industry.
Why does this matter to me? Because people who care will work more.
What does passion look like? Content marketing consultant Bill Widmer believes it’s a matter of looking at a person, and their work.
It’s hard to find someone with that passion, but it’s not hard to identify. Even if the person is introverted, you can tell when they have the spark. It comes out in the way they carry themselves, the work they produce, and the tone of their voice.
Honestly? Talent comes second. Almost any skill can be learned. But it’s hard to teach self-motivation.
You’ve got the hustle, creativity, and passion. You have the skills and the qualifications to land your dream job. Now it’s time to wow the hiring manager with your résumé.
Crafting the Perfect Résumé.
Having a stellar résumé is an important tool for landing your dream job.
You want your résumé to be clean, powerful, and to-the-point. But how do you get all the important information you need on a single sheet of paper?
One of the biggest mistakes aspiring employees make is creating a long, boring résumé. Résumé is the French word for “summary.” In other words, you aren’t writing out your life history. As stated before, hiring managers take an average of 10 seconds per application.
Do them, and yourself, a favor and mercilessly cut words from your résumé. How would your résumé change if you had to give me $10 for every word on the page?
It’s also important to highlight what you’ve done for past employers. Those who hire marketers are especially obsessed with results.
You can also add improve the design of your résumé to give it a nice final touch. I like to use Photoshop’s eyedropper tool to find the company’s brand colors and use them on my résumé.
If you really want to go the extra mile, you can use a tool like What the Font? to determine the company font used, and also use it for your resume.
Here’s my résumé:
After you deliver your résumé, it’s only a matter of clearly communicating the value you will bring to your employer.
PS – I normally write about influencer marketing. So if you want to learn more how I connected with these fine individuals above, you can subscribe to my blog below.