I’ve been told I’m not the easiest person to impress. Both my wife and my business partner have told me that on more than one occasion!

Now I actually think I’m a pretty chill guy. I ask fair questions. And most would even say I’m generally likable. But perception is reality, and apparently in the interview department, my questions can be a bit hard and intimidating… or so I hear.

On my desk sits a quote by Oscar Wilde that reads: “I have the simplest tastes. I am always satisfied with the best.” Okay, so maybe I’m a bit high maintenance, but I think this is what every hiring company ultimately strives to obtain, and in an increasingly-competitive job market, it’s the expectation you’re going to have to meet.

With spring semester winding down, I’ve had the opportunity to visit a few prestigious local universities in the area seeking new talent to join our growing agency. After meeting with dozens of potential candidates I’ve been surprised by the lack of preparedness that job-seekers come into an interview with. The biggest shock – the lack of interaction with common industry tools that are used on a daily basis. After all, this is the industry that they are choosing to work in. For the generation that has grown up with the internet, it’s hard to watch a group that doesn’t seem to know who to be watching and learning from in the industry. Where’s the initiative?

So, I write this open “letter” to all you graduates, near-graduates and internship seekers that are wondering what you need to do to earn your spot and break into the industry. You need to know that simply having a degree or taking a digital marketing course and completing a paid media allocation project is not enough. If you really want to be in this space, here are 3 suggestions to consider that can help you prove it:

  1. Study before your interview
    Seems like a no-brainer, right? Of course you’d research who you’ll be meeting with. Google them. Look at their Website. Have an opinion on what they do. Listen to their podcasts, read their writings or watch their videos. But it’s amazing how many candidates don’t. This one, fairly simple and foundational thing can already separate you from the others that will sit in the same interview chair as you.You can really take it up a notch when you use what you know in the conversation. Tell us how you used something you heard/read in a class discussion. Or how something we talked about came up just this week. Sure, we’ll know what you’re doing… but it doesn’t matter. We like when we know you invested the time in getting to know us and our point of view.
  2. Know how you can add value
    Speaking of a point of view, you need to have one. Maybe yours won’t be a perfect fit for us or the position we have right now, but you’ll do yourself all sorts of favors by knowing what your perspective is. Most candidates come in telling us how they look forward to just being around and learning. How they’re open books willing to learn everything we can teach them.Here’s the thing though. I’m not running a 501(c) here… Maybe some other guys much bigger than we are will be willing to pay $20+ an hour for you to sit in meetings and grab coffee/dry cleaning… but we’re looking for talent to invest in. Please hear this: We don’t expect you know everything… or even a lot… we certainly want the opportunity to shape your business world view and we certainly enjoy having the opportunity to pour into the next generation. We actually think it’s great if you can get some great work to add to your portfolio… But, let’s face it. This isn’t really about you. This is about the company you are going to work with and the clients they serve. So when you’re asked about things you don’t know anything about, it’s great to say so, but don’t let it end there. Try something like this instead, “I’m excited to learn more about how to do ______, but even while I’m picking that up, your company can immediately benefit from my proven ability to do _______.”Everyone from the intern to the senior strategist needs to know how they can immediately add value, or they need to be finding something else to do.
  3. Complete a side project… or three
    It seems everyone wants to get into digital marketing, and it’s fairly easy to do so. So many candidates we’ve spoken with have discussed how they wanted out of the accounting realm… or were bored doing X, Y and Z and decided marketing was the way to go. Awesome. Good on you for earning your degree or going back to get your MBA. But here’s the real question: how are you preparing yourself for this new world you want to be a part of? What are you reading? What are you doing? What have you actually done?These are questions you should be prepared to answer before you arrive at an interview. People who really want to be a part of something can’t help but tinker and create. You ABSOLUTELY MUST have a side project… or three. How did you use paid media to help your mama’s antique store grow business? Who have you been interviewing for your small podcast series? How are you using digital marketing to further your own passion for running/writing/cooking/showing dogs? The subject matter doesn’t matter. And your side project doesn’t even have to be great, life changing or even overly successful. (Although you’re a rock star if they are!) The point is that you’re demonstrating drive, initiative and follow through. That you are someone who’s investing in his/herself and not just waiting for someone else to do it for you.  Who wouldn’t want to hire THAT person?

You do these three things and not only will you find yourself moving further faster… I’ll be glad to talk to you about some positions I’m looking to fill that you might want to consider.