This story is not for the faint of heart. There are twists and turns, successes and failures, epic adventures, guns, and a fire-breathing dragon. This is the true story (except for the dragon) of how an accountant from NYC landed his first job in digital marketing at Kahena. Through this journey I will also list the lessons I learned along the way in an effort to provide an outline for aspiring internet marketers to make their mark and land their first job in a top-quality firm. My story is rich and interesting but not much different than many others in the industry. That is what makes this field so inspiring and creative – it is available to anyone that sets their mind to it, and success is at your fingertips.
An Accountant’s Tale
This is the boring part of the story. Like Frodo Baggins, things got a whole lot more interesting once I left the comfortable but bland life I was living. Sure my career at Deloitte and Touche was blossoming, however, I did not feel that the skills I was developing had any bearing outside of a financial statement. As Simon Sinek’s inspiring TED Talk teaches, I couldn’t connect to the “Why” of my industry and I knew long term my career would suffer for the lack of it.
A week after earning my CPA and it arriving in the mail, I made the drastic decision to fly to Israel where I had no friends and family, or in other words, a lot of time to think. I spent two years thinking. I learned and thought, I picked weeds at a kibbutz and thought, I even hiked the length of the country and thought, and out of this arose a core foundation of values that I wanted in a career and lifestyle. While at the time I didn’t know digital marketing from a nail, this laid a framework for me to make a serious decision when the opportunity arrived.
How the Army Prepared Me for SEO
Half a year after becoming an Israeli citizen, I got a call from the army telling me that it was time to enlist. Needless to say I was a bit surprised. I was 27 years old, that’s 9 years older than the average Israeli soldier that enlists at 18. If Billy Madison was to have a sequel, this was it. Having seen the movie at least twenty times, I knew there would be challenges, but there was also the possibility for some great comedic moments, a chance to make some new friends, and who knows, maybe there would be a girl at the end (PS – there was!). As it turns out, the army was also crucial preparation for me to dive into the world of digital marketing. Here is how:
1. Getting comfortable with a new language – I started the army with what I thought was moderate Hebrew. However, Army Hebrew is a couple of words of modern Hebrew, doused with acronyms, slang, and ridiculous terms and then blended together with accents from all ends of the world. I thus had to grapple with what was basically an entirely new language to learn. Similarly, when it came to Digital Marketing. I thought I was an all-star at finding my way around the internet. Turns out it wasn’t my expert queries, but rather a conversation between all the websites on the internet and Google, that served me the exact information I was looking for. The adept internet marketer has a whole language to learn that consists of robots.txt, sitemaps, meta tags, cookies, and the list goes on. So be prepared, you might think that your IT background will allow you to BS your way through an interview and get hired. Sorry – you need to be humble and work as would a beginner. I sat every evening of basic training with flash cards learning the words that were yelled at me throughout the day so I would be prepared for the next. Do the same: take notes as you go through your materials and reference them as you need. Pro tip: surreptitiously take them out during an interview so your interviewer knows you mean business.
2. Helping a brother out – During the first month of training, one learns right away that some people know all the tricks. For example, how to tie your shoe in under 30 seconds, how to turn a can of dry oily tuna into a tasty BBQ feast, and how to sleep on your gun without waking up with a nasty back ache. Maybe they learned from their older siblings, maybe from friends, or maybe they came up with it themselves. One thing is for certain, in the army it is those that share what they know that get rewarded, promoted, and the respect of the team. The same I learned is true in SEO. SEO professionals don’t hide secrets from each other. Google the phrase “SEO tips” and you will get somewhere along the lines of 32 million hits. By sharing what you learn, you differentiate yourself as an industry leader and a trustworthy partner that people want to work with. This starts on day 1 when you are learning the basics. Use this to your advantage and share what you learn, as even the veteran could use a review of core SEO principles. On my first day of learning, I created a Twitter account and shared industry news, tips, and local events. I followed the big shots in the industry and re-tweeted items of importance. Now when I post, my reach is that much higher. Pro-tip: Create a list of potential future employers on Twitter and start networking with them. Answer questions they might have, comment and share their blog pieces, and ask good questions. This will not only prove your seriousness, but also gives you an opportunity to learn what the industry is getting excited about.
3. Keep in mind the context and source of information – Within the 32 million hits above, probably 1/2 of them are outdated and another 1/4 being just bad (possibly “black-hat”) advise. That still leaves a hefty amount of brilliant tips, tools, and resources to learn from. However, if you don’t investigate the source of the information, you could end up picking up bad SEO practices. I learned this important lesson the hard way during the last few weeks of my army service. When you enlist in the army there is a long list of benefits you are entitled to during your army service, however, if you don’t know the magic word to unlock them, you are out of luck. There was one “magic word” my friends and officers promised me that grants free housing for two months after the army. I trusted this information without investigating, and the result was that I was refused for the benefit due to the length of my service. This meant that I left the army homeless and without a job. As you can imagine, I was pretty desperate. However, I was fortunate enough to have developed a large network of support. It was these people who helped me to secure a place to stay and the internships that would set me onto my path as an internet marketer. Pro tip: when searching for SEO tips or answers, always search within a trusted site and adjust your search to only show results from the past year – this will eliminate a ton of bad or outdated results.
Back to School
Maybe the most important thing I learned from being in the army is that it is okay to start from square 1.
This as it turns out is actually a requirement for digital marketers. The industry changes so fast that if you can’t learn on your own, you will sink your own ship. The most recent example of this can be seen in the value of guest posting. Guest posting for years was the most successful SEO tactic for link generation. The strategy was simple and seemed flawless – you would write a great post for another site and then include a link to your site in the author’s bio. Recently, however, this tactic became automated and spammy, so much so that last month Matt Cutts, Head of Google’s Webspam team, shook the industry by decreeing “The decay and fall of guest blogging for SEO“. Many in the industry have been unable to recover from these bad habits and refuse to learn new strategies. These are the agencies that will fail.
After the army, I set my sites on learning SEO. Instead of immediately shooting out resumes to firms and expecting to get trained, I took my time to learn and practice on my own. I surrounded myself in the industry by reading news, attending local networking events, and even bought a domain so I would have a site I could use to train on. Without much money, I utilized every free SEO tool that was available to me to train, and there are many. One free tool that I recommend is Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO. I read through this guide twice in my own training for SEO. I thought it would be important for interviews from a skill standpoint, but as it turned out what stood out more was my drive and willingness to self learn.
Bringing it Home
The main takeaway from this post is that it takes investment and preparation to land a job at a top internet marketing firm. You can’t just knock on the door and expect to be let in. Internet marketing is not a passive industry. We research heavily and make a plan of action that will give us the highest possibility to achieve desired results. Here is a real life example. Currently we are working on a video marketing plan for a client. Hoping for sucess, however, is not just posting the video on YouTube and crossing our fingers that a million people will share it. Hoping is investing days locating relevant blogs and communities that would be interested in the video and then reaching out asking that if they liked the video to share it. Then we followup and do it all again with a new list. So now you know, no video goes viral without incredible preparation. By heeding my story and investing in the resources available to you, you are bound to wind up with a job you love and work with people that excite and challenge you. I am thrilled to say that Kahena is the wacky team that did this for me.