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Becoming the Digital Decision Maker

  |  March 10, 2011   |  Comments

How to gain, improve, and be fulfilled in online marketing careers.

Over the 12-plus years I have spent in the Internet and online marketing industry, I have found one constant with all my interactions - that is the career. I hear these questions all the time: how do I break into the industry? What area should I focus on, search or social media? Should I be a generalist or specialist? How do I get the decision makers to get on board? And despite all the amazingly interesting topics unfolding almost daily in this ultra fluent area of online marketing, these we're the ones that made a big impact on lives and more over the ones that keep me energized in my own personal mission of motivated education. And to that, we embark on this Careers column, and I will start with macro perspective and advice, then work my way to the nitty-gritty of all the places opportunity can be had.

In every post, I will focus on three main aspects to careers:

  • Why: The big picture of mapping career to life calling.
  • How: Gaining the skills and knowledge to command respect for upward mobility.
  • Where: A plethora of various careers are coming about; where to go to find them.

The Why

The best advice I ever had in my effort to choose a career came in my last year (yes, my fifth, if you must know!) in college, where I was told, "You never know what you really want to do until you do it." At this point in my life, I had been set to be a doctor. I had already envisioned the white coat and the societal importance. It was pretty much a fait accompli…I was pre-med and about to embark on taking the much daunting MCATs to figure out my medical school prospects. Then I decided that I better see if it was something I want to do, and interned at a local hospital. That lasted one week.

After seeing all the suffering, bed pan changing, and depressing situations, I realized suddenly…this is not my calling. That's the first question we must answer, right? Why do I want a career in digital? Answer this, and so much more will unfold before you that the path is almost inevitable. I will cover much more behind getting to the "why" in future columns.

The How

Interestingly, the "how" is the easier part. You simply need to acquire skills that are in demand and differentiate yourself with education to validate your knowledge and skill sets. On this later point, I have seen a crazy amount of resumes where folks claim to have things like e-mail marketing or analytics experience and look amazing on paper, only to find out after three months that they only know how to look at an e-mail open rate report and have experience with Google Analytics on the periphery. Many hiring managers have the same experience, so they are looking for proof positive that you know what you're doing and can do it well. There a few ways to get this needed experience or prove the experience you have.

First, simply volunteer for a project that involves the area of expertise you wish to acquire or, if you already have that experience, on your next project related to that, ask your boss or client if you can make this into a case study and document the steps taken, success seen, and show your willingness to go the extra mile. The next thing you'll want to do after two or three projects under your belt that are well documented is validate that knowledge through trainings, workshops, and certificate-type programs. So, if you need the knowledge, take as many courses as you can handle. If you have the knowledge, take the most representative course or assessments to prove you have this…remember, it's not enough to just say you did, you need to prove it. For example, if two resumes sit side by side and both have five years of social media experience with amazing success, the one that has the "Social Media Certification" will stand out much greater, not only as a proof point, but as that extra show of initiative to educate oneself and the underlying motivation.

In summary, follow Nike and a) "Just do it," and b) validate you know how to do it.

The Where

Everywhere. That's the word I think of when someone says, how do I find a career in digital or where do I find a better job than the one I have? It's seriously everywhere. All you have to do is read The Wall Street Journal or the business section of The New York Times and announcements of companies growing, launching, etc. are all over the place. The fundamental disciplines like e-mail, search, analytics, and demand generation are in such high demand that the industry simply can't hire fast enough to keep pace. Social media has the buzz and, yes, there's a lot of opportunity there, but you should also look into cross-functional expertise like social media and Web analytics or social media and demand generation. So many people are now doing social, you need to make yourself stand out with some hardcore fundamentals to increase your value.

The other major decisions you need to think about when looking for the "where do I find this career?" are:

  • Is this a stepping stone to a long-term career ?
  • Do I want to be part of an agency and have diversity in my work or brand?
  • What's the career path within that company?
  • Is money more important than career opportunities?

For example, if you are just getting into a new discipline and expect to be paid the same top dollar you made before, have the title to boot, and set up your potential employer to evaluate you on such merits, you will be in bad shape. You will be much better off taking a small step back on title and money in such a situation, especially if the company and career path is one you really want.

Answer these before you look, let alone walk in the door of that first interview and you'll get where you want to go a lot faster.

And allow me to remind you, this is a different type of column where personal one-to-one questions about career advice are expected, so drop me a note here or on Linkedin or Facebook, and I will answer all questions in a private manner and will only post anonymously with your approval.

Happy hunting!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aaron Kahlow

After selling the Online Marking Summit (OMS) event company in 2011, Aaron is now leading the charge of the newest venture, the Online Marketing Institute - an e-learning platform and training destination for digital marketing education.

Kahlow is one of the most recognized thought-leaders in the digital marketing and social media space. Having founded, funded, and built three prolific and highly profitable digital marketing companies, Kahlow has also delivered hundreds of marquee keynote speeches around the globe. He is a recognized author, columnist (ClickZ, NYT) and authority on social media marketing, sales and marketing integration, demand generation, business-to-business marketing, search marketing, usability, analytics, and digital marketing strategy.

Today, Aaron can be found in his new home city of San Francisco, working on the global expansion of "Teaching the World Digital" in his e-learning technology venture, the Online Marketing Institute. Facebook and LinkedIn are his preferred places to connect.

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