Time to Make That Vertical Career Move?

If you’re an interactive planner, buyer, or account manager with more than five years of online experience, you’re one of the most wanted employees in America. At least, that’s how it feels lately. Not since the glory days of the late ’90s has interactive advertising been this hot. And even then, the demand for knowledgeable people (and a willingness to compensate them well) wasn’t this high.

Should a constant barrage of calls from headhunters not be sufficient proof, take CNN Money’s word for it. A few weeks ago, the property gave the number two spot on its “10 jobs: Big demand, good pay” list to account directors with online experience. “The dot-com bust chased a lot of talent away from the Internet,” the story said. Those who stuck it out are finally reaping the benefits.

These circumstances are prompting a lot of our colleagues to reconsider their current situations. Are they happy in their jobs? Is the pay competitive? Could they do better somewhere else? At this moment, I know no fewer than four great agency planners who have been in their jobs for less than a year and are about to trade up. Way up.

Blink, and you might not even get to meet your agency’s newest addition.

I’m all for striking while the iron is hot. In a few years, skilled senior strategists and their ilk will be a lot easier to come by, reducing both our value and negotiating power. Mind you, there’ll still be a place for us; the 9 years of experience agencies want now will turn to 12, and finding true veterans will be even more of a challenge. In the meantime, if you can snag a sizeable promotion, more power to you. Just make sure you do it right.

The lure of status and a salary bump can be tempting. In the rush to secure the best offer, it’s easy to forgo the deep considerations that allow us to view the big picture. If you want to make a vertical move, there’s more to contemplate than salary.

Taking the Title

I’d challenge anyone to show me an industry with job titles more arbitrary than ours. Where else can you find so many chief experience officers (CXOs) and brand evangelists?

Still, the right title is key to facilitating an efficient work life and advancing your career. A distinctive, pithy title may seem novel at first, but try gaining the trust of clients for whom you’re conducting online research when “surfer” is on your business card.

Be equally wary of titles that won’t translate when you move on. Much of the demand for interactive folks is from traditional companies eager to get up to speed with the Web or offline agencies that need to branch out. If you’re faced with a title that’s unfamiliar, vet it by searching the job boards of established interactive media groups. It’s worth nitpicking now to avoid having to substantiate yourself later.

Location, Location, Location

Most of the job offers crossing your desk are probably concentrated in urban centers like New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. For planners in smaller cities, these hubs can hold a lot of appeal. Before you say yes to what might seem like a significant increase in pay, consider your current standard of living and how it stands to change. Salaries are far higher in these areas, but so’s just about every expense you’ll have when you get there.

The Benefits of Benefits

It’s been a long time since interactive employees routinely enjoyed a free laundry service and candy supply (we can’t all work for Google and Yahoo). But in today’s’ competitive hiring environment, a good many perks remain. Ask your corporate suitor about stock options, education credits, and tuition reimbursement programs. The bigger players (and even the good small ones) are working hard to make themselves your top choice.

It’s nice to feel wanted. It’s even nicer to be wanted and to make it count.

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