iMedia Connection

How to snag your dream job in digital

Lucia Davis

The do's and don'ts of applying for jobs in the digital space are changing as rapidly as the industry itself. With each new technology comes a new qualification that recruiters and companies are looking for in potential candidates. In addition, the unique set of skills indicative of an attractive digital applicant means that a resume highlight for a traditional gig, like decades of experience, can become a disadvantage.

To get your dream job, you have to not only get your foot in the door with an excellent resume, but also ensure that your online presence is up to par. We rounded up five experts in the space, from digital headhunters to resume specialists, to give readers the rundown on essentials like what words to use -- and avoid -- on a digital resume, red flags for hiring companies, and the most in-demand skill sets in the industry right now.

How to snag your dream job in digital

Resume pointers

Lynn Ingham, digital talent guide: I have a deep appreciation for a finely worded, clean-looking resume, as do my hiring managers. In a world where the resume gets arguably two to three minutes of a hiring manager's full attention, every single word and phrase really counts. Also, applicants should include achievements and milestones and attach numbers and dates (e.g.: No.1 salesperson; grew territory 110 percent in 2011 and 150 percent in 2012; received 2012 award for creativity, etc.). Any time a hiring manager can match a significant milestone with meaningful business indicators and with recent achievements, a candidate's "currency" grows.

David Greenwald, founder, president, and managing director of i2i Placement: Resumes today need to be written dynamically (and professionally). In addition, they should be structured according to the specific job that the candidate is applying for and customized, as best as possible, to the style of the company. This is simply because hiring managers and HR people are looking for ways to dismiss the candidate, not qualify them. This sounds counter to the objective, but if the resume doesn't resonate and hit on the majority of key requirements, then the applicant is dismissed as a potential candidate.

Mark J. Landay, managing director of Dynamic Synergy: I look for career progression, increased responsibilities, growth, and overall consistency and success. In a resume, as is written in every career book, I like to see personal results and no lies or embellishments. It's a big mistake to misrepresent education. It is one of the easiest things to check, and if someone is willing to do this, they are likely to have less desirable scruples in other areas. Other examples of distortion are: the individual contributor who makes it sound as though he ran or managed a team; the "western regional sales manager" whose actual title was "account management;" the person who says she was promoted three times in four years but just put that last job on her resume (implying that they have been in a senior-level job for four years).

Allan Brown, resume writer and LinkedIn expert: Although digital is an industry of serial entrepreneurs, hiring managers are looking for someone who will stick around. Stressing entrepreneurial spirit is a negative -- it implies that the candidate may leave for the next great opportunity.

Matt LeBlanc, regional manager of Filter LLC: First of all, I'm not a big fan of objective and goal statements on resumes. Be as detailed as possible about your skills, and, ideally, the resume should help tell the story about where you've been and what you've done in the digital game. If you are a project manager, talk about the tools you've used and the efforts you've led, and include detail about technologies, platforms, and success stories. Drop names (people and companies) and evangelize your passions. This is your chance to tell everyone why you love digital. Two more quick tips: Unless you got a 4.0, don't put your GPA on your resume, and don't overly design your resume even if you're a designer.

Ingham: While years of experience can often be greatly desired, there is something scary about phrases like "more than 20 years or experience" when someone is applying for a current position in the digital industry. Since our industry changes so quickly (and is, indeed, in the midst of another significant cycle of growth and development as segments like mobile and video reach maturity), hiring managers are looking for candidates who are current with the latest technology and sales and marketing trends. So if you started in the print world many years ago, that part of your experience may be helpful in some ways, but it isn't your lead attribute for a digital position. It is much smarter to lead with information that reflects a current understanding of the uniquely complex digital world (whether it be a sales, marketing, technology, creative, or operations position that you seek). Be careful how you handle a long tenure in our industry. Positioned correctly, it is a strength. Positioned incorrectly, it can indicate you are mired in traditional experience and may not be as nimble in the digital environment as our industry requires.

Words to use -- and avoid -- on your resume

LeBlanc: Assuming these are applicable to your direct experience, the following words show you're knowledgeable: emerging media, emerging technology, open source, Agile/SCRUM, presentation layer, mobile, content management systems, middleware, back-end technologies, VR, and AI. Of course, anything that's going to tip off a recruiter, headhunter, or hiring manager as to what specialties you have or have been exposed to is recommended.

Brown: These words and phrases are typically what I look for in a good resume: collaboration, facilitated, trained and developed, dynamic, forward-thinking, and embraces changes. Words I recommend avoiding are: innovative, dynamic, motivated, extensive experience, results-oriented, proven track record, team player, fast-paced, problem solver, and entrepreneurial.

The role of LinkedIn

Greenwald: If there are discrepancies, even the slightest, between the candidate's resume and their LinkedIn or other social media information, it can be the kiss of death. The applicant will generally never know what happened (unless they are smart enough to do a comparison of this info and correct it to the point of complete and total accuracy across all formats).

Ingham: Candidates should be sure that their LinkedIn profiles are a match with their resumes -- dates, positions, associations, etc. The resume should include a link to the candidate's profile, and it is important to note, in this social networking era, many hiring managers use the size of a candidate's LinkedIn connections to gauge how well-connected they are in the industry. Gone are the days when 100 LinkedIn connections looked impressive. A minimal starting place to demonstrate industry connectedness is achieving that golden, shining 500+ status.

I also look for recommendations on a candidate's LinkedIn profile, and I do follow the recommendation to learn more about the person writing it. Recommendations are like "customer comments" and can say a lot about who the candidate is and how they approach their work that a straight resume or profile cannot. Good candidates tap their extended professional networks and ask for this kind of support, and it makes a difference.

Qualities of an ideal job candidate

Ingham: More and more, my hiring managers are looking for certain types of degrees or continuing education. In the creative world, candidates need to continue to learn new technologies (such as anything having to do with mobile) to stay on the cutting edge of digital design. In the sales world, candidates need to have some understanding of ad serving, analytics, data, video/rich media, and mobile opportunities, even if they don't have sales experience in all of those areas. Just as the sales process has grown more complex, so have the associated technologies, and strong candidates have kept current with industry changes. Candidates should demonstrate initiative and willingness to stay current by attending industry events, conferences, seminars, and e-learning, as well as staying abreast of industry publications, blogs, newsletters, and participating (at committee or board level wherever possible) in relevant professional organizations.

LeBlanc: We want to see a nice thread between the jobs and roles that they've held. We get very surgical when we do searches for qualified candidates. We want to find someone who looks just like what our client is looking for.

Currently, UX and mobile are the hottest jobs on the market. Any developers and engineers are regularly getting contract work and job offers. If you're a designer, you must understand and have experience working with UX and technology folks. Everyone is working so much closer together now -- no one can work in a silo anymore.

Landay: I look for career progression, increased responsibilities, growth, and overall consistency and success. Changes in jobs must make sense. Early career work in "academy companies" -- companies that provide good training and are known for retaining the best -- is also a plus.

We need candidates and will market them to the client because we are their advocates. But in order to accomplish this, they need to meet 90 percent or better of the requirements of the specific role we are looking to fill.

Ingham: Candidates who have graduated through one or more titles at the same company are often the kinds of employees that my hiring managers seek. When a company has elected to invest time and training into "grooming" or "growing" an employee, it indicates that they've placed a high value on retaining that person. My hiring managers are always looking for high-value employees who will commit to the current job, but they are also often looking for future leaders as well. When candidates have demonstrated peak performance (with promotions, awards, significant achievements) in one company, it is likely to assume that "code of excellence" will continue in a new firm.

Red flags, bad examples, and why dishonesty never works

Landay: I had a candidate who'd listed undergraduate work in Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Berkeley and an MBA from Stanford. Both schools checked their records and told me they'd never heard of the person. When I called to ask the candidate about this, the applicant just hung up the phone. When I discover this kind of dishonesty, I drop the candidate before the client drops me and my reputation as a high-quality recruiter becomes tainted.

Ingham: Hyperbole is a red flag. I spend half my days reading resumes and LinkedIn profiles and while I applaud that rare candidate who can find a way to stand out in a crowd without sounding like an egotistical maniac, be sure that any accomplishments you have on your resume or LinkedIn profile can be defended and confirmed. Typically, when something sounds too good to be true, it is exactly that. If you weren't the top salesperson for 15 years in a row, don't say that you were. Even the smallest hint of an exaggeration of talents or experience can quickly move a candidate out of contention.

Brown: When I see resumes from candidates in the digital space that have had five or six jobs in 10 years, it reflects bad judgment and a lack of commitment.

Ingham: While the digital world has more of a tolerance for shorter stints at companies (given the dynamic nature of our industry), especially when those companies are early stage, candidates with many jobs in a few years will find a job search more challenging than those who have more tenure at fewer employers. There are exceptions to every rule, but the cost of hiring, training, and mentoring employees continues to rise -- and the cost of replacing someone sooner than planned is a painful price for our lean, streamlined companies to pay. The biggest red flag to overcome is explaining short stints at too many companies in too short a timeframe.

The direction of the hiring process and general tips

Greenwald: A trend I'm starting to see, that I think will become more and more important to candidates and companies as technology makes advances in the hiring process, is the use and inclusion of video interviewing. Done both live and prerecorded, it's being used to determine candidate credibility and skills, as well as how they answer specific questions regarding their backgrounds, abilities toward the specific role they are interviewing for, and how they present themselves to the hiring manager, HR person, or company.

Companies and services like Skype (most widely used), VidCruiter, Take the Interview, Wowzer, GreenJobInterview, and even Google+ Hangouts are enabling candidates to bundle their resume, profile, and presentations together. It's relatively easy and a huge advantage to the vetting, interview, and hiring process to submit your info this way.

Landay: If you're just starting to look, or think you have a strong success story to tell that you want us to market (in confidence) to companies that you're interested in, by all means, reach out. We [headhunters] are your trusted advisor and will "market" you to appropriate opportunities we're working on.

Greenwald: All digital job applicants should be familiar with the Lumascape Slides, created and published by Terence Kawaja at Luma Partners. At a high level, these slides show how much opportunity there is in the digital media business across the various ecosystems. It illustrates the complexity of our industry, explaining why having, meeting, and matching the specific requirements of a potential job with at least 90 percent or better skills and experience. I can't emphasis this enough: Digital is expanding at the rate of the universe, and these slides demonstrate the story better than any conversation or tool I've used in the past.

Ingham: There is a lot of professional opportunity in our digital world for smart, committed candidates, and there are ways to prepare for or to ensure longevity in our industry. This requires making thoughtful choices about job changes, and as you look for new employment, there are four things you should keep in mind. 

First, develop a capacity to think globally. Having a better understanding of the wider global economy and of cultural nuances make you a stronger candidate. Then, commit to lifelong learning, whether it be formal schooling or informal training: To stay relevant, strong candidates embrace continuing education. Third, develop a meaningful professional social network that you can turn to with questions and get (and give) good career guidance. Finally, embrace innovation and change. Do not be afraid. The digital world is in constant change, and the right mindset will ensure that you enjoy the journey as much as you enjoy the destination.

Lucia Davis is a freelance writer.

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