This list is targeted for SEO folks, because that’s what I am. However, I think it applies to most technology professions.
Tip 1: Distill your personal philosophy into simple terms
This tip is twofold. First off, speak in plain English, regardless of the intelligence or title of the audience. Being able to explain things clearly means you understand them completely, and aren’t hiding behind big words. Speaking plainly will make you look more confident, more intelligent, and more credible.
Now, in terms of SEO, it’s a wild world, and there are a lot of moving parts. You can prioritize however you want, whatever way you’re the most comfortable with, whichever direction you’ve seen bring the best results. That’s all well and good, but you also need to be able to articulate why that is. Why do you focus on usability first? Or content? Or architecture?
This isn’t just your elevator speech, it’s your SEO-mantra, your mission statement, and it’s one thing you can use to set yourself apart from other candidates.
Tip 2: Do it, Prove it, Track it, Put it on your Resume in Hard Numbers
If you haven’t done SEO, it’s going to be hard to get a job doing it. Right now there are no degrees, there are a few scattered certifications, but the pros I know don’t bother with those things.
We have liberal arts degrees, we have technical degrees, and we’re all over the map. What we have in common is experience. Our resumes include results and hard numbers. We can tell you to Google X term, and our work will be at the top of search. We can then tell you what we did to get it there, and how we can do the same for any website.
Your resume has to be on the top of the stack before the recruiter starts making calls, before the hiring manager decides who to bring in, and in order to do that, it has to include results. Googleable-phrases, percentage of search traffic growth over time. You need metrics that demonstrate that the business was positively impacted as a result of your efforts.
If you can also articulate why it was positively or negatively impacted by algorithm changes like Panda or Penguin, then you’re ahead of the curve.
Tip 3: Network with people who have full time SEO jobs in the city you want to work in
I get 1-2 blind recruiter contacts a week. Usually via LinkedIn (where I have clearly stated in my settings that I’m not looking for a new job) and sometimes from recruiters who have me in their database from my last job search, or who have stumbled across an electronic version of my resume from over 2 years ago.
Here’s how the conversation goes:
Recruiter: Hi, I’m calling you about a great position at [Insert big company name]
Me: Hi, I’m really happy where I am. Sorry – I can’t help you.
Recruiter: Do you know of anyone in your area who might be qualified for this position?
Me: Gosh, I’m really sorry, I don’t know anyone who’s looking right now.
See those last two lines? If I knew you, and I knew your work, and I knew you were a good egg that I’d be willing to recommend, then your name could have been the next thing I said.
But it’s not. Because I don’t know you. Because you haven’t reached out to me. You haven’t asked me for an informational interview. You haven’t introduced yourself at a networking event. You haven’t even @replied to me on Twitter. You haven’t pinged me on LinkedIn in a professional way. (I prefer an email WITHOUT a connection request, personally. I don’t know you, I’m not adding you to my network. You email me, we chat and then meet up, THEN I will add you.)
Incidentally, it’s not just recruiters who ask for names. I was asked this same question yesterday at jury duty by the CMO of a software firm.
Tip 4: Be nice to the right recruiters
I’m of the opinion that you should be nice to all recruiters, but frankly, some “get it” better than others. A good recruiter is one that acts like a “realtor” of your job search. A good recruiter is a facilitator and a go-between. You can pester a recruiter with daily “have you heard anything?” calls that you can’t do to a hiring manager. A really great recruiter can even help you negotiate a higher salary.
But just as you wouldn’t hire a realtor who lived out of town to help you buy a house in your neighborhood, you don’t want to spend a lot of time and effort on a recruiter who doesn’t know organic search from pay-per-click.
Interview your recruiters when they call (and the deeper and more technical your field, the more they will call). Make sure they understand your work, your field, and the competitive landscape. Then make sure they understand you as an individual. Are you going to do great in a business-casual very corporate environment? Or really, really not? Do they know that? Do they get it?
Just as you can buy or sell a house without a realtor, you can job hunt without recruiters. But I prefer having expert help. I’ve worked with a few recruiters who I’d recommend without blinking.
(There we go, back to that networking tip again.)
Tip 5: Keep up to date with the industry
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway.
SEO is a changing field. Daily. There is no book on the subject published today that will be 100% accurate in a year. As I said earlier, there’s not a degree.
So, we keep up to date by keeping in touch with one another. We network. We use twitter, and blogs, and Facebook. We follow the people who talk a lot and share useful stuff. We go to conferences. We follow Google employees.
The last two jobs I’ve gotten, during the interviews, the hiring manager asked me which SEO blogs I regularly read. Expect this question. Be able to articulate why you follow the people you follow.