Careers: The “Relevant Experience” Catch-22

No matter what anyone says, I believe that “hiring” and “job hunting” are realistically two of the more difficult tasks in any person’s career path. While I’d argue the latter is infinitely more taxing than the former (especially for those not concurrently earning a paycheck), neither is a very desirable position to find one’s self in.

The problem, for both seekers of and hiring managers for not-quite-entry-level position jobs, is experience. Or, in many cases, the lack-thereof. Experience, relevant experience that is, is something that can only be come by if a person was actually given a shot at an entry-level role to begin with, and has since moved on. 

Herein lies the issue. In emerging disciplines, digital marketing being a great example, new areas of focus are literally being created every day– when I started in the business, nearly a decade ago now, you had paid search, SEO, and display media. Granted, there were offshoots of the three; but, in essence, those were the core functions of online marketing outside of web design. Now, aside from those three, we have analytics, data sciences, programmatic media, conversion rate optimization, social media, mobile, and many, many more being developed in agencies around the world.

So, then, how is someone with merely an interest in one of these new areas of focus, but no practical experience in the field itself, supposed to land themselves in anything but an entry-level position?

Easy. They just need a chance.

Back in 2010, fed up with SEM and dabbling, freelance-style, in social media for a few months, I had an opportunity to interview for a position in programmatic media— about which, I knew next to nothing. I did my research beforehand, obviously, but still, I did not have any relevant experience to speak of, despite my 5 years of paid search knowhow. The interviewer knew this, too; yet, in the end, gave me the opportunity to prove myself within this very new environment. Turns out, I liked working in the RTB space– and have been ever since.

Point being: “relevant experience” is, in itself, relevant. But, in many cases, hiring managers should expand their definition. Does anyone out there really have any significant relevant experience in CRO, for example? Likely, no. It hasn’t been a concept that’s been around very long. That doesn’t mean, however, that someone with years of SEM or SEO experience wouldn’t be an excellent candidate for a mid to high-level CRO position: they’ll need to be taught, or teach themselves, some of the finer points– but, that shouldn’t rule them out as as someone who could be a great fit in your organization.

If more hiring managers utilized this practice, and expanded their general idea of “relevant experience”, I personally believe the job market in digital marketing would be less of a rat race. Instead of the constant poaching that currently takes place, we could see some real progress in creating a more stable talent pool– one that isn’t ready to pack up & move on every 1-2 years. If nothing else, I believe we would create more opportunities for cross-discipline education, which, speaking from experience, can help make all of our digital marketing lives a little less complicated & redundant.

And who among us wouldn’t benefit from that?

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