For Students: How to Land an Interview at a Digital Agency

In Matt's Musings by Matt ChieraLeave a Comment

It isn’t about what you know. It’s about who you know. This step-by-step guide outlines a repeatable process that students can use to build their network and land a job at a digital agency by “knowing people” instead of wasting time filling out online applications.

This process is for students who are recently graduating. It doesn’t matter if you are graduating from a four-year university, community college or an online course, but this process works best if you are a soon-to-be-graduating student. Why? Because people want to help soon-to-be-graduating students.

First, know that the agency world is a unique one. In my experience, the traditional “apply online” path doesn’t work well. Agency people know and hire other agency people. Most open positions are filled by referrals. As a student looking for a job, your goal is to be one of those referrals.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

1. Find local, Senior-level, non-HR agency people on LinkedIn.

There are 15,189 people on LinkedIn that match with “senior SEO” in the greater Chicago area.

Senior-level local people are your target. They are practitioners and can give you great insights about day-to-day work at the agency. They also likely either assist in hiring decisions for their team or know people who do. In some cases, it might be appropriate to reach out to a Director, VP, or CEO, but these “higher ups” can be challenging to get a meeting with and less inclined to help you. Also, HR people are constantly messaged by prospective job-seekers. Your goal is to target people who do not receive a lot of messages from job-seekers, which will make yours stand out in their inbox. You also want to target local people. It’s easier to meet in-person and find common ground with people in your area.

2. Reach out to them on LinkedIn to meet for coffee or hop on a call.

The message doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Keep it short, sweet, and to-the-point.

This is a message a DePaul University senior recently used to get a coffee meeting with me. It worked.

3. During your meeting or call with them, have a “goals and project statement” to tell them about.

You need to have this prepared beforehand. I’ve been on many calls/meetings with soon-to-be-graduating students looking for a job. The ones who do not clearly articulate the type of role they are looking for and how they think they can add value to an agency are easily forgettable. Students who clearly articulate what kind of role they want and have a memorable relevant project to refer to are the ones who get followed up with.

A good “goals and project statement” is something like:

“At [insert school] I did a project where I created a real digital marketing plan for a local restaurant. The restaurant has since implemented our plan which led to a 10% increase in walk-ins. I’d like to work at an agency where I can continue to help local businesses in the hospitality industry with their digital marketing plans.”

Here’s another example:

“I built a B2B SEO blog that gets 700 unique visitors per month. I think my experience researching B2B SEO would make me a great fit as an analyst at a B2B SEO marketing agency.”

Your project doesn’t have to be a smashing success, but you want it to be memorable so that when your contact sends a two or three-line email or text to someone to recommend you for an interview, they can say something like: “Take a look at this student, they have a B2B SEO blog that already gets a bunch of unique visitors. Might want to get them in for an interview.”

4. Do this until you find someone that you click with: your “Champion.”

The first coffee meeting might be a dud. The first three coffee meetings might be duds. But eventually, you’ll find that person who genuinely wants to help you. Maybe they remember their struggle getting a job, maybe their company is currently hiring entry-level, maybe they have a friend at another agency who is. This is your “Champion.” Your goal is to have them “sell” you to their peers.

5. Follow up with your Champion until you land an interview, but don’t be annoying.

You need to think of this step like you’re a Salesperson. The product you’re selling is yourself. Your goal is an interview. Keep in mind that for most sales, it takes multiple touchpoints until you “close” (land an interview).

Here’s a quick “sales process” post-meeting:

  1. Send a “thank you” message after the meeting. Always do this, no matter what.
  2. If you don’t hear back, send another message 3-5 days after with a quick recap of the value you got from the meeting and reiterating your goal.
  3. Send another message 3-5 days after the interview and ask if they can put you in touch with someone who’s hiring. You don’t want to be annoying or overstep, but you probably won’t get an interview if you don’t muster up some courage and ask for it.
  4. Stay fresh in your Champions’s mind. The easiest way to do this is to continuously engage with their content on social media. If you’re constantly re-tweeting them or liking and commenting on their posts on LinkedIn, they aren’t going to forget you.
  5. If you hear nothing back from them, move on to a new contact and go into “drip” mode – keep engaging on their social media and drop them a message periodically. You have to feel out the contact at this stage to determine what frequency of communication is appropriate.
  6. Eventually (you’ll be surprised how quickly this happens) someone will put you in touch with someone who’s hiring and you’ll land the interview.

Let me know if you have any questions or comments in the comments section below. Best of luck, students!

About the Author

Matt Chiera

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Matt Chiera is the Founder and CEO of Ice Nine Online. Since forming the company in 2014, he’s helped Ice Nine Online’s small and mid-size clients generate millions of dollars in sales from digital marketing. Matt taught digital marketing strategy and tactics at the Tribeca School’s Digital Professional Institute. Matt’s book “Digital Marketers Sound Off” has been ranked as the #1 book in the Web Marketing category on Amazon. Matt is currently studying digital marketing and integrated communications at the University of Chicago.

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