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More students than ever before begin university this autumn and they’re likely to graduate into a tough job market.

So what can would-be SEOers do to boost their employment chances?

This summer, an average of 70 graduates chased every job, while the number of positions available fell by 7%. That’s according to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which has urged graduates to take any employment while they job hunt, whether it’s flipping burgers or something more relevant.

Some of the students beginning or completing their courses this year will be considering a career in the growth-industry of online marketing and SEO. 

If you’re one, it’s never too early to be thinking about boosting your skills and experience so that you have the edge when you come to look for jobs. 

My advice is also relevant to non-graduates who want to prove their talent without the time and cost of university life.

Build experience now

University is the perfect place to hone your online marketing and optimisation skills. There are so many societies and clubs that need help promoting themselves and their events, that you have every opportunity to build a portfolio.

Aim to leave university with at least one promotional success under your belt. If you’re already looking for a job then consider volunteering your skills to a local charity or club. 

This will show you’re passionate about your chosen career and not afraid of working hard, even in your spare time.

Broaden your skills

Why do you want to get into SEO? Is it because you’re keen on marketing, because you’re quite techy, or even because you enjoy blogging and know that’s a big part of optimisation?

No matter how expert you are in one particular field, you need to demonstrate at least an understanding of the other skills required.

It’s great if you’re strong in one particular discipline but there’s so much that goes into an optimisation campaign that you need to be quite broadly skilled to go far in our industry.

Practice your interview skills

Interviewing is hard for many otherwise excellent candidates, so take the time to brush up your skills. There’s lots of advice online so read it.

As the director of an SEO agency, we are frequently recruiting so I’m privileged to interview many outstanding candidates for employment. For me, one of the most important elements to the interview is the candidate’s questions.

Make sure you have some ready. A particularly good question for forging a link with an interviewer is: ‘How did you begin your career?’ This shows interest, sparks a conversation the interviewer will enjoy and could give you some useful information.

Research every agency you interview with

You should never go blindly into an interview but this is especially true of marketing interviews. 

If you want to work for a particular agency then show them. Read the corporate blog, explore their existing clients and build up an understanding of that particular agency. 

You should spend at least a few hours preparing for every single interview if you want to rise above the competition.

Tell them what you admire about their current work. If you’re naturally cocky and very confident of your ground, tell them what you would do differently or how you would enhance a current campaign.

Optimise yourself

Do you have a website where you showcase your work? A blog where you charm readers with your interesting observations? An up to date LinkedIn profile?

As a potential employer, if I Google your name, will you rank highly? Make sure your online presence impresses if you want to work in SEO.

Stand out from the crowd

You’ve probably already seen ‘Zeefax’, a piece of self-marketing genius from a guy named Zef Narkiewicz.

I also remember a graduate a few years back who got a job at a top firm by buying paid search advertising around the names of the directors. When they ran vanity searches, he had a personalised advert ready waiting for them.

Not everyone can come up with such strokes of genius but they show the value of standing out from the crowd. Do what you can to be a memorable candidate, whether it’s means ambushing potential employers at SEO conferences or sending your CV printed on a cake.

Remember, we’re marketers. We appreciate a candidate who markets themselves well (please note. This was not a plea for cake).

Kevin Gibbons

Published 31 August, 2011 by Kevin Gibbons

Kevin Gibbons is UK Managing Director at digital marketing agency BlueGlass. He is also known as an SEO speaker and can be found on Twitter and Google+.

102 more posts from this author

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Kes Phelps

A recent report stated that 80% of employers would prefer a school leaver with 3 years experience than a graduate with none!

As an SEO you have the advantage of gaining experience without employment by building your own SEO projects. You can showcase your talent and passion just as well with your own projects and they may even support you financially throughout uni. Hell if you do a proper job of it you won't need to get a job ;)

over 5 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

When I was looking to hire employees for my SEO company, I specifically looked for candidates with marketing and writing backgrounds. I can teach someone how to optimize a site properly, but I can't make someone a good writer. If you want to really get into SEO, you've got the be able to write compelling content!

over 5 years ago

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Innes

From the experience I have to date, you need to make yourself approachable and also tell a good story. No nonsense, you do have to tell the truth but tell the interview about a really cool piece of SEO work you have done or a piece of SEO news or something about the industry that takes your interest. Make sure you are compelling and that you bring out your personality.

over 5 years ago

Alex Wares

Alex Wares, Director at Mediarun Search Ltd

As a director of an SEO company I am often surprised as to how few questions I am asked in interview by candidates. It seems a no brainer that if you are looking to spend every week of your life for potentially years at a business then you would want to know a lot about the company, its background, the people, the clients etc. I echo the above point made, prepare and ask some intelligent questions it really makes a candidate stand out.

over 5 years ago

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Matt Chandler

I'm disappointed with this post - it's much more about how to impress at 'interview' than how to impress at 'SEO interview'.

over 5 years ago

Ian Barnes

Ian Barnes, Director at Praeparo Ltd

I would say build up a great case study that can be used to demonstrate your knowledge. Everyone can read a book and quote it but what I look for is real experience of what went well and what didn't. I would exect anyone in this field to quote something that took some tweaking, learning on the job and a few times to get right. It is this logical thinking and adaptability that I would want.

over 5 years ago

Malcolm Slade

Malcolm Slade, SEO Project Manager at Epiphany Search

From a pure SEO point of view, I am more interested in a candidate who is able to apply logic and is willing to argue their case (be it right or wrong) for a particular scenario or technique.

I want people with fire in their bellies who will add something to the mix, rather than blank canvases who just want to be trained.

over 5 years ago

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Uncle Demotivator

@Alex Wares:

You know, they could just... *cough* google it and that's why they don't have so few question about company itself - they have found everything they wanted to know ;)

But OK - not everything can be found on the Internet, so it's always a good idea to get information from the original source (however director may be not the most objective source - You wouldn't say "atmosphere at my company sucks", would You? ;) ).

@author:

Nice post.

over 5 years ago

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