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So You Want a Career in Marketing? Seven Tips to Get You There

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Marketing jobs are sexy. OK, I might be biased. But judging from the number of career-changers and freshly-minted graduates (and their parents) who approach me for advice, the interest is clearly high. After all, where else can you find reasonable (and sometimes excellent) remuneration for a job that lets former English majors psychoanalyze people for a living? Competition for these jobs is intense, so here are seven tips for bulldozing your way through the competition.

1) Your cover letter is key. Particularly if you're a recent graduate, your resume may be thin. But you can outclass the other applicants by showing real interest in the company. Research it and find some nuggets. Was it in the news recently? Have they released a new product? What trends are impacting their industry? Even demonstrating a minimal knowledge about the organization will set you apart from the panicky crowds who send the same boilerplate to 50 companies a day and wonder why they can't get an interview.

2) Leverage LinkedIn. If you haven't already, set up a LinkedIn account, which lets you see who your contacts know. If you're applying for a job at Coca-Cola and your former co-worker knows a division manager there, see if you can get him to make an introduction. Even if he's in a different department, a quick conversation can probably yield some insight and will show the interviewer you cared enough to do extra research. And at smaller organizations, having someone "put in a good word for you" can quickly make its way to the hiring manager's ears.

3) Know the field. It doesn't matter if the unemployment rate is 5 percent or 10 percent -- most applicants, amazingly, are still unprepared and unprofessional. It's almost sad how easy it is to stand out. If you're applying for marketing jobs, make sure you're familiar with thought leaders in the field. Read the most prominent blogs (you can find lists on Technorati, Alltop, or other sites) and check some books out of the library -- Seth Godin, Jack Trout, Malcolm Gladwell, pick your poison. But have some names to drop.

4) Know your interviewer. Find out in advance who, precisely, will be interviewing you. It's not a state secret, and if you ask, they'll surely tell you. With Facebook, LinkedIn, and other sites with copious biographical information, it's criminally negligent these days not to know who you're dealing with. Research each person you'll be talking to, with the goal of having a few interesting questions to ask them about their background ("I understand you were in the Peace Corps -- what was that like?") or commonalities so you can make an immediate connection ("I'm from Alabama, too!"). Those extra details will help put them at ease and make your interview go more smoothly.

5) Have a good writing sample. Marketing jobs are almost always writing-intensive (that's why they get the English majors -- or in my case, the philosophy majors). If you've got the chops, prove it. They don't want a term paper or some other jargon-laden treatise. Bang out a couple of white papers (two to four-page, user-friendly writeups) or blog posts about topics you know and care about. What are the top five mistakes companies make on Twitter? How can you make your Facebook page stand out? What are the best and worst uses of YouTube you've seen among small businesses? You may not think of yourself as an expert, but if you're a media consumer today, you've probably got opinions. And if you've been reading your steady diet of blogs and library books, you may just have something interesting to say. Handing over a couple of documents like that will shock and awe your interviewer.

6) Say thanks. You probably heard this from Mom, but I'll say it again: thank the interviewer. Email them thanks that day, and send them a hard copy thank you note that evening, so they get it in a day or two. In each, mention a different aspect of the interview you enjoyed or reference a specific piece of the conversation. That shows you were paying attention and will also serve to remind them of your pithy and insightful comments.

7) Provide value. Finally -- unfortunately -- the job search process often drags on interminably. There could be weeks between your initial interview and a decision -- or, heaven help us, a second or third or fourth interview. Don't let them forget about you. Focus in on your conversation. Did particular themes emerge? Are there competitive threats -- or opportunities -- the interviewer mentioned? Or perhaps her personal love for llamas, or the Boston Bruins? Whatever it is, stay on their radar by providing value. If you see an interesting article as the decision-making process is unfolding, send it along with a note reminding them how much you enjoyed the conversation and that after talking with them, you're even more interested in joining the team.

Follow these seven steps, and -- no matter how tight the job market around you -- a good marketing job will soon be yours.

Dorie Clark, a marketing and strategy consultant for clients such as Google, Yale University, and the National Park Service, is President of Clark Strategic Communications. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Next?: The Art of Reinventing Your Personal Brand (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012).