It was July 2016 and I was starting to worry. I was about to do something desperate. I was about to walk into a building and attempt to get a job at a digital marketing agency with absolutely no experience.
I had quit my job as a reporter four months earlier to concentrate on learning to code. In some ways, things were going pretty well:
-Every website I built was better than the last.
-My programming course at a local university was starting to make sense.
-I had a few small-time freelance projects to work on.
There was just one glaring issue: I needed money.
Anyone lucky to live in Southern California knows it isn’t cheap. My amazing girlfriend paid rent while I ate into my savings to cover bills, student loans and the like. But while I applied to part-time jobs almost every day, I never even got a phone call or an interview.
I didn’t feel skilled enough to get a job as a web developer or designer, but I was running out of options. So I picked up the phone and called Lemonade Stand, Yalla’s sister company.
“Thank you for calling Lemonade Stand, this is Chris. How can I help you?”
“Hi, my name’s Kia. I was wondering if there was anyone over there I could talk to about an internship…”
I stumbled into my job at Lemonade Stand. I never set out to get hired at a digital marketing agency – in fact, I didn’t even fully grasp what an agency like ours does. Two months after that phone call, though, I cashed my first Lemonade Stand paycheck.
I’m a full-time member of the team now. I’ve even built a few tools to make life at a marketing agency easier – like this free keyword match type generator you can use to generate lists of keywords for services like Google AdWords.
Greg, my boss, asked me to write this post to help out others looking how to get a job at a digital agency. I’ll be honest: Luck is probably the biggest reason I’m working here today. But I’ve got a couple tips for the job seekers out there:
Be persistent – almost too persistent
As a reporter, I used to get paid to annoy people. If someone had information I needed, I wouldn’t give up until I talked to them. I’ve had people swear at me, slam doors in my face and assume a fake identity to throw me off their trail. (Seriously.) But I’ve always walked away satisfied that I gave them every chance I could to comment – anything less would be unfair.
So it didn’t really bother me when that first call to Lemonade Stand went nowhere.
Chris had me leave a message with John, our VP of marketing. John never called back. So I called a few days later and asked for him.
“Hi, John, my name’s Kia. I’ve been teaching myself how to build websites for a while now, and I’d like to try and get some real-world experience. Do you guys offer any internships in web development?”
John asked me a bit about myself, and I gave him a brief overview of my story.
“Tell you what,” he said. “We’ve been thinking about doing an internship program for a while. Let me talk to everyone here and get back to you.”
Hey, success! I had just cold called my way into a “maybe.” Pretty good for someone with zero marketing credentials. I emailed John a link to my personal website and portfolio and felt much better than I had before reaching out.
But then John never called back.
So a few days later, I called him. Again. By this point Chris was starting to recognize me. He took a message for John, who returned it later that day.
“Hey, Kia, sorry about that. Yeah, I haven’t had time to talk to the guys about the internship thing, but I’ll let you know early next week.”
By this point I was pretty sure John just didn’t want to hurt my feelings and say they weren’t interested. But I wasn’t going to make it easy for him. I stuck with a reporting tactic you should use in your job hunt: Assume the answer is yes until you get a firm no.
So, when “early next week” came and went with no news, guess who jumped on the phone and dialed Lemonade Stand’s number?
“Hey, John, it’s Kia again. Just wanted to check if you had time to talk with everybody about doing an internship. I’m definitely still interested. Thanks in advance, and give me a call back when you can.”
Nothing. It was time for a Hail Mary. The next afternoon, I drove to the Lemonade Stand office with a copy of my resume and a business card. (Related tip: get business cards. They’re cheap.) John, whose office is closest to the front door, looked surprised to see me.
“Hey, John, nice to meet you!” I said, shaking his hand. “I just realized I hadn’t sent you my resume [I had], so I figured I’d stop by and drop it off. This is a really cool office!”
We made small talk for a few minutes before I left. Twenty minutes later, back at my apartment, the phone rang.
“Hey Kia, it’s John. You sold us. When can you come in and talk about an internship?”
Rejection sucks – but it’s the most valuable feedback to get when you’re looking for a job. Ambiguity is the real killer. If you don’t know why you don’t get hired, you can’t learn from the experience.
Now that I work with John, I know he’s a busy guy. He really hadn’t had time to figure out whether Lemonade Stand could bring me on. But if I had just walked away in the face of ambiguity, he never would have hired me. I would have left a great opportunity on the table out of some irrational fear of rejection, or of annoying a guy I barely knew.
(A short note here that if my Hail Mary hadn’t worked, I would have walked away. There’s a line between persistence and harassment. Get a firm answer, but if the answer is “no,” you need to move on.)
Use any talent you’ve got
I came to Lemonade Stand looking for a job designing and building websites. But I got in the door with something else entirely.
See, we already had a full-time designer in Art. He’s a freaking wizard. And Chris, who does a little bit of everything, also happens to build really good-looking sites. So even if I was a visual magician – and believe me, I’m not – I just wouldn’t have been very valuable to the company.
You know what I can do, though? Write. I can churn out clean, simple copy for hours at a time. And that’s what Lemonade Stand saw in me.
I spent the first day of my internship writing a content outline for a new client’s website. I only had a few pages of scribbled meeting notes to go off of, so I had to invent a few things. But it turned out well.
“This is, like, a top-five outline and you weren’t even in the meeting,” John said.
That assignment snowballed into more. I was rewriting copy clients had sent in, proofreading pages before they went online, and more. I never once felt like I had nothing to do.
By filling an immediate need at the company – even though it wasn’t what I planned on – I made myself valuable to Lemonade Stand immediately. That made the decision to hire me a lot easier.
Of course, I still found time to build websites. And I’ve created stuff like the keyword generator and a Google Chrome extension for Yalla.
The writing pays the bills while I improve my skills – not a bad deal, right?
Do anything and everything
Remember earlier, when I said I knew almost nothing about digital marketing? Here’s a little example.
I figured websites were the most important aspect of marketing. It didn’t take long to realize that a website is important – but it’s really just a tool to bring customers to a business. The pay-per-click advertising, social media promotions and search engine optimization Lemonade Stand does for its clients are just as essential to our clients’ success.
This troubled me at first. I wanted to code and build websites – but that’s only a small part of what my company does!
Rather than sinking into despair, though, I took this as an opportunity. Why not learn about pay-per-click and SEO and everything else we have to offer? It could only make me a better employee, right?
One of the best parts of being an intern is that people expect you to be an idiot. Nobody got frustrated when I asked what Google AdWords was, or wanted to see how to target a custom audience on Facebook. They were happy to show me their niche of the digital marketing picture.
Now, while I’m certainly not a pro at anything, I know enough to pick up whatever slack exists at the agency. I might import content from a client’s old website one day and run a batch of analytics reports the next. That variety keeps me excited about my job.
I know I wrote a textbook on this topic, but it really comes down to a few simple ideas:
1. Be persistent and get in the door – even if you have to start by working for free.
2. Once there, add value to the company any way you can.
3. Learn as much as you can about every aspect of the organization.
Repeat steps two and three until your agency either offers you a job or writes you the best letter of recommendation you’ve ever seen. And, once you’ve got one of those digital marketing jobs, get your agency to try Yalla and we’ll be even. 🙂