It takes more than an active Facebook account and a passing knowledge of Biddy the Hedgehog to get a job in social media. You need to show creativity, attention to detail, and technical skills, too.
We catch up with Ben Castelli, Agency Director at Social Media Agency Room 214. Ben is responsible for interviewing social media applicants, and he gives us the inside scoop on making sure your application stands out and impressing your interviewer.
What is your current job title and how long have you been at your company? Which positions do you review applications for?
I’ve been at Room 214 for seven years, and when I started we didn’t really have titles, but I began as an internet marketing strategist, transitioned to a group practice director, and am currently the Agency Director. It’s a dual role, which means I’m the account director for several clients, advising them on social media strategy, SEO, etc. and internally my role is to create and evaluate the systems and processes we have in place and make sure they’re strategically sound. I’m also involved with staffing account teams, reviewing job descriptions, looking at the sales pipeline, and assessing the current bandwidth of the team right now. I also interview candidates once they make it through the first stage of the interview process.
What are some things that college students can do to make their social media manager applications stand out?
We ask for a cover letter and résumé, and we don’t look at anyone’s résumé unless they have a good cover letter or at the very least a good intro email. What makes a cover letter good is when it’s relevant to the position and explains the applicant’s experience and how it relates to the position they’re applying for.
For résumés, we look for something that looks unique, is well-formatted, maybe not a standard Word template. We look for creative thinkers and using a little imagination in your résumé is one indication of your creativity.
We certainly look at punctuation, spelling, and grammar because for social media management and community managers, being attentive to detail is super important since these positions are writing on behalf of brands and need to be able to project a professional image.
Which majors tend to be most successful in the positions you review applications for?
We get lots of marketing and advertising majors, and a lot of students at CU minor in technology and media arts, which means they have knowledge of HTML, CSS, Photoshop, and the ability to build a website. We really want people who are tech savvy, who are immersed in the digital and social media world. You have to be doing it anyway, regardless of whether you’re getting paid for it.
We also get some journalism majors since the writing component is important.
And there’s some overlap between psychology and marketing, so we do get some psych majors, too.
What are some things you look for in résumés and cover letters? Are there any things that would send an applicant to the “no” pile right away?
I would automatically exclude someone if they didn’t have a cover letter or nice intro email, or if their résumé didn’t show any sort of interest or relevant experience.
We understand that college students might not have a lot of work experience yet, so when we hire for entry-level positions, we’re really looking for attitude, enthusiasm, and passion. There has to be something on their résumé that’s related to digital and social media, whether it’s a class, an internship, or a personal project.
What we really look for is if someone has experience in social marketing strategy and execution as well as the technical side (knowledge of Photoshop, having set up their own blog or built a website is a huge plus). Also, if they reach out and connect via one of our social accounts, it shows us they can engage in social media. We have a few people that we’ve hired via Twitter. Usually they would start following potential coworkers, retweeting, and replying to their tweets when it makes sense to do so. This gives some element of familiarity before they come in for the interview, which helps them stand out. I’d just add that there’s a fine line between doing it tactfully and being a creepy stalker. [Editor’s note: For more on this topic (getting a job via Twitter, not being a creepy stalker), check out this post.]
We also like it when they talk about what they can do for us and how they would complement our existing team rather than what we can do for them.
What steps would you recommend a student take to best prepare for a career in social media management?
First and foremost, you have to be using social media for yourself. Be inquisitive and experiential—try different tools and platforms. And follow brands; don’t just use social media to interact with your friends! Pay attention to brands you think are doing a good job and which ones aren’t. We often ask that in interviews and it stumps a lot of people, but if they’re able to answer it’s a great starting point for conversation.
Also, balance it with technical skills like HTML, CSS, Photoshop, and creative writing. Start your own blog. Build your LinkedIn network, and don’t be afraid to ask for endorsements and recommendations.
What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make when interviewing for positions as social media managers? What do the best candidates do to stand out in an interview for social media manager positions?
There are lots of little mistakes people make, like not coming in early enough or coming in too early. We have some people come in 30 minutes early sometimes. You should aim to arrive five to ten minutes before your interview start time. Another mistake is not having copies of your résumé for everyone you’ll be meeting.
We have all interviewees present a project brief, and we expect them to really be prepared to present. They should have printouts for everyone, they should have the proper computer hookup. Things like that show if people are organized or pay attention to small details.
We want to make sure that the individual’s personality aligns with the personality of our company. For example, we’re very focused on being teachers and learners, being humble, taking feedback, and if someone doesn’t mesh with that, it’ll hurt them in the interview. Showing excitement and enthusiasm and passion is really important.
Homework time! Where to start? Ben is full of great advice for wannabe social media managers. Take some time to do at least one of the things Ben recommends, like starting your own blog, building up your LinkedIn profile, or finding a few companies or brands to follow on social media.