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Higher Ed Marketing Memos by Geoff Campbell

Breaking into higher ed marketing

You’ve decided you want to work in higher ed marketing. That’s fantastic!

So, how do you get your foot in the door in an industry that’s been known to strongly prefer (or require) applicants to already have higher education experience?

There are many ways, but here are a few tips I’ve learned from experience that can help you break into higher ed marketing.

Even though there are over 4,000 colleges and universities across the United States, marketing in higher ed has a surprisingly small-world feel.

Higher ed marketing professionals generally start and advance their careers in four ways: writing, sharing their work, going to conferences, and developing social proof.

#1 Get Googled to your next interview

When marketing managers hire for entry level jobs, they’re faced with hundreds of applications that, even when whittled down to finalists, are hard to accurately compare. It can be difficult to evaluate the likelihood of a given candidate both having the requisite skill and likely interest in the job from only a resume and a cover letter. Showcasing your work and your knowledge of the field (and better yet, experience and/or competence with each of the job duties) can only help your chances of getting an interview.

Like it or not, many hiring managers will Google finalists before inviting them to an interview. Be sure to use this to your advantage rather than leaving it to chance.

There are a variety of free website builders that allow you to quickly and easily showcase your work. Start with your most important samples and work down from there. When your portfolio is ready, start a blog.

Use one of the many free services available and start writing about what you know and what you do. Whether it’s based on a course you took, book you read, or presentation you attended, it can have value if you understand it fully and summarize it succinctly and in context. Think of your blog posts as the Spark Notes of professional life. People always want to get the “so what?” explained in a way they’ll easily and quickly understand.

#2 Write your way to a job offer

Yes, putting yourself out there can be difficult but giving it a shot will help. Pull up the list of industry-specific publications you regularly read (hint: you should have one).

Do any of these sites allow guest posts?

Reach out – see if they would feature your work (since you’re reading this post, you can contact Higher Ed Experts’ editor, Karine Joly. She is always trying to amplify the work and voice of new guest authors working at colleges and universities).

Better yet, get published in a print publication. Even if your hiring manager isn’t a regular reader of the publication, she/he will likely place more value on work that others thought was worth the cost of printing.

At the very least, share everything you write on LinkedIn (more on that later) and on Twitter with appropriate hashtags (#hemktg, #hesm or #casesmc for example).

#3 Attend conferences to build a strong professional network

In addition to being findable online with a website and/or blog, you should attend industry conferences in person.

Yes, even in this age when professionals develop strong connections virtually, it is absolutely crucial when you’re starting out to meet people working in the field face to face.

Conferences are important for two reasons:

  1. To learn more from subject matter experts on a particular topic
  2. To meet other people who are working in that area.

Seasoned professionals are valued because they have a wide perspective developed from listening to others. Oftentimes, the people in the audience are just as important as those by the podium.

Conferences are a must

There are countless higher education marketing conferences to choose from but the key is to pick one that connects what you’re doing now to what you want to be doing. Go to as many of these as you can, and at each one:

Be social

People are away from the office for a few days and most of them want to meet other people. Be friendly. Sit by strangers and engage them in conversation.

Be professional

To make lasting connections, you’ll need to get beyond asking how the local sports team is doing. Never be pushy, but, where appropriate, let people you meet know about your career goals and aspirations. People at these conferences are generally open to new connections and if they know of open positions and they think you’re competent (and they like you, see above), they may pass your name along.

Follow up

Send the people you met a quick follow-up email (or even a tweet), mentioning something in particular you talked about (they likely spoke with dozens of people so a refresher is the polite way to go). Taking these steps can help you build a professional network of people that may connect you with future opportunities.

As you complete the steps above, you should at each stage, develop your social proof.

#4 Save, invest and capitalize on social proof with LinkedIn

Social proof refers to the psychological reality that people rely on the opinions of others to make value judgements. You read Amazon reviews about products and form an opinion more nuanced than you would by only having read the product description.

The same (imperfect) logic applies to people. Try to make sure that recognition of your work or skills is represented where employers are likely to look: LinkedIn.

Yes, I know for many creating an account on LinkedIn is a perfunctory act, but having a complete account (including endorsements and recommendations) can give you that crucial bump to get invited for an interview.

Here’s what has worked really well in my case:

Connect with everyone you know in real life.

This can be done by importing email addresses but should also be done by finding and connecting with people you connect with online (people you follow on Twitter, people whose blogs you read, etc). Due to how LinkedIn limits your ability to see information of those beyond 3rd degree connections, connecting with more people will increase the chances you’ll be visible to the people you want to see you (and may help you discover someone you know who can vouch for you to the hiring manager).

Ask for recommendations

When you’ve developed a rapport with a colleague in your organization or elsewhere (ex. by working on a project together) you’ll be able to extract the most specific and useful recommendations. Try to get a recommendation from someone at all your employers. While this may seem daunting, it helps to eliminate any possible guesswork on the part of a hiring manager (“Did they really do X type of work? Have they been consistently productive/innovative/a team player, etc”). In some cases, it can even speed up the reference check process.

Ask for endorsements

Higher Ed Experts Alum Network on LinkedInAsking for an endorsement is a significantly smaller “ask”. It is a way for connections to vouch to others that you have a certain skill. While there is a lower bar for these, you still need to be thoughtful with them. Think of 10 (max 15) skills you have that are important to the industry (check job descriptions). Mirror employer preferences by reflecting them in your keyword choice.

Ask people who know you have certain skills to do so. Be cordial, be specific, and always offer to reciprocate by endorsing skills you know they have.
For instance, I connected with my classmates from the Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate programs I took in Advanced Web Analytics and Web Writing for Higher Ed..

There. That’s it. By continuing to develop you skills and showcasing them to potential employers, you’ll significantly improve your chances of standing out — and getting your next job.

Meet the Author: Geoff Campbell

Geoff Campbell is the Assistant Director of Enrollment Marketing Analytics and Strategies at Illinois Tech in Chicago. He’s been blogging since 2008, has attended 20+ conferences, and has used conferences, industry publications, and social proof to progress in his career. He is also a graduate of Higher Ed Experts’ professional certificate programs in Advanced Web Analytics and Web Writing for Higher Ed.

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