12-Step Program for DM Job Seekers

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Today's direct marketing executives fortunate enough to find themselves looking to hire face a quandary: so little time and so many candidates. The myriad resumes of mid-level acquisition and retention professionals can be dizzying in their volume and similarity.


The rules have changed. Knowing the fundamentals of direct marketing is no longer enough to give a candidate a competitive edge. In this new world of integrated media, what are online and offline executives looking for in their direct marketing people -- in terms of professional skill set and personal attributes?


Reports from the field say a candidate with a resume boasting high response rates does not carry quite the same influence it once did. In the eyes of the folks doing the hiring, candidates need to have a host of strengths to succeed in this rapidly changing economy.


Here's a 12-step program to aid the marketing manager or director in his quest to land that plum job with a company positioned to be a category killer in no time flat.


1. Do not wait until you need to make a change to consider making one. Play from a position of strength. It is no longer taboo to be unemployed while looking, but executives will be impressed that you had the foresight to analyze the future and initiate change.


2. No need to review the basics of an effective resume, but to set yourself apart from the competition, pepper the document when possible with specific achievements, your versatility within the direct marketing discipline and exposure to top management.


"It's especially important to show that you've had budgeting experience or financial experience at some previous job," said Tom Masterson, vice president of consumer marketing/circulation at BusinessWeek. Position yourself as a strategic marketer with direct impact on the bottom line, not as a mailing list functionary.


3. Position yourself as a broad-based businessperson, not someone with a narrow focus.


"Companies are looking for the best 'athletes' today," said Kenneth Nova of NHL Interactive Cyberenterprises. "Five years ago, you had to know lifetime value and customer profiling. Today it's not as important to know all the aspects of direct marketing; instead, the need is for someone who's smart, quick and agile."


4. Stress your direct marketing versatility. Whether you are interviewing for an online or offline marketing role, stress your experience with both channels. Experts agree that the same dynamics apply regardless of whether you are marketing for a small newsletter company or a consumer giant, for a comparative-shopping Web site or a health content portal.


5. Learn to become flexible and agile in the work environment, and position yourself as such. More than ever, publishers, catalog executives and Internet heads are not only working off three-month business plans as opposed to one year, they are also scrapping business plans and starting over with little notice.


6. Do your due diligence. This is easier than ever before. In putting together your list of companies you would like to join, research the company's history, competitors, latest news and information on its key executives. This will help you not only to maximize the chances of finding the right fit but also to perform well in interviewing for that position.


7. Interview aggressively. Answer questions directly, which will show the executive you value his time and are comfortable in a fast-moving environment. Most importantly, ask questions that show you are a strategic thinker. Also, do not be afraid to show emotion. Direct marketing executives across the board are stressing the value of a strong work ethic, and one recalls a candidate who in the first interview made a point of saying, "I need to leave at 5:30 every day."


8. Build on that interview. That includes more than a thank-you note; rather, give a short account of why you would be a better fit for the job than anyone else. Be specific and clear. In other words, keep the positive momentum going by impressing the hiring manager with your desire and initiative. More than one person has gotten an offer because he wanted the job more than the next person.


9. More than ever, decision makers are looking for people who have supervised other people, so get yourself into a management role as soon as possible, even at the expense of deviating from your specific track. Develop strong people skills. It is said that certain people survive at companies longer than others not because of their skill sets but because of interpersonal skills and their ability to finesse tricky circumstances.


10. Develop your technology arsenal. While knowing QuattroPro and Excel was once sufficient, executives now are looking for people who understand different forms of file transfer and know the right technology to choose at the right time. When is an e-broadcast a better idea than a fax newsletter? Either through your job or elsewhere, a grasp of these technologies will put you one step up in the changing economy.


11. Demonstrate a feel for the bottom line. You must be able to show that you are a businessperson who knows how to "solidify the bottom line," not merely a direct marketing professional. Show that you have a sense of the issues facing your colleagues in sales, finance and especially editorial or content, which often drives the rest of the business.


12. Be a realist. Times are tight, and margins are being squeezed as never before in the world of content delivery. Recognize this fact and let it guide you. Think about the long-term opportunity at the company you wish to join, and do not get caught up on title and starting salary. Remember, your prospective company is making an investment in you and placing a bet that you will help it prosper in days ahead.


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