I’ve been having conversations with people entering the workforce after school or seeking to pivot in their careers.
These people are friends of friends, old classmates, students who found me through the alumni network, LinkedIn connections, or mentees and they’re looking to land a brand strategy role.
I sit in my living room (it doubles as my office) and we have zooms about how to make any indirect strategic experience stand out, how to brand themselves as strategists when they’ve never formally held the title, and/or resources to learn more about strategy.
Through this, I’ve noticed a couple of themes although might be common sense, fully don’t click unless they’re pointed out.
In honor of all the people who helped me when I was first pursuing a career in brand strategy, here are some tips.
FIRST OF ALL, the main concept is this:
To land a role in brand strategy, strategize your job search.
And as such –– the goal of your resume is to make employers interested enough to want to talk to you.
You are your client. And your brand … So follow the same concepts that you’d apply for a brand.
The same way you’d normally define your audience and main RTBs, you need to do that too in your job search. Tailor your comms based on that.
#1. Define and talk like your audience
Your audience may include HR, recruiters, and other strategists with seniority, looking for their next direct report.
Use their words. If the LinkedIn job post for a strategist lists global 5 times, you better mention your experience implementing global brand strategy and/or making it come alive in local markets.
For example, this Wikipedia job post: “team that works in a global context,” “experience working with global nonprofit,” “Leveraging assets and stories into a narrative engine to fulfill objectives at a global scale,” “understanding of key metrics and requirements relevant to a global brand”
If you saw that the head of strategy at your potential employer has had a media interview where they stress the importance of “storytelling” –then you know how they have an affinity for it.
You better mention storytelling if you land an interview and they ask you how you’d define the role of the brand strategist.
If you see that your employer’s DNA rests on “meaningful brands” —
use that same vocabulary.
#2. Don’t forget about the bots
Also! Another critical audience: applicant tracking systems (ATS) that search your resume for specific keywords.
When recruiters search, they’ll be searching for keywords. And when doing so, they will probably be focusing on hard over soft skills. So it’s more important you borrow the hard skill than the wording first for your resume.
To directly quote my favorite career blog, The Muse:
Tailor the content to the exact way the job description is written—including plural words, abbreviations, and numbers (e.g., note whether the company spells it nonprofit or non-profit; three years of experience or 3 years of experience).
You gotta match it word for word. If the position lists experience in “qualitative research.” So if you’re going to list “focus groups and ethnographies” make sure to also list “qualitative research” to help position your resume in the top search results.
In the end though, humans always make the last call. So write for humans primarily!
#3. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it’s relevant.
Meaning: Prioritize strategic work experience, courses, and skills!!!
So this is the RTB (reasons to believe) part: Highlight the RTBs that most closely relate to the employer’s drivers and pain points.
Demonstrating you have strategic experience is table stakes – prioritize that.
If you come from a largely accounts background — your day to day may involves writing scopes of work, sending status reports, building relationships with your clients, and reviewing deliverables before they go to the client.
These responsibilities will make you well rounded. But if you only have 1-2 pages in your resume, prioritize whatever you did that was strategic even if it wasn’t what your day-to-day revolved around.
Things to mention…
- Did you collaborate on the yearly strategic planning?
- Did you have to work with the strategist to inform the creative brief?
- Did you have to ideate implications based on any research?
And if you’re a student, mention any research, account planning, or strategy courses, projects, certificates, experience or skills.
So yes, you can write you “Manage projects, clients, and vendors” but don’t forget to include you also “Create strategy, briefs, and marketing plans || Created the marketing plan that led to a fully sold out XYZ. Success led to the brand investing on a second year,” as an example.
#4. Adjust the title of your LinkedIn Profile and resume to “Strategist”
Sure. You may currently be a “Master in Marketing” student, or an “Accounts Coordinator” but for purposes of branding your title should be “Joana Wong, Brand Strategist” in your Vistaprint card, your Linkedin, or your website.
If the employer is searching for a brand strategist but your title says Accounts Manager… guess what?
You won’t come up on the LinkedIn search.
Plus, if you email an employer your email but it says something else that is not “strategist,” they’ll be confused as to why they received the email.
If you’re wondering “but what about on my resume? if my current role attached to my employer says ‘Accounts’ how can I lie that my title is another?”
My answer is: No, don’t lie. No, no, no. Keep the actual title you have or had. But in the bullet points supporting your accomplishments and role, it’s critical you highlight all your strategic or research experience.
#5. Leverage your non-industry strategy experience
This one applies more to you if you’re entering at the intern or junior level, when you want to demonstrate you can think strategically although you may have no ad industry background.
A couple of years ago, I interviewed a student interested in an internship that hadn’t taken any advertising, brand strategy or account planning courses. She was completing a PR internship and wanted to transition to strategy.
She told me about a strategic plan she developed to launch an education program. The plan detailed the objective and goals, tactics, and outcomes. This was all based on desktop research she did, looking at best-in-class cases from consulting companies and universities, extracting learnings from there and applying those learnings to her launch plan.
It was a very smart work. It was work at the level I’d normally expect from a strategist with a year or two of full-time experience.
We ended up bringing her onboard an intern. She’d produce work that, with minimal feedback, was client-ready. Super sharp.
So yes, you can still get the foot in the door if you can prove you have a strategic thought process whether it’s industry-related or not.
It might be harder, but if done correctly, you can improve your chances.
Ways to do this are: highlighting any strategic or research work you’ve done (industry-related or not) and having these handy to send as portfolio pieces). Could be a plan to address a business problem, achieve a company’s goal, or just a for-fun ethnography video done on a subculture of interest (e.g. gamers, Kpop, etc.) Use your judgment when sharing.
Other ways to do create portfolio pieces if you don’t have anything, can be done by completing affordable strategy boot camps such as Mark Pollard’s Summer Camp, or Julian Cole’s courses on Skillshare.
#6. Respond to interview questions using the STAR method
I learned about the STAR method during the days I used to ride my bike to work at the Career Center at Florida State. I still think it’s one of the most useful things I learned in college. And the method is applicable to ANY job you’re applying to.
Use the STAR method whenever you’re responding to behavioral questions such as “tell me about a time when you…” or “Give me an example of…”
STAR stands for:
The goal is to avoid going into unnecessary details avoid answering in a long winded manner, swerving around side stories. It will help you intentionally focus on answering eloquently and making you look smart, by addressing all four of the above.
(This is just to list an example. Use your judgment as it comes to confidentiality)
My client in the ______(industry)____ had the goal of increasing awareness of their ____(product)_____by launching a ___(…)___ campaign. Our KPIs were ___________. We only had _______ months to execute.
In the team, I was the lead strategist. My responsibility was __________ under _______ constraints.
I did this by first __________. Then, ________________. This helped us to get the creatives and client onboard to _________________ and successfully launch on time, and be strategically aligned.
As a result of this, we increased engagement and surpassed the client’s expected contest goal (you probably don’t want to be specific on KPIs to respect confidentiality unless it’s public already).. and resulting in a renewed project contract for the agency growing the account by double the budget invested the year before.
Those are the tips I have for now. But if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me a message via LinkedIn or at firstname.lastname@example.org. I might not have the answer, but if I can provide thought starters, I will!