Posted by randfish

I’ve gotten a lot of email recently from folks asking what they can do to get involved in the world of search marketing and SEO. Tonight, Mystery Guest and I attended the Seattle Job Social event and had a really interesting experience talking to people about SEOmoz, the positions we’re hiring for (SysAdmins of the Northwest, please email us!) and the field of search engine marketing. The same issue came up again and again – how do I break into that market?

I want to be very honest with this post (and with all my posts), so I’ll say first that I have only my singular experience to rely on. I haven’t done lots of job seeking in the field (in fact, the last resume I have is from the 1990s, when I was too young to consume alcohol). However, I can share those skills that have proven valuable to me over time:

  1. An Analytical Mindset
    Being analytical means collecting data, sifting through it, and recognizing patterns. It doesn’t always mean exhaustive research (though that’s a great trait to have as well). It can sometimes mean the ability to see an outlier, form a hypothesis and act on it with the right mix of impulsiveness and caution.
  2. Knowledge of How the Internet Works
    It took a few years for me to grasp how "the tubes" operate – everything from HTTP status codes to IP addresses to the ways in which a server can communicate with a web browser – once I did, my job became much easier, particularly when talking to developers reticent to engage in SEO projects.
  3. Empathy with the Perspectives of Search Engineers
    I’ve found that the more I think about things from an engineer’s point of view (someone who cares far more about the search experience for a user in aggregate than the problems presented by a singular example), the more most (not all) search engine moves make sense.
  4. A Solid Background in HTML
    I don’t think I could have ever been decent at SEO if I didn’t intuitively understand the tags and markup that comprise web pages. 8 years ago, I could hand code a page from scratch, and while I would probably need some cheat sheets to do that today, viewing source code almost never stumps me anymore.
  5. An Ability to Find Common Ground when Meeting People
    Networking is critical to success in any field, but in SEO, where natural suspicion from potential clients, developers, other marketers, investors, etc. exists, I’ve found it to be the branch you hang on to when the river’s about to drag you into the waterfall.
  6. Strong Memory for Relevant Data
    Pulling relevant examples off the top of my head – whether they’re from previous experiences, the blogosphere, presentations from an event or observations in the sphere – has been a terrific contributor to my consulting and speaking. Now if only I could do a better job remembering names…
  7. Illustration & Diagraming Skills
    OK, so I’m not going to win any prizes for my art, but I can at least communicate quickly and intuitively in a visual way on a whiteboard or for a blog post.
  8. Comfort Speaking in High Pressure Scenarios
    I’ve told the story in the past of how I spoke at a conference in 2005 sandwiched between Chris Anderson from Wired & Meg Whitman from eBay. After I somehow, miraculously pulled that one off without making an idiot out of myself, I’ve never really felt pressure on camera or in front of an audience again. I barely even get an elevated heart rate on stage anymore (which has helped with dry cleaning bills, too).
  9. Being a Stubborn Jackass
    No, seriously! I refused to accept that, back when Gillian and I were under mountains of debt and couldn’t pay the rent, we needed to pack up shop. I refused to concede that SEO was bullshit back when everyone around me in the web world told me it was. After I got into SEO, I refused to believe that there was no Google sandbox, even though far more experienced operators didn’t believe it for a long time. After SEOmoz launched our SEO Tools, I refused to accept that we couldn’t build our own web index, even when very smart people told me there was no way.  Sometimes, sticking to your guns, even in the face of conventional wisdom, turns out to be the right move.
  10. Humility & the Wisdom to Accept that You Will Be Wrong
    There have been plenty of times when I’ve had to swallow my pride, admit that I was wrong, and accept that I’m probably going to be wrong again. I’ve never learned more than I have when I royally screw something up. And, as my wife likes to remind me – I’ll never be important enough that I don’t have to come home and scrub the toilet.
  11. A Thick Skin
    The SEO field is filled with a lot of unprofessional conduct (and I fully admit to being guilty of plenty myself, particularly in the first few years after I started this site). You have to anticipate negativity and be ready to not just not respond and shrug it off, but to be warm, courteous and hospitable even in the face of demeaning antagonism. It’s not enough to turn the other cheek – you also need to reach out with a handshake.
  12. Proficiency in Written Communication
    Particularly since my experience began in SEO on forums and blogs long before I had a public face or persona, the ability to write well and effectively transmit a message to a curious audience has been, possibly, the greatest catalyst to my personal growth in the field.

I would be presumptuous to suggest that these traits will serve everyone well or that they are the "best" abilities to have. In fact, a huge missing component that I wish I could write on that list is the ability to code in a few languages. I think I’ll always be a weaker SEO because of that, but I also know that the time it would take to plug it up is time I don’t have (and I’m lucky to be surrounded by a team of 9 guys and JLo to help me out when programming issues arise).

Your turn! I would love to hear the traits that have helped you best in your own careers.

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