How to Get Hired:

Experience, Education, Certification, or Attitude?

Listener question:

I don’t think someone will get hired just because they have a certification – don’t they need experience? And how do I get experience if I am not working in the industry?

What are the critical factors that employers are looking for when hiring candidates? It might surprise you that those with the most experience might not be the best for the role! Even more, those with the best or most extensive education may not be the best candidate! There are additional factors that smart employers are looking for – factors that show attitude, motivation, and initiative.

Listen in as Matt breaks down what employers are looking for, and how you can increase your chances of getting hired. Even without a lot of experience.


Well, the last few podcasts have certainly generated a lot of attention. From starting your digital marketing career to asking if certification is better than education, it has certainly got people asking questions about their careers – and great questions! Like this one:

You talked a lot about certification and education, but I don’t think someone will get hired just because they have a certification – don’t they need experience? And how do I get experience if I am not working in the industry?

Great question! It’s not about just certification, education OR experience? Why can’t it be both?


If you want to get noticed in today’s market, don’t wait for experience to come to you. The longer you wait for experience, the longer you’ll lose out on jobs and promotions to those that have it.

No, today? You have to create your own experience.

The first generations of digital marketers – those who figured out SEO, adapted to paid search, rode the waves of social media and the multiple platforms that came and went in the early 2000’s – the early adopters and pioneers of digital marketing – they had to figure it our for themselves. There was no university teaching this stuff. No school, no certification, no online course. They – we learned from trial, testing, response, failure!

Those days were interesting – in fact I vividly remember teaching for Jill Whalen’s High Rankings seminars in the early 2000’s and it was common to have a hundred or so people pay to sit in a hotel conference room for hours and listen to lectures and demonstrations for 2-3 days! Businesses were paying anything to get this knowledge inside their walls because it gave them an instant edge.

But here’s the key:

That first generation of digital marketing experts? They didn’t learn from doing everything right.

In fact, most of them could probably tell you stories of flameouts and spectacular failures – but when you failed, you learned how to respond, how to analyze when went wrong and why.

My daughter is a blacksmith and an apprenticing bladesmith – she was training with a bladesmith a few months ago and he was explaining to me about his workshops. He realized that when he demonstrates how to make a knife, and he doesn’t make any mistakes, the students dolt learn how to recover from making mistakes. He explained that so much of the craft is knowing what to do when – when something isn’t right. But you only learn that from making mistakes. The worst thing, he explained, is to not make any mistakes, because then you’ll never learn how to recover.

Of course, the whole time he is saying this, I’m thinking of my own experiences in building websites, optimizing for rankings, the hundreds of thousands of ad combinations and landing pages. I’ll never forget when I challenged someone with a landing page, only to find out that it performed markedly worse – I learned. And adapted, and I learned what works and why.

So here’s the best advice that I can give anyone who wants to get into the industry:

You want to get experience? Start now.

Build a website – build a community of people that like the content or products or information that you provide.  Monetize it somehow – or just do it for fun?

Learn analytics through this experience. Set up objectives and measurements to show your progress.

This way, when someone asks you about experience, you have something to show. You have provable skills showing your ability to do whatever: rankings? Social impact? Audience? Income? What skills do you want to display? it’s all in your hands!

Just a day ago, I saw a job posting that said that they wanted to know what you work in in your spare time. They were more interested to know if you were creating, developing, or marketing something for your own than any experience, education, or certification!

Because it also shows that you are motivated – and not waiting for experience to come to you.

Even when I had my agency and managing others, I encouraged everyone to have side personal projects. This became a playground for everyone to try new things, experiment, monetize – and fail once in a while!

However, because of these side projects.

  • We landed one of the biggest and longest-term clients the agency ever had. 15 years later, the person responsible for that is now their VP of marketing.
  • We found methods of tracking and analysis that immediately boosted conversion rates across all clients.
  • We learned YouTube optimization, audience growth, and monetization tactics that were applied to client videos, creating amazing results in multimedia campaigns.
  • Each employee that had a website – kept it. It was theirs and all the money that made from it was theirs. Years later, many of them still have their websites and they are still providing a side income.

Here’s what employers have to say:

I’ve been listening to other podcasts in the MPN Network – You’ve probably heard the ads at the top of the shows.  If you are looking for more podcasts, check out the other authors in the network. But two other podcasts in the past week struck me, as they were both talking about hiring the right candidates for marketing jobs.

At Rockstar CMO with Ian Truscott, they discussed how easy it is for campaigns to get sidetracked, which can happen when managers or specialists get distracted by headlines, technology or other hyped-up trends – and they forget what works. The need for steady, critical thinking people to run campaigns is always going to be there.

At Rethink Marketing, Eric & Colin discussed the difference between people who have credentials and experience, but who are not adapting, learning, or staying up on the industry. These are the people they tend to avoid. Both agreed that someone who may not have experience, but is teachable, is more desirable than someone with experience who is not teachable.

Teachable was the keyword that I picked up on this conversation.

But what does it mean to be teachable?

What I took from it is curiosity. Are you striving to learn more and understand this industry, or aspects of it? What do you do in your spare time? Are you using it to develop yourself?

This is why I always asked about the spare time projects when I was hiring. I wanted to know what people were curious about. Even if it were as simple as a hobby, or a goal in life that they were working to accomplish. These things showed us the intangible factors of determination and motivation. They showed a desire to learn, grow and accomplish something that was your own.

But I think that being teachable also has a lot to do with how you carry yourself in a business environment – and how you treat others.

There is a massive difference in those who approach work as the 9-5 and then outta there! Now, I’m not saying that you should kill yourself by staying late, working more hours, or even giving up a work-life balance. What I am saying is the attitude of how you view work.

Here’s what I mean: you are being paid to be there and perform a job. Are you also using it as an opportunity to learn? There are many skills, practices, and experiences that you could add to your development if you take the time, and the attitude, of learning.

In one of my first agency jobs, we had a lot of clients in the steel industry. I could have simply stayed in my silo and worked on the websites. But instead, I asked to go along on appointments, to learn about the steel industry and how each client contributed to the supply chain. Yes, this is where I learned about supply chain, economics, manufacturing, and many other things.

Not only did these experiences make me a better SEO, they also contributed years later when I was building my own agency. Those experiences from years back prepared me with the language, terminology, and business savvy to talk to decision makers in the industry and gain new clients.

But you don’t get that with attitudes of being owed for simply showing up. Now, that may be a straw man argument. But I’ve seen too many people – even those with a good work attitude – who were just too comfortable and were not willing to grow, change, or adapt.  Even when rewards, raises, and more were offered – there was simply no motivation to grow. Which, unfortunately, will lead to losing a job.

Losing teachability makes you static in a dynamic industry.

Now, let’s make this applicable – how do you demonstrate teachability? How do you gain experience?

First, don’t make excuses about not having experience. In this industry, you make your own. I challenge everyone – if you haven’t already.  University students, recent grads, new in the industry – older adults changing industries – start now. Make – create something that is your own – showcase your skills, curiosity, and teachability.

It doesn’t cost much to start a blog site on your own domain. Invest in yourself and your future. Learn how to install a blog, how to edit HTML, how to use CMS interfaces, resize images, post content, and integrate your social media into the mix. This short list covers dozens of skills required by most jobs, so why not learn to do them and then say with confidence – I can do that!

Don’t wait for experience – make your own. Today!

If this motivates you to start something – show me! I’d love to see what you create and build and what you want to do! Leave your comments on the show page at and let us know what you are doing!

Until then – I look forward to our next coffee and conversation on the Endless Coffee Cup -thanks for listening!