April 2, 2014
Twenty years ago, I graduated from business school and started as an Assistant Brand Manager (ABM) at General Mills. I never admitted it back then, by it was really hard to get that ideal ABM position. Prior to going back for my MBA, I had tried numerous times to get a job and kept failing. One interview ended after 5 minutes because she looked at my resume and found out I had no CPG experience. How could I, if I was going for an entry level position? While things have changed tremendously over those twenty years, many of the same principles for landing that job remain the same. To start with here is the job you’ll be Applying for How to be a Great ABM If that’s how you’ll be judged in the few months, than that’s how you’ll be judged in the Interview Process.
The first lesson I can tell you is there are more people who want to be an Assistant Brand Manager than there are jobs. For every ABM, there are hundreds who want that role. And that’s continuing to tighten in the tough economy as many places are going without. So how bad do you really want this job? Do you want it more than everyone else? And will you do what it takes to get that job? I remember interviewing so many times and not getting the job–I must have gone through 100 interviews before I finally landed the right job. I remember one time, after 3 minutes the hiring manager looked at my résumé and said “you have zero marketing experience, this won’t work”. That one still stings after twenty years, but made me want it even more.
Persistence is the key. If you are only half trying, then I have very little sympathy for you. If you are completely immersed in the effort, trust me, keep pushing because you will eventually break through.
While this article is with my biases, at least you’ll get a vantage from a former CPG executive who was heavily involved in the recruiting hundreds of ABMs.
There are five ways you can get in:
- MBA: This was the #1 source of our ABMs. It gave us the chance to have a consistency in our recruiting efforts, allowed us to have a focused timing for the hiring and even a consistency in starting dates so we could measure and compare ABMs. One of the silent secrets no one can say is that an MBA ensures that ABMs are late 20s, rather than 22–which makes it easier for them to work with the sales teams. Now, people always ask me: “Do I need an MBA?” My answer is “No, but it sure helps”. It allows you to be part of the formal recruiting process, get in front door and be judged by that very process, rather than just a one-off hiring manager who is in a panic and doesn’t know what they want. My question to you is “Can you do an MBA?” because if you can, I’d recommend it.
- Head Hunter and Recruiters: This was our second source for ABMs, especially when we needed ABMs outside of the formal recruiting process. There are some Headhunters that specifically fill ABM roles and you should make sure you are connected with them. If you are lucky, you can get a head hunter who gives you tips on your resume or feedback on your interview. Ask for the feedback. Stay in touch regularly.
Networking: As the economy has gotten worse, some companies have cut back on the use of Head Hunters and opted for using a “finder’s fee” to employees that recommend someone. So if you can connect with ABMs that already work at the company, they have an incentive to actually get you hired. The advantages to networking is they’ll tell you the hiring manager, process and interview tips. They’ll also alert you to when someone quits. I would recommend you write down the 10-20 companies you want to work for, and get networking with other ABMs, BMs or the HR manager.
Experience in the Company: A generation ago, many started off in sales and then moved over to marketing. It still can happen, but it’s becoming less common. If you try this route, push to get over the marketing quickly so you don’t get stuck in a role you don’t want.
Job Posting: Don’t wait for the postings, or you’ll be missing out on most of the jobs. The HR department puts up the job posting, either because the company has exhausted all other methods. The posting doesn’t always mean there is a job, but HR using it to fill the resume bank. The new method for hiring is to go on to Linked In and put “We are Hiring” in job groups
Align your resume to the job!
- Write your resume for the job you want, not as a way to tell who you are and your life story: I’ve reviewed 1000s of resumes. Don’t put “VP student union” on your LinkedIn, put “Pursuing a Career in Brand Management”. You have to shift to be forward looking, not past.
- Make your resume look like you can do the job. Re-arrange all your experience so that it lines up to the job you want. Have you done some of the things we need you to do? Analytics, creativity, project management, leading others, making decisions, pressure to deliver numbers, fast past environment, dedicated to completing the task at hand, achieving results.
- Focus your resume. Get rid of the stuff on your resume that has nothing to do with the job you want. It feels like it’s just your insecurity wanting to keep it on there, and like any communication, less is more.
- Make your biggest accomplishment, no matter what it is (eg. champion chess player, captain of the hockey team, dean’s list or won a case competition) a center point on your resume and that you link it to the job you want in the future.
- In the interview, find an energy level in telling your stories. Every answer should tie back to fitting with the job you are going for. Have each story linked to part of the job and how it would help you when you are working there.
- Forward Looking Answers: Answer the questions in a way that nails down what they want to hear, not what you necessarily want to say. Yes, tell your story, but realize that you’ve got to connect to being able to do the job.
- Know your audience, you might interview with HR, mid level managers and senior managers. Your story, tone and interaction might change based on who you are meeting with. You need to get a consensus in the hiring process—so you need to impress each one, in a unique way that makes them back you in the meeting.
- Ask really good questions—could be lined up to the skills, or what might be part of your criteria for taking the job. But never ever say “nope, I’m good, I have all I need to know”. This shifts it to a dialogue where you engage. If you can make it conversational and not interrogation, that makes it even better.
- Close the interview by “almost” asking for the job. Lay out the 1-2 main points of why you would be a success. If it is a consensus style interview where they’ll be re-grouping on the decision, these two points are what you want them to bring up in that meeting in support of you for the position.
Here are the Interview Questions that I used to Ask:
- Tell me a time you used numbers to sell an idea? You better have your story tight because your answer will be questioned one or two more levels to see if you really know your stuff. Great Marketers can tell stories with analysis.
- What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? It really doesn’t matter what it was, but how far did you push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the creative solution. Your passion for your idea should come through.
- What’s the thing you’re most proud of? When I read a resume, I want to see big accomplishments beyond your work experience or school. Football, chess, travelling the world or charity work etc. I want to hear your story and your pride come through. Great Marketers accomplish things, and I want to know that you have a history of accomplishments. Don’t tell just what you did, tell me what you ACCOMPLISHED!
- Tell me a time when you’ve convinced your boss of something they thought wouldn’t work. I want to see if you can make it happen. This will show your leadership, selling skills, and willingness to push. A great Marketer can get what they want..
- If you were Tim Tebow’s Agent, how would you maximize his value as a spokesperson? I always took something in the pop culture news and asked how you would handle it. I was looking to see how curious you are and how you could take something with very little subject matter expertise and put together a plan. A great Marketer has a curiosity and can form opinions quickly. This lets me see your thinking. Pop culture is a great area that goes beyond books.
- If you were on a team that solved a serious healthcare problem for Society, what factors would you use to price it on the global level? This is a very thick question with many issues, especially adding in the global issue. I want to see you think through those issues and layer those issues into your answer. How do you handle the differences between North America and the Third World? How important is profitability vs R&D vs compassion? How would you leverage government, key influencers and where would that fit into your answer. Great marketers can handle ambiguity and there is a lot within this case.
- From your previous Interview with our company, what’s the biggest mistake you made and how would you now change that? Great marketers are constantly pushing themselves to improve. That starts with your own personal assessment. I want to see that you have thought about it and now see a better solution. It also puts you under a bit of unexpected pressure to see how you handle that.
- What questions do you have for me? To me this is one of the most important sections. It demonstrates how engaged you are in the process. The quality of your questions will help to separate you. Have five great questions done ahead of time, ask about 2-3 each interview. Ask deep questions, not surface questions. Turn each answer into a conversation starter.
Act like you want the job. Show a bit of spunk and energy through the interviews. Marketing jobs are a bit different. Take a Red Bull before the interview. Be leaning forward, make eye contact, be comfortable and dynamic in your personality.
Best of luck to you in your job search. Go for it and don’t give up.
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