How to Land an Assistant Brand Manager job

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bbi adTwenty 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.
Slide1Persistence 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. 
Interview like you want that Job!
  • 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.    
  3. 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!  
  4. 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.. 
  5. 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.   
  6. 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.  
  7. 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.  
  8. 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.

Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  




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How to be a successful CMO

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers


Quintessentially, rule #1 is you have to make the numbers. 

As the VP, your main role is to create demand for your brands. What’s expected of you is to gain share and drive sales growth to help drive profit for the company. The results come from making the right strategic choices, executing at a level beyond the competitors and motivating your team to do great work. But how you do it, and the balances you place in key areas are choices you need to make. Making the numbers gives you more freedom on how you wish to run things. Without the numbers, the rest might not matter.

Here’s my Six points of advice on How to be Successful VP of Marketing. 

  1. While your people run the brands and the execution, you should run the P&L and essentially run all the marketing processes. You have to run the P&L and make investment choices. Bring an ROI and ROE (Return on Investment and Effort) mind set to those decisions. These choices will be one of the essentials to making the numbers and gaining more freedom in how you do the job. In terms of process, it’s always been my belief that great processes in place—brand planning, advertising, creative briefs—is not restrictive but rather provides the right freedom to your people. I’d rather my people drive all their creative energy into great work that gets in the marketplace, not trying to figure out what slide looks really cool in the brand plan presentation. I’ve worked as a Brand Manager in a marketing team without process and it was total chaos, not fun at all.
  2. Focus on the people and the results will come: The formula is simple: the better the people, the better the work and in turn the better the results. You should have a regular review of the talent with your directors. I’d encourage you to ensure there’s a systemic way to get feedback to everyone on the team, preferably on a quarterly basis. Waiting for the annual review is way too late and almost negligent as a leader. Your people have the potential to grow with feedback. But without feedback, they’ll be confused and even frustrated. You should invest in training and development. Marketing Training is not just on the job, but also in the classroom to challenge their thinking and give them added skills to be better in their jobs. Marketing fundamentals matter. And the classic fundamentals are falling, whether it is strategic thinking, writing a brand plan, writing a creative brief or judging great advertising. People are NOT getting the same development they did in prior generations. Investing in training, not only makes them better, but it is also motivating for them to know that you are investing in them. That helps drive retention and commitment into producing great work and driving results. To view examples of best in class Marketing training: Beloved Brands Learning Sessions
  3. Be consistent: People have to know how to act around you. You have to set up an avenue where they are comfortable enough to approach you, and be able to communicate the good and bad. A scary leader discourages people from sharing the bad results, leaving you in the dark. On the other hand, open dialogue helps you be more knowledgeable of what’s really going on, so you can run the business. Also, they have to be able to challenge you and push forward new thinking into the system.   This helps your brands to stay modern, push new ideas and connect with consumers. If you push your ideas too far, you could be pushing ideas from a generation too late. Be consistent in how you think, how you act in meetings and how you approve.  Inconsistent behaviour by a leader does not “keep them on their toes” and create an atmosphere of “creativity”. It inhibits creativity, and creates tension that adds no value to the brands. People forget that leadership assumes “followership” from your team.  Creating a good atmosphere on the team will make people want to go the extra mile for you. Be a good listener and you’ll be surprised on what people tell you—how honest they’ll be, how much they’ll tell you. Knowledge makes you a great leader, and it starts with listening.
  4. Let them own it and let them shine: Remember when you were a Brand Manager and the passion you put into that job—the greatness you sought–drove you even harder.  Now it’s time, for you to step back and let them have that same passion to do amazing work and drive the results. It has to be about them, not you. At the VP level, I used to walk into every meeting knowing that “I knew less about the issue on the table, than anyone in the room”. I looked for ways to support and encourage great thinking, while challenging them to reach for even better. It’s not easy to balance giving them to freedom and yet knowing when to step in and make a decision. When I was a Brand Manager, my VP once said to me “every time I make a decision, I weaken myself”. Honestly, I thought he was certifiably crazy, until I was in the VP role. And then it made sense. By making all the decisions, you bring yourself down a level or two and you take over their job. They’ll start to look to you to make EVERY decision and that just makes you the “Super-Duper Brand Manager”. Instead, knowing how to ask good questions of your team to challenge or push them into a certain direction without them knowing you’re pushing them is more enlightening than coming up with statements of direction. But on the other hand, when they put their great work up for approval, and it’s fundamentally sound, approve it. Don’t do the constant spin of pushing for better, because then you look indecisive. For how those on your team can be better, view: How to be a Successful Marketing Director or How to be a Successful Brand Manager or How to be a Successful Assistant Brand Manager
  5. You are the Mayor of Marketing:  Bring a vision to the role.  I tried to use vision statements to rally the team, almost like campaign statements. I used  “Everything starts and ends with the Consumer in Mind” to push my team to be more consumer focused. And I used  “If we each get better, we all get better” to bring a re-commitment to training and development. Look at what needs fixing on your team, and create your own vision statements that relevant to your situation. Bring a human side to the role.  Get up, walk around and engage with everyone on your team. It will make someone’s day. Your role is to motivate and encourage them to do great work.  Challenge them and recognize the great work.  It might be my own thing, but I never said “thank you” because I never thought they were doing it for me.  Instead I said “you should be proud” because I knew they were doing it for themselves. Influence behind the scenes to help clear some of the roadblocks in the way of their success. Know when you need to back them up, whether it’s an internal struggle they are having, selling the work into your boss or with a conflict with an agency they are struggling with.  
  6. It’s a rather lonely job: I remember when I first took the job as VP, I found it surprisingly a bit lonely.  Everyone in marketing tries to be “on” whenever you are around. And you don’t always experience the “real” side of the people on your team. That’s ok. Just be ready for it. Also, the distance from your new peers (the head of sales, HR, operations or finance) is far greater than you’re used to.  And it might feel daunting at first. Your peers expect you to run marketing and let them run their own functional area. And the specific problems you face, they might not appreciate or even understand the subtleties of the role. Your boss also gives you a lot of rope (good and bad) and there’s usually less coaching than you might be used to. It’s important for you to have a good mentor or even an executive coach to give you someone to talk with that understands what you’re going through.

As you are coming up through the marketing roles, observe great leaders equally watch bad leaders.  I learned equally from watching both. It will help frame how you will do the job. Keep a checklist of “when I’m in the VP role”. Bring those into the role, and look to improve upon what your predecessor left for you.  I was lucky in that my predecessor did a great job in turning around the business, giving me freedom to bring energy and passion into the role.

My last piece of advice for you is, Enjoy it. Yes, it’s stressful. You worked hard to get here. Bring that enjoyment into the role.  If you love the work, it will be contagious and your people will feed off that passion and energy. They will be better for it.

After all, the better the people, the better the work, and  in turn the better the results.

To read how to run your career as well as those on your team read the following document. Feel free to download and share with your team.


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, we promise that we will make your brand stronger and your brand leaders smarter. We can help you come up with your brand’s Brand Positioning, Big Idea and Brand Concept. We also can help create Brand Plans that everyone in your organization can follow and helps to focus your Marketing Execution. We provide a new way to look at Brand Management, that uses a provocative approach to align your brand to the sound fundamentals of brand management. 

We will make your team of Brand Leaders smarter so they can produce exceptional work that drives stronger brand results. We offer brand training on every subject in marketing, related to strategic thinking, analytics, brand planning, positioning, creative briefs, customer marketing and marketing execution. 

To contact us, email us at or call us at 416-885-3911. You can also find us on Twitter @belovedbrands. 

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