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4 Tips for Online Marketing Applicants

Sep 16th 2013

The first lesson you learn in Marketing 101 is the same lesson you should keep in mind when applying for a marketing job: Know Your Audience.

Adpearance has been in the midst of a growth spurt, welcoming three additional teammates to our Nerdherd: Leslie Brown, Cameron Nilles, and Alison Vogt.  We're also in the process of filling an open Marketing Specialist position. Since the beginning of July, I've been tracking our incoming applications for all of our open positions knowing that eventually all that data could become quite interesting.  How could I pass up on an opportunity to see some beauty in data?

Sure enough, three months later, I had over 350 applications in my Excel file to analyze.  And here's what I found: applicants are not necessarily remembering their Marketing 101 classes.

Choose an Appropriate Tone of Voice

A few minutes on Adpearance's website and it wouldn't be hard to get an initial feeling for our company.  For Pete's sake, we call ourselves the Nerdherd.  A look into our TwitterFacebook, and Instagram accounts would show a similar personality: we love ping pong too much, celebrate birthdays awkwardly, and are a very close-knit group of coworkers.  Even our portfolio pieces showcase a youthful and forward-thinking design aesthetic and strategy. 

And yet, many applicants opt to take a very formal tone of voice, which can come off as staid and quickly forgettable.

Your choice in your greeting can set the initial tone for a potential employer.

Avoid addressing a specific person by name or position unless you are sending a direct email upon request.  There are 4 - 5 of us that collectively use the [email protected] email address and—at least for me—it’s off-putting to have a letter addressed to our fictitious Hiring Manager or one of the co-founders.  Worse off, when you misspell someone's proper name or address them by the wrong prefix (I am not a Mr. Ren), you're not doing yourself favors.

On the other end of the spectrum, don't drift off into greetings you should reserve for your text messages (wazzup, oh hai, hey hey). 

Have an effective cover letter

Prior to the rising popularity of online applications and email communication, the cover letter accompanied a printed résumé or portfolio book as an introduction to the candidate, sealed inside an envelope and sent via the post.

For our industry, it's hard to find any applications that require a physical résumé sent in the mail. And yet, there's an continuing trend to treat the cover letter as a formal document and attach it to the email and consider that sufficient as an introduction.

An email attachment is not how applicants are introduced to their prospective employer.  The email itself is. 

Place the content of your cover letter in the body of your email

This is for a variety of reasons:

  • It makes a better first impression than "see attached cover letter and résumé."
  • It’s easier to search through the 350 applications to find yours again.
  • It makes it possible to read your application on a mobile phone when we’re away from our desks or at home.
Try to keep your email introduction / cover letter in the 250 - 400 word range.


Your cover letter should not be a reiteration of your résumé in longform.  Do not repeat your education or how many years you've spent at a job if your résumé contains the exact same information.  Focus on tailoring the cover letter for each job application, making sure you mention the exact position you are applying for and reference the requested qualifications or prompts in the job post.  

Give specific examples to prove you have the skills you mention rather than a grocery list of adjectives.  Even if you are applying for an entry-level position and do not have prior experience in the role, give examples of analogous roles you've held or organizations you are active in.

Wonder how people describe themselves?  Below is a word cloud of the 100 most popular self-descriptive words used in the cover letters sent to us, after filtering out common words and phrases found in applications (“Thank you for your consideration”, “call or email me”, “apply for the position of”, etc). 

Even with the filters applied, experience is the most dominant word used, demonstrating the importance of introducing your skills in a more concrete, story-like manner (supported by the frequency of the word projectcampaignsmanagementclients, and events).

Avoid run-of-the-mill descriptors like "detail-oriented" and "hard-working" when describing yourself.  Those types of adjectives are more effective when another person describes you as such.  Plus, they carry less meaning if your cover letter lacks tailoring; a truly detail-oriented and hard-working person would spend extensive time on their application.     

Avoid the cookie cutter application

Four years ago, I was in the same position of many of our applicants: a recent college grad with a vaguely applicable degree and no full-time job experience.  For my first month back in Portland, I spent every day scouring the job postings online and compiling a list of marketing and design companies in the Portland area.  Every day, I sent out at least 3 applications.  Some days, I made an effort to research the company.  Some days, I just wanted a job already and sent a formulaic application.

Now with the roles reversed, I realize how obvious it was when someone is doing the latter.

Applying for a marketing agency is not the same as applying for a service industry job.  When I was looking for a part-time job back in Boston during college, I had a pre-printed application I would drop off at various Starbucks or retail stores listing my experience.  In many cases, the initial application is a straightforward checklist of experience.  The same does not apply to an agency.  You must make an effort to market yourself to that particular company.

Interest was gauged from either the applicant including details of the job posting and responding directly to instructions OR by specifically mentioning our company and pointing out reasons why they wanted to work with us.

At the very least, your cover lever must mention the position title you are applying for and the name of the company.  This is an easy add to any cover letter and seems to be within the template of many sent our way:

I am interested in applying for the position of [Marketing Specialist] at Adpearance.  I feel like my skills make me a good fit for your company.

Keep in mind, that is the bare minimum.  After reading through 350 emails, these cover letters and applications were as forgettable as the ones that failed to even mention the position or our company by name.

There are several ways to show that you have given thought to your application.


For the Marketing Specialist position, we requested a specific subject line when replying and our Project Manager post had a challenge question hidden within.  Other positions asked for exact information we were curious about.  Failure to respond to these specific portions of our ads was an immediate red flag, especially if you are selling yourself as “detail-oriented.”


What drew you to this particular post?  What made you decide to apply?  Repeat phrases that appealed to you in the job description or throw in a reference to one of the other pieces of information we included, such as how you enjoy/can't play ping-pong or why you feel like you want to be a part of the Nerdherd.


Did you know that the sound of your own name creates a powerful reaction in your brain?  Well, hearing about our own company from another person is a similar thrill.  It's one thing to say you're a "good fit" for Adpearance, but it's more powerful when you give a reason that is less about your own skill set and more about the appeal of working at an agency like ours.  Mention something about our company culture, our portfolio work, our online presence, or even just something you liked about the tone of voice in the post itself.

Be tech-smart

This tip applies to any job position in our industry that involves technology.  It seems everyone and their mother, is “proficient in Microsoft Word.”  Take it up a notch when you're applying to a digital marketing agency.


  • Optimize your attachments and keep your email attachments small.  There is no reason why your résumé should be 8MB.
  • Your attachments should be PDFs.  Do not include Word Docs, RTFs, or text documents saved as JPGs.
  • Choose smart attachment names.  Use your name and the position you are applying for in the file name of your file uploads. And be sure you are attaching the right file.


It's great you know the difference between their/they're/there, but nothing shows naivety of the online world than improper spelling or capitalization of proper nouns. 

Facebook / Twitter / Instagram /LinkedInfacebook / twitter / instagram / linkedin
HTML, CSS, PHPhtml, Html, css, Css, php
website, Web site, web site, site web-site
ecommerce, e-commerce, eCommerce e commerce


If you're applying for a design or development position, we expect to see an online portfolio.  For most of our other positions, at the very least you should have a robust LinkedIn profile.  If you are applying for a writing position, share links to your blog, published articles, or other online writing samples.

Don't include links to online profiles that contain inappropriate content.  Personally, I've made the conscious decision to keep my Facebook and Instagram small and private to a small group of close friends, and instead use my LinkedIn and Twitter profiles to create a professional persona.

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