How marketers and creatives can stand out in today’s competitive job market

With marketing and advertising talent in high demand across the country, it’s a good time to be in this field, no matter where you live — especially if you’re open to opportunities.

Companies are hungry for marketing talent, particularly for roles that help them stay competitive in a digital-first world. But with talent supply not rising to meet demand, employers are offering higher and higher salaries, even for junior roles.

In a candidate’s market, the balance of power has shifted into the hands of talent. But that doesn’t mean the process of searching for and landing a new job has become easier. In fact, the market has become even more competitive for jobseekers. Why?

With higher salaries come higher expectations. 

Companies investing top dollar for marketing talent are expecting top performers in return. Meanwhile, the recent proliferation of remote work means employers’ candidate pools have widened significantly. As a result, candidates are no longer competing only against others in their own city or metro area.

Marketers must now compete on a national stage, even for local jobs.

“You could be competing against a rock star from New York and Los Angeles, even for a job in Dallas,” said Kathy Leonard, President and CMO of Freeman+Leonard. “So candidates really need to step up their game to compete for the best jobs — especially those in smaller markets.”

Like it or not, the bar is higher. Here’s how we’re advising talent who want to stand out in this competitive job market.

Polish up your online presence with a professional website.

As a marketer, how you choose to market yourself is itself a demonstration of your skills. And that’s no longer just about your resume. Employers are Googling candidates, and those with less impressive online presences are less likely to make the cut.

“If you can’t market yourself, that’s a red flag right off the bat,” advised Ashley Allen, Sr. Manager, Talent Solutions at Freeman+Leonard. “Building your online presence, and really making sure it looks sharp, is one of the first things we advise.”

“I love to see nice professional websites, beyond LinkedIn,” Ashley continued. “It shows you’re a committed and serious professional that you took the extra step to brand yourself, and that you’re digitally savvy.”

“They’re also just convenient as a single place to showcase your portfolio and writing samples, and of course you can include a link to download your resume,” Ashley noted.

Candidates interested in making a professional website don’t need to spend a lot of money to do so, or have web-design skills. No-code website builders like Squarespace and Wix are easy to learn and inexpensive.

Don’t forget to buy a custom domain name for your website, too. Without one, your professional website will have a long and cumbersome Squarespace or Wix URL. Claiming a domain name that’s easy to remember, like your first and last name, puts the finishing touch on that first impression.

Emphasize digital work in your creative portfolio 

If your specialization is at all creative in nature, employers are expecting to see an online portfolio with a broad range of work samples. This applies not just to art direction, design, video, or copywriting, but also to social media roles.

“They’re barely looking at a resume when it comes to the creatives,” Ashley noted. “Our clients just go straight to the portfolio and will often request an interview just from that.”

More and more, however, we’re seeing clients emphasize digital samples. Ashley advised that at least 3-5 digital samples (work created for digital media) should be in any creative’s portfolio.

Level up your LinkedIn profile.

Whether or not you choose to create a professional website, recruiters and hiring managers are expecting your LinkedIn profile to be in top form.

“LinkedIn is the first place I go when someone applies for a job. Make sure your profile is fully finished, with a professional headshot,” advised Ashley. She also stressed that a good headshot doesn’t have to cost money. A professional-looking headshot can be taken with any modern smartphone camera.

“Ideally your LinkedIn photo will be a clear and professional-looking portrait. Not a photo taken in a car, or at a party, or any shot where you’ve had to crop someone else’s head out of the photo.” Yes, this still happens!

As for the rest of your profile, mirror your resume, and emphasize your accomplishments at each position, rather than merely listing out your job responsibilities.

Ashley strongly advised optimizing your profile for search by including keywords for the positions you’re open to and the skills you offer. These can be included in the “About” section of your profile and in your headline.

LinkedIn also has a setting that lets recruiters and hiring managers know you’re actively looking for jobs, even without displaying anything on your profile. With this setting activated, your profile will show up in a different search and put you on the radar of hiring managers and recruiters.

Don’t forget about social proof! “If you don’t have any recommendations on your profile, reach out to past coworkers and bosses to ask if they’ll write a recommendation for you,” Ashley advised. “And be sure to write some for others, too. If you’ve only received them but never given any, we’ve seen employers be turned off by that.”

When asking for a recommendation, provide your connection with specific suggestions for what to mention about your time working together. That way, they’re not staring at a blank page as they attempt to write, and you’re more likely to get a recommendation that’s truly useful for your current job search.

Tailor your resume for each job you apply for.

While your LinkedIn profile will present to the world a single image of your experience, your resume should be more tailored and customized for each position you apply for. 

While this has always been good advice, Ashley now considers a tailored resume to be the price of entry, as hiring managers have become more selective. Today, a generalized resume that doesn’t speak exactly to the open role almost certainly will be passed over.

“Employers are being very picky, and not just about skillset,” said Ashley. “They all want very specific industry experience. If it’s an agency role with a CPG client, someone could have 10 or 15 years of agency experience, but if they don’t have CPG experience, the employer will move on. It’s the same with client-side roles. They’ll wait for someone who has it all.”

Be specific and direct with recruiters early on.

Employers know that the more specific they are about what they want, the more likely they are to get it. Ashley recommends that candidates adopt the same approach.

“The more information we get upfront about what a jobseeker is and isn’t willing to consider, the more it helps us home in on roles that could be a fit,” Ashley suggested. 

“We appreciate when candidates are very upfront about their requirements: They have to stay in Dallas, or be remote, or they have to be in a particular salary range, with a particular title or seniority level,” Ashley continued. “It speeds up the process on our end, because we’re not going to waste their time with positions that don’t meet that criteria.”

Write a bio or elevator pitch.

Being specific about what you’re looking for helps your recruiter help you in that initial search process. But having a professional bio written and ready to go is also key to helping recruiters pitch you for your desired roles.

“Our approach to talent matchmaking is very hands-on,” said Andrea Tipton, EVP, Marketing & Consulting Solutions at Freeman+Leonard. “Rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks, we deliver only a handful of the best-matched candidates to our clients — often just 2 or 3 in the initial round.”

And those presentations include much more than a resume, a salary range and a link to your portfolio or LinkedIn profile. “When we present a candidate, we include a nice write-up describing why they’re a fit for the position,” Ashley said, “and highlight their most relevant experience and work samples.”

Having that information ready to go, even provided in the application stage, is a game-changer for a busy recruiter.

“We have a really high success rate of securing interviews for talent because we’re matching exactly the skillset that clients asked for,” Ashley noted. “You can increase your chances of being one of those interviewees if you help your recruiter pitch you to the client.”

Having a bio or elevator pitch ready to go benefits you in the interview stage, too. If you’ve already written a few key statements about what you bring to the table for an employer, it becomes that much easier to recite when discussing an opportunity in an interview — or a networking event.

Show off your personality.

We’re also seeing employers ask more off-topic questions to help get a better sense of a candidate’s personality. With so many interviews taking place now over Zoom, hiring managers are searching for ways to get to know candidates better without meeting in person.

“I’ve sat in on interviews where the client asked the candidate personal questions to learn more about their personality and interests. Questions like, ‘What do you like to do in your free time?’ or, ‘What are you reading right now?,’” Ashley said. “They’ve even asked what was in their Netflix queue. So I prep talent for this in advance, advising them to show their personality and be ready to speak about themselves personally.”

Without a sense of the candidate’s personality and life outside of work, employers may have more difficulty assessing whether they’d be a good fit for the team or company culture. This can make them less confident about making an offer.

“The resume could be a perfect fit, but if the client can’t get a read on the candidate as a person, they’ll likely pass,” Ashley added.

Feature your specialized credentials and certifications.

More and more employers are looking for a high degree of specialization — and the credentials to prove it.

“It won’t usually be listed as a requirement, but certifications are so important for standing out,” Ashley said. “Having just traditional marketing experience on your resume isn’t going to cut it. You need digital skills, too.”

Where digital is concerned, the credential matters — especially for candidates whose resumes or portfolios don’t make their digital expertise obvious, or who went to school before digital marketing degrees existed. 

“You can easily go get digital certifications to get some new knowledge under your belt,” Ashley advised. “SMU has a great digital certification program, and there are plenty of courses through LinkedIn Learning. Some programs are as short as six weeks.”

At Freeman+Leonard, we’ve seen a huge uptick in requests for UX/UI designers in particular. This is a specialization that many creatives, including art directors and designers, can easily add to boost their earning power and marketability. 

Regardless of how deep your current digital expertise is, there’s always something new to learn — and more and more, hiring managers are asking for a unique mix of digital skills. The more knowledge you bring to the table, the more you can potentially earn.

If you’ve already taken some courses, even on LinkedIn Learning, be sure to add them to your LinkedIn profile and highlight them in your resume, along with the year you took them.

Highlight any management, leadership or speaking experience.

If your current or past roles have involved managing a team, presenting to clients, or leading workshops, you’ll want to emphasize this to potential employers.

“Employers aren’t just looking for the skillset itself — they also want candidates who have management experience or leadership skills,” Ashley said. 

This is because higher salaries are creating higher expectations. Employers who pay more for talent often also expect an entrepreneurial mindset — confident team members who will take initiative, whether that involves directly managing others or just speaking and presenting effectively.

“Our agency clients especially want to hire people who can be client-facing, and present their work, in addition to managing a team or managing creatives,” Ashley added.

No matter what your next employer is looking for, or how competitive the market, a talent expert can help you put your best foot forward. 

Never hesitate to reach out to the Freeman+Leonard team on LinkedIn to start a conversation or follow-up on a job application.

Fewer candidates than you may realize take the time to personally follow up — and to us, it’s a sign of a highly marketable trait: initiative.

Where will your career take you next? 

We have a few ideas for you at: