SEM Mentors: The Apprentice

By Matt Spiegel
Appeared in Search Engine Watch

Two weeks ago, I pointed out the responsibility we, the search marketing industry, have in solving the Search Marketing Staffing Crisis.

The solution? Developing new talent, including the future leaders of search marketing: talented students still in school. I've heard from quite a few readers who shared how they learned Search 101.

Alex Vega, a search advertising manager for Submitawebsite Inc. wrote me to echo my sentiments on the importance of teaching the next generation. He shared some stories about how he's helped newbies to search marketing. I wrote back and asked him to expound on his experiences. I think you'll find Alex's insights as interesting as I did.

SEW Experts E-mail
An excerpt from Alex's original email to me:
"Thank you so much for this column. It's well stated and makes me feel good to be reassured the pros care about educating the student body, since they'll be the next generation of pros.

I can speak for myself, I went to a smaller state school in Buffalo, NY, and after graduation the exposure to and options for the advertising/marketing industry were small, while the pressure of the real world was fast approaching.

I did the best I could for several years out of school. Since then I've figured things out for the most part. But oh, if I had a mentor like you described, I could have been further along."

SEW Reader Responds
Alex and I enjoyed an enlightening exchange about his career path and the search industry experts who helped him along the way. To kick off the conversation, I asked him how he got his first break in the industry.

Matt Spiegel: What exactly did you do after school?
Alex Vega: After graduation, I struggled to break into the business, as they say, and ended up in a low wage, low skilled fast food job because I wasn't able to land a position in my field with any of the agencies in town. Either they weren't hiring at the time, or my portfolio, which was strong, wasn't strong enough to meet their standards.

What they failed to see was my positive attitude, willingness to learn, commitment and passion for the craft, and creative capabilities. Nevertheless, I continued to develop myself and my craft, and do the best job I could, no matter who I worked for.

Over the next several years I eventually moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, met a few key people along the way, gained industry experience, and worked several freelance opportunities, including my first PPC (define) assignment in 2002, while trying to get established.

MS: How'd you figure things out?
AV: The personal and marketplace mentorship I received from key relationships I built have been a big part of why I am personally and professionally successful at my current position as Search Advertising Manager at Submitawebsite Inc., a leading search engine marketing company. I met Joe Griffin Jr. in 2007 and he gave me an employment opportunity because of the qualities he saw in me, that I could help his PPC department grow and be profitable even though I did not have many years of PPC business experience.

MS: What would you have liked to learn in school that would've helped you with your search career?
AV: Easy. The Google Advertising Professionals Program, more visits, lectures from the pros, a commitment to student-teacher mentorship, and a search internship. I already had natural creative talent, strong computer skills, and good interpersonal skills, but lacked the business experience and wisdom that comes from a professional who has been there and done that.

Search Marketing Mentor
Tell me more about how you encourage and teach other young adults in high school and college.
AV: The very thing I didn't get until I was in my mid- to late-20s, I now do for other young adults. I've become a mentor to the mentor-less by giving away my time, tongue, talents, and treasure to those who are interested in design, the Web, and PPC.

I share my good and bad experiences so that students will not have to go through what I went through. I tell them that talent and charisma alone won't cut it. They must also have character, skill, and faith.

MS: Expand on anything you think is relevant.
AV: Over the years, I know it was not so much what I was taught -- as much as what I caught -- that prepared me for the responsibilities I have as a person, PPC specialist, and mentor.

Key Takeaway
Alex isn't alone. How are you helping colleagues? If you have stories of either receiving or giving mentorship you think the industry can build on, please let me know. The training of new SEM talent has just begun. Together, we can educate tomorrow's SEM leaders


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