Emily Fortner’s advice for job seekers: Think about yourself as a brand

“Don’t feel boxed in. Your specific concentration won’t hold you back. Your skills transfer.”

That’s Emily Fortner, manager of content & channel strategy at Twitter, speaking to my post-grad group. She was addressing the question of someone who had graduated with a specialty in one area of journalism (broadcast) and was thinking about doing something else in journalism, perhaps social media.

Adrian Walker, one of the participants in the group, suggested we ask Emily, who lives in San Francisco, to talk with us. I was excited about her because I like Twitter and wanted to hear her perspective. I particularly like the idea of networks and how people are connected, even as they don’t know they are. When I looked up Emily on LinkedIn, I noticed that she was connected to my two daughters. It turns out that not only is Emily from Greensboro, but my elder daughter and Emily’s sister were in Indian Princesses together. Networks.

Emily talked with us about job hunting and branding and innovation. She was smart and helpful. But like a bumbling idiot, I forget to record it. So, I turned to the hive mind of the group to help me remember the highpoints. Several participants responded, and then Anna Grace Freebersyser comes in with a detailed outline, which I copied-and-pasted below. (Yes, Anna Grace was an exceptional student.)

There are jobs and Twitter is hiring. She is a hiring manager so she knows.

General philosophy: “Just take the next right step for your career.”

Q: Tips for branding yourself?

It’s not just about the visuals–color, resume, etc. What she looks at when she hires is people who tell a compelling story.

  • Her LinkedIn looks like a scattershot. Regardless of broad experiences, think about what you enjoyed, where you excelled in those jobs and then pull that out and weave it into a narrative.
  • Look for the why and how. Think about what excites you and sets you apart; pull those things to the forefront on your LinkedIn, resume, etc. Think about how you show up as a person more than the visuals. If the substance isn’t there then the fluffy stuff won’t matter much.

Q: How do you distribute that brand?

Think about yourself as a brand or company: Think about how you communicate down to how you sign off your emails. Think about the channels you communicate on–are you active on twitter, Instagram? Do you write a blog in your free time? How do you spend your time building a brand and what channels do you use to do it?

  • Look for consistency and what’s going to set you apart.
  • Think about what you want to accomplish and the type of role you want to have. (Ex. if you want to be a sports reporter, you should probably be an authentic fan and cultivate your channels around that.)
  • Be strategic, but authentic to what is actually interesting and unique about you because faking it isn’t going to help you or the people hiring you find your value.

Q: Would you recommend making content when you’re not employed?

Yes. She just hired someone (further along in his career than us) and one of the things that interested her about him is that he’s been writing movie reviews on the side for seven years. That doesn’t have a lot to do with writing product tweets but it did tell her that he loves to write–enough to do it in his free time–and has niche interests he’s passionate about and can create content around.

  • It’s becoming more of a thing, at twitter especially, to bring your whole self to work. People want to work with people who have diverse interests and can contribute their perspectives to the workplace. If you have professional or personal interests that you can demonstrate through your internet presence that’s great–definitely not going to hurt you.
  • Avoid being gimmicky to get a job but if you have a desire to get a job in content, it’s great to build a presence or a youtube channel, etc. because it shows your initiative and capacity.

Q: Specific advice for anyone job searching?

  • Always write the cover letter even if it’s not required.
  • Be more targeted in your job search. Your first few jobs can set you up for success so if you can afford to financially, don’t just apply for anything and everything. Pick places that will build the career you want.
  • You will probably hate your first job, you will definitely not get your ideal job. But still, think about how a job can set you up for future success and pick a job you can actually put your heart into (otherwise, lack of love will show up in an interview). Use that first job as an opportunity to learn and observe how things work.
  • Don’t be afraid to move around with jobs. Every step should be a step forward.

Q: What makes social media management a cool job?

It’s revolutionized the way we people expect to see and interact with brands. One big part of her job is the ability to communicate difficult messages to different audiences. She loves crisis communication (PR background came in handy). It involves careful message crafting.

Q: Advice for working at a startup?

Startups are typically more flat and less hierarchical so there are fewer barriers to learning from and interacting with “higher-ups” than at a more established company.

  • Take advantage of that flexibility by talking to different people there and learning from them about their roles, the industry, disciplines to hone, etc.
  • Ask questions when you don’t understand.
  • Learn the processes.

Q: What’s the most important thing to know if you want to get into social media management and how to learn it if that’s not your background?

  • You don’t have to pick an industry, but if there is one you like, learn the language of that industry.
  • When you get your foot in the door, keep doing the job well and advancing by growing your skills until you can be more picky about what you do/the scale you do it at.
  • Your skills transfer more than you think they do (content strategy, planning, interviewing all apply from j-school to social media management).
  • Don’t feel boxed in. Your degree matters, but not that much especially in job applications.
  • Find nonprofits or small businesses that you can volunteer to work with and help out with their social media.

Q: What does advancing look like?

  • Have a clear expectation of the role you are employed at so that you can meet expectations. Know clearly what good looks like but have a strategy for getting to great.
  • Under-promise, over-deliver.
  • Over-communicate. If you don’t know what to do, ask questions and get help. That’s way better than the work not getting done.
  • You are a frequent topic of conversation between your managers. That’s not scary, it’s just an incentive to meet deadlines, do the work, present yourself well and continue to be consistent in meeting the standards you purport to have in your personal brand. Be consistent when things go wrong, in emails, in meetings. Be reliable.

Q: How do you know when to take the innovative risk?

Take smart risks.

  • If it’s your first time out of the gate on that work, then it’s probably not the time to take the risk. If there are clear ideas around the deliverable, then try it the standard way first (there’s probably a reason it’s standard). After you’ve done something is the time to evaluate opportunities for innovation.
  • Follow instructions the first time, learn it well, then be critical and by the fourth or fifth time evaluate if there’s a way to make it better/more useful.
  • Find peers to talk about your ideas with. Ideate with others. Lean into your professional network and get feedback.

Q: Mistakes to avoid in job search?

Network: don’t be afraid to reach out to anyone. Be curious and be insistent in learning about what you’re curious about.

  • Don’t let your resume look like a list describing tasks/responsibilities you did. Make it a list of accomplishments/impacts and quantify volume or impact where you can.
  • Do your research ahead of time. Know why you want to show up at this company every day. Speak the same language as your resume and as the company. And, again, tell a consistent story.
  • Throw out the dressing up and bringing a fancy copy of resume (specific to tech industry obviously: know your audience and make a judgment call).

Q: How important is learning to getting where you want to go?

  • Know what’s going on in your industry.
  • Emily starts her day every day by catching up and learning from tech blogs, askamanager.com, etc and sharing that with her co-managers.
  • Always be improving and learning more about your industry and relevant fields, especially as you settle in.
  • Take whatever development opportunities your company offers you. It shows initiative and makes you better.