How to Find & Support Entry-Level SEO Talent

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

Hiring SEOs has never been more necessary and more competitive. The pandemic catapulted e-commerce growth, with online spending up 44% in 2020.

As more businesses rely on their online presence, the more necessary SEOs become to help them grow their visibility. The proof is in the data: SEO job postings increased significantly during the pandemic.

Bar graph showing the increase in SEO job postings over the last year.

Source: Backlinko SEO Jobs Report

But the supply does not appear to be keeping up with demand. In a recent Twitter poll, I asked if there was a shortage of SEO talent. The results skewed “yes”, and comments from industry veterans showed this is likely the case.

With the demand being this high, where do you find good SEOs? Hiring an experienced SEO is top of mind for many companies, but isn’t always an option due to budget and increased competition for talent.

Consider this instead: Businesses can hire and train entry-level marketers to become the new, experienced SEOs.

This may sound simple, but I know firsthand the level of work that goes into finding and training the right candidates. In the past year, I’ve helped our agency, Uproer, hire four incredible entry-level SEO analysts and interns, all of whom started adding value right away.

In this article, I’ll share unique places to source talented entry-level SEOs (none of which include Indeed or LinkedIn Jobs), and tips to support their growth once they’re hired.

Why hire entry-level?

Not surprisingly, most open SEO positions are for more tenured candidates. Backlinko’s 2020 SEO Jobs Report shows that the two most popular SEO job post titles are Senior SEO Manager and Head of SEO.

It’s clear that businesses want a senior-level hire to start getting work done from day one. The idea of training someone up who’s rather green might not be all that appealing to a business looking to move fast.

However, hiring entry-level SEOs might actually be the better option. Consider these factors:

  • There’s a huge pool of candidates to grow into the position. Entry-level candidates can be sourced from many different majors and backgrounds. They have fresh perspectives, new ideas, and are adaptable. They don’t come with processes from previous workplaces baked into their working style. And if you’re hiring from the Gen Z pool, they know a thing or two about digital. And they pick up new things quickly.

  • They fit more budgets. Considering the average Sr. SEO Manager makes around $90,000 USD, a business might not have the financial resources to hire a more senior candidate. Opening up the position to entry-level candidates can meet most small business needs without breaking the budget.

  • We need to increase racial and gender diversity in the industry. Recent surveys found 68% of SEOs are male, and 71% of SEOs are white. Hiring only from this group keeps these statistics locked in place. Prioritizing diversity when hiring entry-level candidates builds a more inclusive, diverse workforce.

Where to find entry-level talent

OK, cool. Now we know a few reasons why entry-level SEOs can be a great option for your business… but where does one find them? Below are several unique ideas to source entry-level SEO talent:

1. Universities

What better place to meet talented students and young professionals, who are actively looking for careers in their chosen field?

Start building relationships with professors and students at local (or non-local) universities. A good place to start is your alma mater, but you can also reach out to other universities to offer your knowledge. To get you started, many professors are on LinkedIn and their contact info can be found on the university website.

Some great ways to work with universities:

  • Ask to be a guest teacher. Offer to speak about SEO in marketing, communications, or business classes and student organizations. Many students may not be familiar with search marketing, and introducing them early is a great way to generate long-term interest. And guess who they might be interested in working with? Yeah, that’d be you.

  • Mentor students. Some ambitious students may want to continue the conversation outside of class. Support students by sharing your experiences and offering advice about their career. Not only are you helping the next generation of marketers, but you’re building relationships with potential hires.

  • Connect with university career centers. This is one key place students look to find open internships or full-time positions. Get your job description in front of more students by sharing with the career centers. Also share with the professors of classes you’ve taught and ask if they’d send it to their students.

2. Student/recent grad conferences & programs

Ask the students and professors you meet about existing marketing programs for students and recent grads. This is an amazing place to find candidates, as the people involved generally have natural leadership skills and ambition.

To get involved, you can often apply to be a mentor or speaker for the group, or sponsor the program. A couple great examples are Camp Adventure or BoundarylessMN, which offer free advertising experience for students and recent grads.

3. Digital marketing & tech organizations

Career-focused organizations are a fantastic way to meet people in the industry. You can meet folks with a year or two of experience, or more seasoned professionals looking for a change of pace.

Attend the org’s events, like monthly meetings, happy hours, or conferences. These meet-ups are a great place to share your open role and meet new people in the industry. Many have job boards that you can leverage as well. A few marketing organizations include:

  1. American Marketing Association

  2. Women in Tech SEO

  3. MnSearch and other local search meetups

  4. Paid Search Association

4. Ask your employees for referrals

The people already on your team may be a gold mine of referrals. If you’ve recently hired a new grad, chances are they have peers who are still on the job hunt.

Simply ask your team members if they’d be willing to share the job description with qualified candidates or their alma mater. You can offer an incentive if you really want to step it up.

5. Speaking

Share your SEO knowledge at conferences, local events, and webinars, especially those that are beginner-friendly. This raises awareness for your company and provides a platform to broadcast your open role. You never know who might be looking for that next opportunity!

Important: As you meet people from these various efforts, you’ll want to keep track of those who stand out. Create a “Talent to Watch” list so you know who to reach out to when it comes time to hire.

What traits to look for

For greener folks, “soft” skills are often much more important in an SEO role than actual experience. (And while we’re here — can we nix that term for good? “Human” skills feels much more accurate.)

Some crucial traits to look for in these hires include:

These “human” skills may seem trivial to some, but they can be a far better predictor of success than having years of experience. Site audits can be taught — curiosity and motivation are inherent.

Important: Be open-minded to folks with different experiences and degrees, because there’s really no linear path to SEO. Need proof? This Twitter thread found that SEOs come from many different paths, whether it be sales, IT, or (my personal favorite) a World of Warcraft guild leader.

Job description tips

Once you have a solid group of candidates, you’ll need a solid job description.

Making job descriptions more inclusive and less intimidating for women and people of color is a must. Here are some guidelines for inclusive job descriptions that can help you craft a welcoming and unbiased message. These include:

  • Removing gender-coded words (think “aggressive”, “rockstar”, “outspoken”)

  • Swapping “cultural fit” for “value alignment”

  • Eliminating requirements that are not essential or labeling them “preferred”

  • Adding in salary range

How to support new hires

Now onto the final step. You’ve put in the work, and have found the perfect new hire. They’re motivated, curious, and eager to get started in this grand world of SEO.

But your work does not stop there, my friend. In order for your new hire to be successful, managers need to invest in their continued growth. Here are several ways to do this:

1. Encourage learning on their own time

The search marketing world has resources galore. In fact, that’s how so many people have taught themselves SEO. Create a document with your team’s go-to resources for learning SEO. These should probably be on that list:

Make sure to give your new teammate dedicated time for reading in their weekly schedule. You can also consider offering a budget for courses, especially if you don’t have a senior SEO to mentor them. Which leads us to our next point…

2. Provide mentorship

New hires should have a go-to person to ask questions and talk through things with.

If your team doesn’t have a mentor in-house, here are a couple places that offer SEO mentorship:

3. Pass on leadership & speaking opportunities to the new hires

If an opportunity arises to take on a big project or lead a pitch, consider passing it to your hire. This gives them a chance to put their own spin on the process and start building valuable strategic skills.

Similarly, ask if any team members will pass on speaking engagements to the new hire once they’re feeling comfortable in the role. This can build their confidence and allow them to share all the cool things they’re learning and testing.

4. Create a supportive and inclusive working environment

This one doesn’t happen overnight. Ongoing steps must be taken to create an inclusive work environment for your staff.

A few ways to work on this:

  • Offer a flexible work environment

  • Advocate for gender and pay equality when hiring

  • Build up your team’s confidence with regular feedback and recognition

  • Ask your team members what holidays they observe, and celebrate as a team

Wrapping up

The new generation of marketers are ambitious, capable, and motivated. They can become experienced SEOs and add value quickly if we shift our mindset from “must have 5+ years of experience” to “must be motivated and curious”.

SEO talent is truly everywhere, if we take even a small amount of effort to seek it out. So with that, go forth and hire!





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