1. Name: Rebecca Lehmann
2. Current job, past jobs: My current title is Manager, SEO and Content at Shop Smart, LLC, which owns and operates online deals and coupon codes site BradsDeals.com along with Black Friday and Cyber Monday websites. Before I got into SEO, I spent 10 years in commercial lending. Some jobs I’ve held in past lives include hostessing at a fine-dining restaurant at Walt Disney World; moderating message boards for The-N.com; and, very briefly, cashiering at an ice skating rink. At first glance my résumé seems to be all over the map, but I’ve learned valuable lessons from every single job I’ve held. I love that my background is so diverse.
3. Last school attended; major: I finished my MBA in International Business at the University of Colorado Denver in 2010. Before that, I got my B.A. in Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
4. Did you need to have an internship to help get your jobs? I didn’t need an internship to get any of my jobs, but my summer in the Walt Disney World College Program certainly didn’t hurt me at all. For the first few years afterwards, it was all that any interviewer ever wanted to talk about, and it forever set the standard in for the customer service I give and receive. That’s taken me very far.
On the other hand, right after I left banking I was volunteering with the public relations team at the Mile High Girl Scout Council in Denver (now Girl Scouts of Colorado). I’d done occasional event photography for them for a few years, and they were just beginning to feel out what social media could do for them. I took over their Facebook and MySpace accounts for awhile. I can’t say that I knew what I was doing or that my work made any measurable impact, and today I would tell them they were out of their minds to hand their social media over to an untrained volunteer, but that experience was definitely a foot in the door later when I interviewing with a local SEO agency.
5. Did you contact prospective employers cold? What percentage of your search was conducted online? What were your best and worst interviews? For my last three jobs, the search has always been primarily online. When I decided to move to Colorado (still in banking at that point) I carpet bombed every bank in Denver with my résumé. I stalked their job boards daily. If they didn’t have job boards, I emailed their contact link and asked where I should fax a résumé. Note that I didn’t ever actually ask if they were hiring, just sent the résumé along whether or not they wanted it. I actually did get a job that way, about a month after I started looking. It was sheer dumb luck that I found a bank that was beginning to think about hiring a loan processor just as my resume landed on their fax machine.
After I left banking I spent five months hitting LinkedIn and sites like Indeed pretty aggressively and hitting refresh on Craigslist like it was a Vegas slot machine until I was hired by a local SEO agency. Instead sending of a handwritten thank-you note after my interview, I sent them a thank-you email. I figured I should use online channels to communicate with an online company, and it also gave me a chance to drop a few links in to sites I’d mentioned in the interview, which wouldn’t have been quite as effective on paper. They loved the follow up and I got the job.
Coming home to Chicago two years ago was a completely different experience. I had responded to just three online job postings, one of which was BradsDeals. I’d really just started the job search and wasn’t looking aggressively at all. I had anticipated sending out a lot of résumés and hearing back on maybe one in 10, especially since I was living in Denver and looking at jobs in Chicago. A lot of companies were advertising for “local candidates only,” so I had anticipated that a cross-country job search would take at least three months. It was really shocking to me when I sent out three résumés that I thought of as a sort of warm up pitch and got three interested responses. Everything came together with BradsDeals in less than three weeks.
6. What is the biggest obstacle you deal with now? School debt; life-work balance; job satisfaction; lack of promotion opportunities; time management? Work-life balance is huge. I make a big point of carving out a work-free zone for myself to pursue other things. Almost paradoxically, forcing myself to take that time gives me more opportunity to experiment with content strategies and SEO techniques. For example, knitting is a favorite hobby right now, and as someone who lives and works online, the most obvious, most natural thing in the world for me to do was to start my knitting blog, TrainKnitting.com. I post about my projects, or collections of patterns centered on a theme, like zombie knitting projects for The Walking Dead, or last summer when I found a bunch of Olympic-themed projects to celebrate the London Olympics.
This in turn has spawned a second website that will utilize a fairly novel affiliate strategy that I haven’t seen anywhere in the knit-blog community. I’m not naming it right now since it’s not been built yet, but I have the URL and it will be knitting-themed. The biggest opportunity to really make it into something comes from knowing what I know as an SEO, and in turn I can use it to test strategies and tactics without putting my employer’s site at risk. Drawing a line for that sort of bleed-over between work and play is always a dilemma. Anything I do outside of work, my first instinct is to blog it and create content around it and see how far I can take it online. The possibilities are endless, and keeping it in check can be tricky.
7. Who would be your ideal mentor? How have you sought a mentor and how has that person played a role in your career? There’s been a bit of a movement building behind women in tech lately, with a lot of commentary from notable industry women like Lisa Barone, Michelle Robbins and Rae Hoffman, mostly centered on the question of why more women aren’t speaking at SEO conferences. The dialogue has been fascinating, upsetting and heartening all at once. Speaking occasionally on the conference circuit is one of my goals. I’d love to be part of the solution to the gender imbalance, and I’d love to find someone to help me get on that path.
8. How and where do you network with others in your field? The SEO community chats on Twitter all day long, and we all follow each other’s industry blogs. The blogs are such a big deal that there are industry specific aggregators out there, like Inbound.org, that double as a sort of informal peer review forum. There’s a great conference scene with loads of in person networking, but we all know each other best because of our online interactions. The nice thing about SEO is that we tend to share our knowledge and help each other out. If I want feedback on the usefulness of a new tool or a case study on how someone addressed a particular issue, I can usually get an answer just by throwing it out on Twitter or Quora or by pinging a friend who I know has experience with it. A good SEO who engages with the community will never find herself out of work.
9. What conferences or networking events do you attend? What would your ideal conference address? Nearly all of my conferences have been specific to search marketing. While appreciative of what I do, my co-workers don’t always understand why I’m excited about a seemingly obscure change to Google Analytics, or their eyes glaze over a bit when I’m trying to explain the nuances of a concept, so I find conferences as an essential opportunity to reconnect with a tribe of people who get it. MozCon is a lot of fun. I’ve really enjoyed BlueGlassX also. SearchLove is on my list to check out sometime. I tend to prefer smaller, single-track, two-day conferences where I have the opportunity to meet nearly everyone and have better access to the speakers and panelists. It’s more intimate and everyone’s seen the same sessions, so it’s easier to find common ground later at the open bar.
10. What helpful advice can you give to someone who wants to follow in your field? Are there specific classes that should be taken in high school or college? What internships should be applied for? People who do well in SEO are half artist and half scientist: It requires a lot of creativity and a lot of research, and then you monitor everything. People who research obsessively, who thrive on change, who feel compelled to create.
My academic background is in creative writing. I monkeyed around with HTML in the early 1990s when the Web was still very new, and I spent a lot of time chatting on IRC. I had no idea at the time that I was setting myself up perfectly for a career that encompasses content development, technical SEO and social media. Having my MBA is a plus, and I can honestly say that I use it every day, but it’s not a requirement. I’d say it’s more of an exception than a rule. More than a few SEO rock stars dropped out of college or never went at all. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go to college, but the industry definitely rewards hustle and that’s not generally something you learn in a lecture hall. So there’s no right answer for what an aspiring SEO should study, and there are no certifications required. Additionally, while the folks who’ve been in the trenches for 10 years or more obviously know their stuff, there’s also a lot of value in fresh blood. The younger generations coming into the field today have never really known a world without the Internet and are very savvy to social media.
My best advice is to stop waiting for someone to hire you and hire yourself. Throw yourself into it. Find a niche you like. Build a website. Write the content. Promote it on Facebook and Twitter. Monitor your traffic. Make adjustments and see what kind of difference that makes. Play with WordPress plugins. Get people to link to your site (but do yourself a favor and read up on safe linkbuilding practices first). Read industry blogs voraciously (Search Engine Land and Inbound.org are good places to start). Keep up with whatever Google’s doing at any given time. Know what Panda and Penguin are and why they were such a big deal. Watch Whiteboard Fridays at SEOmoz. Follow SEO folks on Twitter and interact with them. Hustle.