My Journey and What it Took to Get Here

One of my goals in 2016 is to provide value to my social network through education. If I can teach others about things like social media marketing, personal branding, help someone find a job or discover their passion then we all win.

Tamer M., a Snapchat follower of mine, asked:

What is it that you did to get where you are at today and what steps did you have to take to get to this point?

I’m often asked “How did you land a job in social media?” and the answer is always the same.

Hard work, a lot of sleepless nights, and luck

My journey is still a work in progress but up to this point it’s been one with many ups and downs.

In 2008, I was laid off from my job in the banking and financial services industry due to the financial crisis and looming recession in the U.S. at the time. Without a college degree or formal education to fall back on, and hiring for financial sector jobs being virtually non-existent, I had no choice but to turn to social media to find my next opportunity.

I do want to preface by saying that this was before social media was used like it is today. It was unheard of to use mediums such as Facebook and Twitter for professional networking.

However, the same day that I lost my job was the same day that I joined LinkedIn at the recommendation of my mother. It was through LinkedIn that I joined groups and connected with other professionals like myself who had also been affected by the economic downturn. In the days following my layoff, I became inspired to startup an organization that would help mid to senior-level professionals find jobs.

With the little severance that I was given, I founded JobsDirectUSA, created a job board website (see: www.jobsdirectusa.com), and embarked on a mission to help get America back to work.

Needless to say, I didn’t have the financial backing to compete with the likes of Monster.com or CareerBuilder so instead I created a LinkedIn group, Facebook page, and Twitter account to grow awareness for my startup.

For the first two years I didn’t make a dime, I spent the little savings that I did have to pay for things like website hosting and cover travel to various cities where I would host “Pink Slip Party” networking mixers. All the while I was trying to remain positive but there were times that I wanted to quit and give up.

Facing bankruptcy, foreclosure from my home, and down to a few dollars to my name, I relentlessly studied social media while learning about the art of “hustle” from leaders like Gary Vaynerchuk.

There were many nights that I would stay awake to read — for hours at a time — about mastering Twitter for link clicks to drive more traffic to my website since I couldn’t afford Google advertising, how to engage your offline community online, creative design, HTML coding, writing a press release, and so on.

Not only was I the CEO of my company but I was the webmaster, public relations director, and head of sales all while not making a dime and working out of an 8x8 bedroom in my Florida condo.

The education that I acquired during that timeframe was priceless and something that later on would set me apart from the average, MBA graduate, salaried marketer.

It was through LinkedIn that I was able to connect directly with H.R. recruiters and hiring managers while bypassing the traditional process of cold calling — which is what people refer to as “social selling” today. Over time I had grown a strong prospect database with thousands of senior-level recruiting professionals throughout the U.S.

Twitter was where I would post job openings from sites like Indeed.com but also from members in my community (for free) which I built on LinkedIn. It was there that I was able to show many hiring professionals the value of using Twitter for social recruiting.

Meanwhile, Facebook was a platform which I used similar to LinkedIn to a build a community of job seekers and recruiters. It was there where I’d post information about upcoming events as well as relevant news and tips for job candidates.

The same tactics that we as marketers preach to brands today (i.e. build community, engage your audience, post relevant content, add value, etc.) is exactly what I did with my own company in what was then the early days of social media.

Eventually, once I overcame my darkest moments, I was able to monetize my business by hosting job fairs throughout the U.S. which attracted professional candidates that had learned about my events through social media as well as traditional media outreach.

However, the real game changer for me was the personal brand that I had created. Although I had no professional experience in H.R. or recruiting, I was capable of promoting job openings through the community that I built which in itself was a valuable commodity to hiring companies.

The first employer to contract my company to promote an in-house job fair for them was Winn-Dixie, a supermarket chain based in Jacksonville, Florida.

Not knowing how much to charge, I asked for somewhere in the $250 range and spent an entire weekend promoting their event across multiple social media platforms in addition to pitching to local news media.

The event attracted hundreds of professional candidates which impressed Winn-Dixie and led to several paid opportunities which followed.

Towards the end of 2011, Winn-Dixie conducted a search for the company’s first ever social media manager as they did not have a corporate social media presence up to this point.

Initially, I was hesitant to apply since I had no formal corporate or brand marketing experience but I took a leap of faith and put my name in the hat for consideration.

After going through rounds of interviews, and thinking there was no chance that they would hire me, I was hired.

What I believe helped me stand out from any other candidate in the pool, and to this day it still sets me apart, is the fact that I was able to show proven results with my own company and also the path that I had to travel to get there.

Most companies aren’t looking for just another average marketing professional, they want someone who can build strategy, have a broad vision, and is willing to take risks. Most importantly, they want to be compelled by the person which is why your story matters.

I spent two years at Winn-Dixie before moving on to other roles, including a brief stint at LinkedIn, which has led me to where I am today in my career.

Without the experience that I gained founding JobsDirectUSA, combined with not giving up on myself or my passion, along with the relationships that I have made along the way, I would not be where I am today or have the resume that I do.

My advice to you consists of five key strategies:

  1. Leverage social media to build relationships and grow your personal brand. Don’t be driven by volume, it’s not about strength in numbers but rather the quality of the connections in your network. Ask yourself, do the people that you follow add value to you through the content they post or do they just rant and waste air time in your feed? If you want to work in social media, you need to engage with other practitioners who do this for a living full-time and are just as passionate as you. Learn from them but also successful entrepreneurs like Gary Vaynerchuk who have proven results to support. Most importantly, have conversations. The competitive leverage that social media gives you as a professional is the ability to identify key individuals and engage with them.
  2. Be different and challenge the status quo. There’s a lot of social media marketers these days, what are you going to do to stand out from the crowd? Whether it’s contributing to a blog, creating a podcast, or participating in Twitter chats, you should look for ways to get your name in front of others while constantly adding value to those in your network and industry.
  3. Don’t let money dictate you, let passion drive you, and opportunity motivate you. I have personally witnessed people who have potential to be great waste it away because they are motivated by the almighty dollar and will do everything from backstab to lie in order to get it. Whatever you do, put passion before profit.
  4. Document your experience and successes. There are many individuals such as yourself who have similar aspirations to work full-time in social media for a brand. What will ultimately set you apart is what you have to have to offer a potential employer or client in terms of expertise and results achieved. You can create a portfolio website which spotlights your experience (see: CarlosGil.biz) using WordPress, Square Space, About.me, or even LinkedIn.
  5. Map out your endgame and the path to get you there. Think about the long term play with many short term benchmarks in between. It took me years in this industry to be invited to attend and speak at events like Social Media Marketing World and SXSW. I didn’t just show up and gain entry without working my way there. If your ultimate goal is to be viewed as a thought leader in the industry or turn this into a career, what steps are you going to take?

If you put your time and energy into these five areas over the next year, by this time in 2017 I guarantee that we are having a different conversation.

I hope this helps and thank you for reaching out, my door is open anytime.

Best,

Carlos Gil

How can I help you? Visit YoCarlos.com to ask me anything related to brand marketing, social media, jobs and careers, or personal branding. I will personally respond via email within 24 hours. It’s that easy!

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