HomeBlogSEOHow to excel in your current and future SEM roles

How to excel in your current and future SEM roles


In the first part of our SEM career playbook series, we defined the roles you will likely find within the digital marketing industry. Once you have secured a great position, you need a game plan to thrive and excel. 

Your employer often provides opportunities to sharpen your skills and advance your SEM career. If you proactively capture every opportunity to learn and take on more responsibilities, your development will accelerate significantly. 

Flourishing within an SEM role is a balance of mindset, education, and development. Of course, this could be said for career advancement in any industry. 

Successful SEM careers have many facets, but if you build a foundation of these attributes, they will serve you well for a long time. 

Maintain a growth mindset 

The SEM landscape changes constantly and there are no signs of slowing down. This means that everyone in the digital marketing industry is a lifelong learner – or at least they should be! 

Many personality types can find success in digital marketing. There is a wide array of tasks and responsibilities that will align with a broad spectrum of working styles and preferences. 

Everyone is unique and they bring different strengths to their work.

Here are a few universal attributes that will help any individual bring a growth mindset to their current and future roles. 

Self-starter

Be ready to dive into projects. 

A self-starter by definition is someone “who begins work or undertakes a project on their own initiative, without needing to be told or encouraged to do so.”

Be the person on your team who is always one step ahead. 

Curious inclination

I’ll say it again, SEM is always changing. A growth mindset means always learning. 

Continue learning about every shift in the industry. Be curious about account strategy. 

Learn why certain objectives are prioritized over others. Understand how the daily tactics impact the overall campaign outcomes. 

Clear communication

One of the most important skills in any setting is communication. The ability to convey complex ideas in a clear, concise manner is critical. 

Focus on developing communication skills across all mediums. This includes phone calls, presentations, emails, instant messaging like Slack, and even task delegation. 

Detail-oriented

SEM activation has a very high level of specificity. 

There are dozens of settings and details you need to review for each completed task. From account implementation to performance reporting, all require a high level of detail and attention. 

Be that person on the team that is leading with operational excellence. 

Positive outlook

No one wants to work with someone who sucks the energy from the team. Be the person on your team who brings positive energy. 

Of course, no one can be a ray of sunshine all the time. But strive to be a person who is positive and ready to tackle any challenge. 

A growth mindset can apply to any personality type. If you are more introverted or extroverted, these skills are malleable to your strengths and interests!

Focus on proactive education 

Don’t wait for learning opportunities to find you. Proactively seek out avenues to sharpen your skills and grow your expertise.

Be enthusiastic about development and doors will open for you. 

Attend every available training session

Most companies offer some sort of training program and some programs are more robust than others.

Make sure to take full advantage of any internal programs that are available.

Don’t just show up and be a passive participant. This is your chance to learn and grow. Make it count. 

Discover third-party webinars and training

There are countless webinars available almost every week from reliable publications and organizations. 

Create a list of sources that broadcast webinars on a regular basis. This can be a form of ongoing education, even after you have completed the training provided by your company. 

Here is a quick list of organizations/publications that offer webinars regularly: 

Acquire all relevant certifications

In SEM, the available certifications are bountiful!

Platform certifications can help establish and baseline knowledge. They can also help refresh your knowledge. 

Most SEM certifications are valid for a year, so you should keep them up-to-date. 

Here is a quick list of certifications everyone in SEM should acquire: 

Read industry publications regularly

Done! You are here at Search Engine Land, so you are well on your way! 

Be sure to read Search Engine Land (this is not a paid spot) and other industry publications daily. 

I learn new things constantly from the excellent articles posted in these publications. 

Here are a few publications to bookmark or add to your RSS feed reader: 

How you manage SEM campaigns today will be different than how they will be managed three years from now. 

Reading these publications will help you stay on top of the industry.


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Strive for continuous development 

As you can see, learning never stops in the SEM industry. This should excite and inspire you! 

There are elements of digital marketing that you can master like writing persuasive copy (people are people and that won’t change).

Some elements change every year and you have to stay on top of this. For a successful career in SEM, you have to develop all of your skills.

You should strive for continuous development of your SEM-specific skills and other skills that are required to be successful in the marketplace. 

Participate in a mentorship program

Many companies offer a mentorship program. Some are more formal than others. 

If your company does not have a mentor program in place, you could reach out to a senior team member directly to ask if they would like to serve as a mentor. 

Mentors can provide insights that you may not get from a direct manager. 

Focus on goal-setting and achievement

Be fanatical about setting goals and milestones for yourself. Most companies offer a review process, usually every six months, but it varies. 

Don’t be a passive participant in this process. Think about how you want to grow over the next quarter or six months.

Always come to your review with a vision for your development. 

Of course, your manager will have their own ideas on growth and improvement – but you should arrive at your review ready to discuss your goals. 

Understand your personality type

Self-reflection and awareness can serve your career very well. 

Often creating personality profiles can feel pointless. But that’s because we don’t take them seriously or put them into action. 

If your company offers a personality finder type of program, use it! Learn more about your personality.

Hopefully, you’ll understand how you work best. This will help your long-term growth. 

Strike a balance to avoid burnout

No one can grow, develop or do good work if they are feeling burned out. SEM work is fast-paced and endless because there is always work to do! 

It’s like running a marathon at a full sprint up a hill in the rain while being chased by a bear. 

I’m joking. Sort of. 

Learn how to be aware of burnout and take your mental health seriously so that your best self can show up to work every day. 

The building blocks of a successful SEM career

Building an awesome SEM career can be complex and challenging at times. 

Hopefully, this list is a great resource for anyone getting started. Or perhaps these are helpful resources for anyone who is looking to kick their career into overdrive. 

In our next article for this series, we’ll dive into the on-the-job performance that will help advance your SEM career. 


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Joseph Kerschbaum

Joseph Kerschbaum is Senior Vice President of Search & Growth Labs for 3Q/DEPT. During his 20 years of experience in digital marketing, Joseph has worked with businesses of every size from SMBs to enterprise-scale. Joseph has been a regular speaker at digital marketing conferences for over a decade. Joseph is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land. He is co-author of the Wiley/Sybex book, “Pay-Per-Click SEM: One Hour a Day,” which was published long enough ago to be outdated but that is a good thing because SEM is such a dynamic industry.

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