A community manager’s guide to applying to big brands, startups and agencies

So you’re an experienced community manager on the job market. But a few searches in and I’m sure you’ve spotted the trend- agency, startup, brand, startup , startup, agency. The job titles might be the same but differences can range from what hiring managers are actually looking for to opportunities for mentorship and advancement. In this post I go through the basic differences based on my experiences working for multiple versions of all three.

Enterprise- the big brands!

Examples: Microsoft, Disney, McDonalds

What you need to know-

Big brands are BIG. As a marketer you’ll be working on a piece of a much larger marketing plan within a matrixed organization. Be sure you understand where the role you’re applying to fits within that organization. Words you should know: “Market”- that refers to a particular target market (e.g. Federal, European) this typically means you’ll be closer to on-the-ground sales teams vs “Corporate Team” – often this refers to the team that handles overall Brand strategy. Your job satisfaction and career prospects will be most connected to your team, your direct manager and how much power they have within the company.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • Patience- particularly if your resume shows you’re coming from fast-paced environments. Everything takes longer at the enterprise level and particularly for someone in social media, it can be maddening. The hiring manager needs to know that you’ll stick around when it’s been 6 months and you’re still trying to get a PO approved to launch paid ads on Facebook.
  • Team-oriented- Enterprises revolve around teams. Be prepared to highlight instances where you’ve contributed to a team win. Think about what you bring to a team that adds to its’ strength. In my case, I’ve found that my variety of experience across different types of organizations means I can bring a comparative perspective that many of my colleagues don’t have.

Is it the right fit for you?

It’s all a matter of trade offs. Big brands can do more because they have bigger budgets AND aren’t trying to accomplish an acquisition or IPO strategy. But they’re going to have established bureaucracy which means they move slow and will be hesitant to adopt new trends. For some community managers the shift from relative autonomy in a prior role to being (let’s be honest here) a cog just isn’t the right fit.

If that’s the case for you- embrace it! And don’t waste your time going after big brand jobs.

The ultimate test:

Here’s what a win looks like in a big brand- they are small. If you can look at a program piece and get a sense of accomplishment knowing you helped make that happen- then you you should absolutely apply


Examples: Havas, Oglivy, Edelman, 360i

What you need to know:

They come in many flavors. Large and small. Marketing, PR, Advertising (although those lines are all but gone in practice- the client base will be different.)Creative “shops”, influencer matchmakers and whatever other flavor of the month is out there. Here’s the thing about agencies:

No one really loves their agency (other than the founders). It’s an often thankless and high pressure job. Brands can be touchy about disclosing that they don’t manage their own social. Agency life is a bit even crazier right now because their prior models are coming under assault. Brands are trying to figure out what that should do in-house versus and agencies are also trying to figure out what they actually sell.

But agency experience or some version is a good investment of a year or two of your career. many enterprise job descriptions say “agency experience a plus”. You’ll get to work on major campaigns, you’ll also get experience connecting your activity to clear deliverables. I’ve found that to be invaluable. You’ll get the chance to understand how agencies work which can be very useful if you get on the brand side. I’ve gone back and forth a few times and have acted as an interpreter. Lastly, you can get exposure to a wide variety of skills. It’s thanks to agency work that I learned about advertising, creative strategy and project management.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • Dedication– agencies have to get it right. So you need to be someone who triple checks your work and is willing to stay late to get a deck just right.
  • Latest skills– agencies particularly right now are in an arms race with each other and in-house teams. They look to new talent to give them the edge. Know the latest trends and be able to tie them into activities you’ve done.

Is it the right fit for you?

If you’re looking for clear cut hours and recognition then no. And again- both of those desires are fine- in my last job search I ruled out agencies because I just didn’t want that lifestyle.

The ultimate test:

Here’s what an agency win most often looks like- a begrudging email from your client that gets forwarded around by agency management with the headline “how can we leverage this to expand our contract next year?” (A good team leader will give you a high-five as you head into the conference room for your brainstorm)

Tech Start-up:

Many of the jobs out there will be for startups. They can be attractive early in your career because they often care less about experience and more about passion.

What the hiring manager wants to see:

  • You have “it” Knowledge on your resume will get you in the door but once in an interview 90% is going to be culture fit. Read up on the brand’s backstory- know what the founder believes they’re disrupting.
  • Dedication to the “mission”– go through your resume and figure out how you’ll be able to help with the startup’s prime directive. Be very careful to get this right – once I Interviewed a candidate who went off on a ramble about how they didn’t approve of big brands – not realizing (I assume) that those brands were the clients of the startup. The startup wanted to disrupt them -not end them!

Is this the right fit for you?

A startup marketing role is great for experiencing how marketing connects with other areas of a business. As a strategist I learned a ton that gas benefited me in future roles. A startup is a place to practice what you know- there won’t be time (or room) for genuine professional growth. So if you’re clearly on a career path in a marketing specialization such as content marketing, paid advertising, internal comms- think hard about that trade off.

The ultimate test:

In startup land “wins” are whatever the founder seems them to be. You can be at the top of the world one day only to plunge into the abyss the next. So it has to be about something more than just a job. Those who succeed in startup land have something else keeping them- whether it’s your team, the “culture”, belief in the mission. If it’s just about the position- don’t do it. Chances are the job will change before your first day and then again on your second.

In Conclusion:

I hope this has been a helpful overview of the industry. When you’re in job search mode it’s all too tempting to get desperate and apply to anything that looks like a fit. It’s tough to decide you’re not going to apply to a particular group of positions. But it’s worth it. Realizing what you’re actually looking for will only strengthen how you position yourself in the market. And that’s what will ultimately get you that offer.

Next time I’ll go into what every community managers should look for in a prospective marketing team (the good and the bad). Be sure to check out the first post in this series- 5 tips for standing out from the community manager applicant crowd .

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