3 core skills that will help advance your SEM career


There are three essential skills you need to develop to progress your SEM career. These critical skills apply to almost any industry, but we will make a specific case for roles within SEM: 

  • Clear communication
  • Effective collaboration
  • Focused productivity

Clear communication 

Do not underestimate clear, concise communication. Communication is at the core of any role within a company or agency. 

Every day you are sharing information across teams, clients, and vendors. Individuals who are thoughtful and purposeful with their communication style will benefit from a unique voice and confidence. 

As a result, these individuals will have a more significant impact on their organization. 

Communicate effectively in every medium

Conveying ideas comes in many forms – email, virtual and in-person meetings, presentations, instant messaging, and countless others. Conversations in instant messaging apps move quickly, which can cause errors and misunderstandings.

Often, instant messaging via Slack or Teams is informal and conversational. Still, it’s important to be professional when collaborating with team members, managing projects and delegating tasks on such platforms. Take the time to be thoughtful even during micro-discussions like chats. 

Specific channels, like email or deck presentations, allow more time to be purposeful with your communication. In many instances, email is a method of transferring ownership of a given topic.

For example, someone could be asking a question (you own the answer), requesting data or reporting (you own the data), or sending a task (you own the task completion).

Always confirm receipt and establish a timeline for a response and follow these quick tips:

  • Make sure your message is clear and concise.
  • Adapt your message for different media.
  • Use proper language for the medium.
  • Use active listening techniques.
  • Proofread your messages.

Run and attend successful meetings

Meetings are the bane of many professional existences. Poorly run meetings waste time, drain energy and provide little value.

Moreover, meetings occupy more time for many unfortunate souls than completing actual work. Break this cycle of meeting fatigue as much as possible.

Meeting agendas are your secret weapon. A great agenda will set the stage for a highly successful meeting. They set the tone and expectations. Meeting agendas allow attendees time to prepare for specific topics. Also, you should request an agenda that you are attending. 

Agendas set the stage for a successful meeting, and clear meeting notes ensure the meeting has the desired impact. Meetings that do not result in delegated tasks or new collaboration could have been an email.

You need to be the person who sets excellent agendas and provides thorough notes and task ownership afterward. For successful meetings, be sure to follow these steps: 

  • Set a great agenda.
  • Invite the right people.
  • Start on time.
  • Be organized.
  • Encourage participation.
  • Take thorough notes.
  • End on time.
  • Follow up.

Set agendas for 1:1 manager meetings 

Be aware of one of your most important regularly scheduled meetings. You should have weekly meetings with your manager.

These weekly sessions are your chance to discuss challenges, opportunities, and long-term goals. Remember, you should not rely on your manager to set the meeting agenda. 

Individuals in more junior positions may feel they can not dictate topics to their manager. That is not true. Be proactive about your development. 

Be sure to follow these tips for great 1:1 manager meetings: 

  • Set clear expectations.
  • Ask the right questions.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Follow up on any takeaways.
  • Encourage open communication.

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Effective collaboration 

Success is not achieved alone. No matter where you work, you are a member of a team. You need to make sure that you are a supportive, collaborative team member. 

Build a support network with your company. This support network should be an outlet to brainstorm ideas, provide feedback, and help with tasks. 

Master the art of delegation and task management

One of the core tenants of collaboration is delegation. Delegation goes both ways. It would be best if you mastered the art of assigning tasks to people on your team. Also, it would be best if you mastered the ability to have tasks assigned to you.  

Identify the skills and tasks you are best at and those that are a struggle. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will help you decide which SEM tasks to delegate and which to handle yourself.

Create a list of all the tasks that need to be completed and assign them to the appropriate people. Make sure to include deadlines and any other necessary details.

Next, prioritize tasks based on their importance and urgency. This prioritization will help you identify which tasks should be delegated and which you should handle.

Make sure to provide clear instructions and provide the necessary support to ensure that tasks are completed on time. Monitor progress on tasks to ensure that they are being conducted on time. Use regular check-ins or progress reports to stay up-to-date on the status of tasks.

Here is a quick checklist for task delegation:  

  • Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  • Create a prioritized task list.
  • Set clear deadlines.
  • Provide clear instructions.
  • Monitor progress closely.

Build a support network within your company

You can build a support network in companies large and small. But first, take the time to personally get to know your team members.

Ask them about their interests and hobbies. Create an open environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing their perspectives.

This strategy is powerful when you get to know team members in other departments. 

Show every team member that you appreciate their work. Send thank-you notes when folks go above and beyond to help solve a problem. Also, be open to solving problems for other team members. From an SEM perspective, you should build strong bonds with your analytics, creative, and operational teams. 

Here is a quick checklist to build a support network: 

  • Get to know your team.
  • Show appreciation.
  • Provide resources and tools.
  • Celebrate achievements.

Always look for new ways to help your team

Make yourself available to team members when they have questions or need guidance. You can do this by:

  • Being active in team meetings.
  • Responding to emails promptly.
  • Being willing to provide advice or assistance.

Even if you are a junior or senior on your team, you can make yourself available to help solve problems within your skillset. There are always dozens of small tasks that need to be completed within SEM teams so dive into those small tasks.

Being a helpful resource for your team is a winning strategy, but you must protect your bandwidth to avoid burnout. Here is a quick checklist to be a resource for your team: 

  • Encourage team collaboration.
  • Offer help and support to folks inside and outside your team.
  • Share your knowledge and experience when possible.

Focused productivity 

Managing SEM campaigns is complex, and there is never a shortage of tasks.

Focused productivity means being purposeful with your time and energy. You will learn early in your career that no one will manage your time. 

To progress your SEM career, manage your daily workload while building toward your long-term goals. 

Be relentless about prioritization and project management 

There are tasks when managing SEM accounts that will take priority over others. Determine the objectives and scope of each project and task. Set realistic expectations for success. Establishing clear goals will help you determine priorities and allocate resources. 

Monitor the progress of your projects and adjust resources as needed. Regular updates and feedback will help ensure the project is progressing.

In addition, regularly communicate with stakeholders, team members, and other stakeholders to ensure everyone is on the same page.

A theme throughout this article is ownership. Take ownership to advance your SEM career. Own your project and task management. Stay on top of your task list, so your manager doesn’t have to follow up. 

Here is a short list of how to prioritize tasks and projects: 

  • Establish clear goals.
  • Create a project plan.
  • Assign responsibilities.
  • Track progress.
  • Communicate regularly.

Build a system to achieve your quarterly goals 

More than likely, your manager will set quarterly goals for you. However, you can contribute to this process and provide your unique insights.

Take ownership of your development and career trajectory. Your manager will appreciate your proactive approach to setting goals and thinking about long-term growth.  

There is no shortage of content to help build actionable long-term goals. If you do a few quick searches, you will discover a litany of resources to help with this process.

One high-level to take away right now is setting “SMARTER” goals. 

  • S: Specific 
  • M: Measurable 
  • A: Actionable 
  • R: Risky 
  • T: Time-keyed 
  • E: Exciting 
  • R: Relevant 

Approach your manager with structured SMARTER goals, and you’ll be ahead of the game. Your manager will likely have other ideas for your goals and milestones, but this process shows that you are thinking about long-term development. 

Here is a quick list of ways to set great long-term goals: 

  • Set up a goal-tracking system.
  • Establish specific timelines for your goals.
  • Create progress milestones for each goal.
  • Celebrate success as you make progress.
  • Stay focused and review your goals at least monthly. 

Focus on energy flow and take breaks

This strategy should be discussed more when discussing career progression. To progress in your SEM career, you must be mindful of your working patterns.

There are times of the day when you are more focused on detailed work like analyzing reports or building SEM campaigns. Take time to review your daily schedule and make sure it aligns with your best working patterns. 

Meetings are a reality of working life. You can not get around. There will be meetings with clients, internal stakeholders, team syncs, and countless others who can control your schedule.

Do your best to create meeting blocks. For example, if you have three meetings in a day, schedule them back-to-back. 

Meeting blocks allows you to create a workflow. You need a certain amount of time each day for focus time. Focus time is crucial for SEM campaign managers.

Take ownership of your daily calendar to allow for focus time, workflow management, and meeting blocks, and you will be astonished at how much this improves your day. 

How to facilitate positive workflow habits: 

  • Allot daily focus time on your calendar 
  • Schedule meetings in blocks as much as possible 
  • Add breaks onto your calendar to protect your restorative time 
  • Create a daily plan every morning to lay out your day 

This closes out our SEM career playbook series, which aims to advance your career in search engine marketing. Here are links to our previous installments:


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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