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How to Become an Effective Leader [+ Expert Tips]

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How to Become an Effective Leader [+ Expert Tips]

It’s very easy to spot good leadership when it happens.

Take, for instance, how an old manager of mine used to ask my advice on business strategy in our weekly 1:1s — and then provide constructive feedback on it.

While I might not have recognized it at the time, I now see he was teaching me to think about how my role fit into the company’s bigger mission.

Or, consider how my current manager seeks out learning and development opportunities for each of her direct reports. Whenever she finds a workshop or online class that could help me grow, she passes along the information.

All of which is to say: Good leadership doesn’t look, sound, or act just one way. There are a myriad of ways for a good leader to educate and inspire others.

Which means leadership is a harder skill to master than others. It isn’t like mastering Excel, which requires knowledge of specific, fixed formulas. Instead, good leadership is more ambiguous, and mastering it is less of a linear path. There will be setbacks, and moments where you feel you didn’t act as a good leader should. But there will also be incremental moments of true growth.

Whether you’re an individual contributor or already a team lead, there’s always room for improvement. Here, we’ll cover leadership development on various levels — from individual contributor to senior management and above. Plus, hear leadership tips from Google, LinkedIn, Monday.com, and HubSpot.

We’ll also explore how to achieve your career goals through actionable steps you can take to level-up and become a stronger, more effective leader.

Let’s begin.

What is a leader?

Before we dive into how to become a leader, it’s important we cover what a leader is.

At its most basic definition, a leader is someone who leads a group of people towards a common goal through inspiration, motivation, and strong vision setting.

For instance, a teacher leads her students towards the goal of learning and uses motivation and inspiration to help them reach that goal.

The motivation and inspiration aspects are key. A leader isn’t just someone who barks orders and hopes people obey. Instead, an effective leader is highly emotionally intelligent and connects with his or her direct reports to create stronger relationships before driving the group towards change.

Additionally, a good leader is someone who is effective at big-picture strategizing, and equally adept at communicating that vision to the rest of the team.

If you’re still unsure what a leader is, here are a few quotes from leaders who’ve defined the term for themselves:

Now that we’ve covered a more broad, basic definition, let’s explore some skills, traits, and qualities of good leadership to understand the definition on a more actionable level.

The Skills, Traits, & Qualities of Good Leadership

Good leadership looks different for every leader. Some leaders are quiet and calm; others are rambunctious and extroverted. There isn’t a specific personality that lends itself best to effective leadership. And that’s a good thing — at its core, leadership is about leading people, and people are diverse, so you want your leadership teams to reflect that diversity.

However, there are a few specific skills, traits, and qualities that have been identified as strong indicators of good leadership.

A few high-level leadership skills include:

  • High emotional intelligence
  • A growth mindset
  • Strong communication skills
  • Reliability
  • Ability to give and receive feedback
  • Decisiveness

To learn more about leadership skills (and how to improve them), take a look at What Are Leadership Skills? [+ How To Get Them].

For now, let’s explore which skills are most relevant for various leadership roles.

Leadership as an Individual Contributor

You don’t have to manage a team to be a leader. Instead, many individual contributors are strong leaders who need to develop leadership skills to manage projects or outcomes.

As an individual contributor, it is oftentimes your responsibility to have influence across the organization to drive projects across the finish line. This includes having the confidence to convince stakeholders that what you’re doing matters to the organization, and that you’re the best leader for the job.

Some of the most critical skills of an individual contributor include strong communication skills, time management skills, ability to work autonomously, and ability to collaborate effectively.

Here are a few specific examples of how individual contributors might need to demonstrate leadership skills:

  • A social media marketer spearheading a new campaign across channels.
  • A website designer who is in charge of re-designing the new company homepage.
  • A blogger who notices a gap in an existing editorial strategy and wants to pitch a new topic cluster to leadership.
  • A product marketer who needs to work with various teams to drive traffic and leads to a new product launch.

All of these employees need strong leadership skills — including the ability to empathize, remain flexible, listen actively to other team’s agendas, and communicate their own vision effectively — and yet, none of them lead a team in a traditional sense.

To develop leadership skills as an individual contributor:

Learn to seek out feedback from the employees with which you work. Once one project is complete, ask them to complete a survey that requests information related to your time management skills, communication skills, or collaboration skills.

Leadership as a Manager

Once you’re a manager, developing leadership skills becomes more a practice of trial-and-error.

To develop or strengthen key leadership skills, you’ll want to request regular feedback from each of your direct reports, as well as your manager, to determine areas for improvement. Ask clear, actionable questions such as, ‘What is one thing you’d like me to start doing? (Specific examples are helpful)’ and ‘What is one thing you’d like me to stop doing? (Specific examples are helpful)’.

Additionally, take the time to reflect on situations to determine how you might shift your behavior moving forward. Good leaders are the first to admit their mistakes.

For instance, if you’re managing an entry-level employee and recognize you didn’t give her enough context or support before suggesting she meet with her first client, you’ll want to reflect and decide how you’ll change moving forward.

Then, in your 1:1, you can tell her: “I apologize for pushing you into a client situation without ensuring you had all the context and information you needed to succeed. Moving forward, I’ve altered our team training schedule to ensure employees have more time to find their footing before meeting with a client.”

Finally, as you move into a manager role, take the time to identify your management style. Understanding your management style can help you uncover inherent strengths (and weaknesses), and expand upon those.

To develop leadership skills as a manager:

Ask your direct reports for candid, honest feedback. Reflect on situations and iterate on your behaviors over time. Finally, identify your management style and be self-aware about your areas for improvement.

Leadership as a Senior Manager and Above

When you become a senior manager, your job shifts significantly — because you’re now leading a team of managers.  

To be effective as a senior manager, you’ll want to ensure you know how to ask the right questions. In skip level meetings, for instance, you might be speaking with employees who feel intimidated and hesitant to point out issues they’re seeing on the ground-level — but their perspective is invaluable for spotting weaknesses within the organization.

Skip level meetings can also help you determine which areas your direct reports might need coaching, as well as patterns of challenges and inefficiencies across the team.

As a senior manager, it’s also your responsibility to identify and nurture future leaders. Seek out opportunities to coach and mentor lower level leaders to ensure your organization is prepped with leaders who can drive positive change.

Finally, a senior leader is someone who motivates and inspires the department at-large with visions of the future of the company — two, five, and even ten years out. She is someone who is able to clearly articulate where she sees the business, and industry, headed, to create a sense of purpose among employees.

To foster this skill as a senior manager, you’ll want to be intentional about staying up-to-date with the competitive landscape and consistently making note of existing customer pain points and how your company might reduce friction and stay relevant in the years to come.

To learn more about this, take a look at How to Set & Achieve Marketing Objectives in 2021.

To develop leadership skills as a senior manager or above:

Practice the art of active listening and asking the right questions to discover weaknesses and gaps in your organization. Keep up-to-date with the competitive landscape. Find mentors or senior manager peers who will provide you with leadership feedback, and attend conferences or seminars to network with other industry leaders.

How to Achieve Your Leadership Career Goals

1. Identify your leadership style, and know your strengths and weaknesses.

Leadership isn’t one-size, fits-all. So when you first decide you want to become a leader, it’s vital you take the time to determine what type of leader you want to be.

If you’ve never been in a leadership position before, you can start by taking a leadership style assessment to determine your style.

Alternatively, if you have been a leader in a previous position (even informally), take a look at The 8 Most Common Leadership Styles & How to Find Your Own [Quiz] to see which style you feel you fit most accurately.

For instance, let’s say you’ve determined you fit a ‘Coach-Style Leadership’ style. Coach-Style leaders are focused on identifying and nurturing individual strengths of each team member.

Since Coach-Style leaders focus on growth and success of individual employees, it’s vital you’re efficient at communication and relationship-building.

Alternatively, if you felt better suited for a ‘Strategic Leadership’ style, you’d want to hone skills related to strategic, big-picture thinking.

Once you’ve figured out your leadership style, it becomes easier to identify areas for improvement and areas of potential weakness.

To create a more comprehensive list, take the time to make a list of your strengths and weaknesses (and collect external feedback as well) — this can help you determine, with your manager, which areas of growth will be most necessary before you can earn a leadership position.

2. Seek out opportunities to become a role model or mentor.

To become a leader, you’ll need to vocalize to your manager that you want to become one. Then, he or she can help you identify opportunities to begin practicing leadership informally.

Alternatively, try seeking out those opportunities for yourself. There are a myriad of ways to test out your leadership skills. Perhaps you sign up to become a mentor to a new employee, or grab coffee once a week with a new team member to provide guidance and support.

Outside of work, you can look for areas in your community to become a leader. For instance, you could volunteer as a mentor for a local high school.

3. Develop your communication skills.

A core tenant of strong leadership is good communication skills.

Leadership requires you to communicate constantly with various stakeholders, effectively sell them on your goals or vision, and create rapport to build trust among your team.

In a given day, a leader might go from a meeting with executives in which she needs to communicate the resourcing needs of her team, to a meeting with individual contributors where she needs to build trust, inspire, and motivate.

 All of which is to say: Good leadership and strong communication skills go hand-in-hand.

To develop stronger communication skills, you’ll want to start by practicing your active listening skills, learning how to assert your opinion in a helpful way, and asking for feedback from others on your existing communication skills. You might also seek out public speaking opportunities to strengthen your public speaking skills.

Empathy and emotional intelligence are equally critical to communicating effectively, and can help you build stronger relationships with colleagues.

For instance, let’s say a colleague comes to you with a problem. She expresses that she’s been overwhelmed and, as a result, won’t be able to meet the deadline you’d initially agreed upon for a project.

While you might be frustrated or even angry initially, empathy can enable you to put yourself in her shoes, and understand that missing deadlines can happen to all of us. Additionally, emotional intelligence can help you monitor your own emotions and react appropriately.

As a result of having empathy and high emotional intelligence, you might respond like this: “Thanks for letting me know, and I’m sorry to hear you’ve been feeling overwhelmed. We’ve all been there. Give me some time to think over how we can come up with a solution to ensure we don’t get behind on the project as a whole.”

Rather than reacting purely based on personal feelings, emotional intelligence ensures you have the skills to keep your emotions in-check and respond to situations in positive, effective ways.

4. Ask big picture questions and learn to think about strategy.

When asked, “What skills are vital to being a good leader?”, over ⅓ of HubSpot survey respondents reported ‘ability to think strategically and to think about the big picture’. That skill alone won out over communication skills, decision-making skills, and interpersonal skills.

Thinking strategically doesn’t happen overnight. When you’re in a role that requires you to be focused on ground level details, it can be difficult to suddenly pull back and analyze bigger trends, challenges, and solutions — but it’s vital for any leader to be able to do so.

Here are a few ways you can begin exercising that ‘strategic thinking’ muscle:

  • Ask more big picture questions in meetings, even if it’s not directly tied to your role. For instance, if you’re a social media marketer and you’re required to post Instagram stories for an upcoming product launch, you might explore questions such as, ‘Why did our executive team choose to focus on investing in development for this product in particular?’ ‘How will this product expand our value proposition?’ and ‘What narrative are we telling around this product and how it fits into our existing product stack?’
  • Expand your network outside of your immediate team. Grab lunches with members of the sales or services organization, and take the time to speak with those outside of your team. This will help you begin to understand what’s happening in other areas of the organization, what other teams are working on, and challenges other teams are facing.
  • Get organized with how you spend your time. While your day-to-day tasks are important, it’s equally vital you carve out intentional time to focus on bigger projects or professional development opportunities. To do this, you might block off one hour every other week to focus on personal brainstorming — during this time, you might write down a list of higher-visibility projects you’ve been wanting to test out, or seek out workshops and courses in your area that will help you develop skills that your team currently lacks.
  • Be willing to speak up. Beyond asking question in meetings, practice feeling comfortable sharing your own perspective or opinion. Show your colleagues you’re willing to communicate new ideas or get creative when it comes to existing strategies.

Research Credit: Lucid

5. Take on more responsibility.

To begin levelling up in your career, you’ll need to seek out additional opportunities to expand your skillset and demonstrate your willingness to grow professionally.

The easiest way to do this is to have an honest conversation with your manager in which you ask where the team’s needs are, and how you can help your team meet those needs. Alternatively, perhaps you’ve observed a weak spot on your team and you feel confident you know how to fix it — in that case, you might bring your proposal to your manager.

It’s vital you have buy-in from your manager since taking on more responsibility outside of your existing role could look unprofessional if your manager doesn’t know why you’re adding tasks to your plate.

If you’re interested in becoming a team manager, for instance, you might tell your manager: “I noticed we’re hiring a summer intern. If we don’t already have a plan in-place, I’m wondering if I could become the intern’s mentor or manager for the summer to strengthen some of my leadership skills?”

6. Go where the needs are.

I received this advice early in my career after I’d pitched a lengthy project to my manager. The pitch was strong — except my solution didn’t solve a big problem, it solved a small one.

My manager said, “It looks like you created this pitch with your own personal interests top-of-mind. While it’s always great if your passions can match business need, first and foremost, you need to work from the perspective of, ‘What will help our business the most?‘”

She had a point. After some reflection, I realized our team didn’t need infographics designed for blog posts as much as the team needed more SEO knowledge and input. Rather than looking for design courses, I pivoted and signed up for a workshop on SEO. It was less interesting (personally), but it impacted our business on a broader scale.

Effective leaders don’t just suggest random ideas when it suits them. Instead, they start by asking the right questions and analyzing existing weak spots. Then, they work to fill in those gaps and create real change for their organizations.

7. Practice self-awareness.

Self-awareness is an incredibly vital skill for any leader.

For instance, leaders who can see how their employees view them are usually more effective, and have stronger relationships with their employees. Additionally, self-awareness can help you correctly identify what you do well, and which areas you can potentially improve.

But if you think you’re already a master in self-awareness, think again. One study estimates only 10-15% of people are truly self-aware. And, even if you are self-aware, there is always opportunities to strengthen the skill.

In this context of developing leadership skills, self-awareness can help you:

  • Assess your current relationships with your colleagues, and how you might improve it. (Example: You recognize you were dismissive of another colleague’s ideas in a recent meeting, and she’s been avoiding you since. With that self-awareness, you can apologize for your behavior and practice more open-mindedness moving forward.)
  • Analyze your own internal thought patterns, and recognize which ones aren’t serving you, to build confidence. (Example: You feel imposter syndrome every time you present to your team, and you’re self-aware enough to know it’s because you’re constantly thinking, ‘I don’t deserve to be here’. As a result, you work on self-affirmation, and create a folder on your desktop of positive reinforcements from colleagues.)
  • Figure out which skills you lack that you’ll need to develop before moving into a leadership role. (Example: After some reflection, you realize you aren’t often honest about your mistakes, which can make you seem untrustworthy. As a result, you put effort into admitting when you’ve failed to your manager or team.)

8. Take the time for quiet reflection.

Becoming an effective leader doesn’t happen overnight. And, unfortunately, there’s no ‘end’ to becoming a good leader. For your entire leadership journey, you’ll continuously iterate and grow.

When setbacks and failure happens, it’s important you become adept at reflection. As you put these leadership tips into practice, take the time to regularly assess how you’re doing. Leadership is trial-and-error, and as you practice new behaviors to grow your leadership skills, you’ll want to determine which feel most authentic to you.

Ultimately, good leadership doesn’t mean mirroring what others have done. It means figuring out what works for your personality and style, and expanding on those innate qualities. Since authentic leadership is the single strongest predictor of an employee’s job satisfaction, it’s imperative you take the time to grow into a leader in the way that’s right for you.

Why Goal Setting Is a Critical Component of Good Leadership

As you move into a leadership role, you might feel pulled in many different directions by stakeholders with different goals.

This is why setting goals is vital for leading a team successfully: It keeps you focused on what matters for your team.

When you create goals for your team, you’re effectively prioritizing what you will say yes (and no) to over a given period. Additionally, you’re ensuring your team clearly knows where they’re headed and how to get there — an essential component of good leadership.

Here are a few other reasons goal setting is a critical component of good leadership:

  • Goal setting helps you enable your employees to work more autonomously. If they know what results you’re expecting from them, it doesn’t necessarily matter when, where, or how they reach those.
  • Goal setting helps you stay focused on what matters most for your business. It ensures you don’t get distracted with quick wins, and instead remain fixated on long-term success.
  • Goal setting can spark more engagement from employees. If your employees understand the purpose and long-term vision behind their daily tasks, they’ll likely feel more motivated.
  • Goal setting increases a team’s creativity and collaboration. Once you’ve decided where your team is headed, you don’t necessarily need to dictate how to get there. Instead, empower your employees to brainstorm and test out interesting strategies to drive the team forward towards that goal. It’s more interesting — and likely more effective — to gather unique perspectives when driving towards a common goal.
  • It helps you know when to say no. When your employees come to you with interesting projects or experiments, it can be tempting to say yes. By setting clear team goals, you’re ensuring each team member uses their time intentionally in pursuit of that goal alone.

When setting goals, consider using a SMART framework to ensure your goals are clear, actionable, and specific.

The Eisenhower Matrix can also help you figure out which tasks are highest priority once you’ve determined your team’s short and long-term goals. The Eisenhower Matrix enables you to categorize your tasks in order of urgency and importance.

Now that we’ve covered goal setting as a vital component of leadership, let’s explore a few other critical factors according to Google, LinkedIn, Monday.com, and HubSpot.

What Makes an Effective Leader? Tips from Google, LinkedIn, Monday.com, and HubSpot

1. Effective leadership is humbling. 

Anders Mortensen, Google’s Managing Director of Channel Partners, says effective leadership is humbling. 

He told me, “In my early years of leadership, I was focused on the what — the results — while my team was focused on the how. It took me six years to realize that you don’t define your leadership success, it’s defined by others, and the how matters more than the what.”

Mortensen adds that he believes your definition of team will either limit leaders, or elevate them.

“To become an effective leader,” Mortensen says, “you have to make people around you better. Success is collaborative and your definition of ‘team’ will either limit you, or elevate you.”

“The broader you define ‘team’, the more holistically you’ll lead, and you’ll become the bridge-builder that solves for the entire company, versus optimizing for just your own.”

Ultimately, being a good leader means more than delivering exceptional results. It also means consistently motivating and supporting your team — through the highs, but also through the lows. 

anders mortensen quote on effective leadership

2. Effective leaders show compassion and encourage authenticity.

Alyssa Merwin, Vice President of LinkedIn Sales Solutions, told me compassion is a key characteristic of effective leaders.

As Merwin puts it, “For many reasons, employees may struggle to show up as their full selves at work, creating barriers for them to be successful in certain parts of their roles. Whether because of caregiving responsibilities, mental health concerns, being part of an underrepresented group, or any other number of factors that make them feel different from the broader group, employees may experience increased stress of showing up to their desks — or Zoom, these days — on top of the pressure to perform in their roles.”

Employees desire the opportunity to show up as their authentic selves at work, which is a critical factor for long-term employee satisfaction and engagement. 

Merwin says, “To truly support their teams, it’s imperative that leaders not only recognize that these challenges may exist for some team members, but that they also commit to integrating diversity, inclusion, and belonging into their day-to-day operations.”

“Creating and enabling great cultures and welcoming environments is just the starting point,” Merwin adds.

“Effective leaders focus on how each individual team member is feeling and showing up to work, and they facilitate safe spaces for open discussion about how team members can better support one another.”

3. An effective leader is someone who walks side-by-side with their team. 

Effective leaders are able to provide strong, actionable support and guidance for their team. 

As Hila Levy-Loya, VP of Customer Success at monday.com, told me, “Being an effective leader is about choosing to walk side-by-side with your team — not forging ahead and looking back to check where they are.”

Being able to walk side-by-side, Levy-Loya adds, requires you to take the time to have deeper conversations with your team and understand their daily activities. “The first step in achieving this is to take the time to understand the details of your team’s work and what keeps them up at night. Get to know their day-to-day responsibilities and stresses, and in turn you will become trusted to lead an informed discussion with your team.”

hila levy-loya quote on effective leadership

Along with discussing your team’s responsibilities, you’ll want to remain transparent about the bigger picture — including your long-term vision and goals. 

Levy-Loya says, “The second step is granting your team access into your motivations so they can understand your ‘zoomed out’ view just as you do. Sharing the good, the bad, and the unknown creates an environment of trust and transparency that is crucial to achieving incredible results. With that ability to tap into each others perspectives, you and your team are able to pave the way together.”

4. An effective leader always assumes good intent.

Lisa Toner, HubSpot’s Director of Content Network, told me effective leaders always assume good intent, even when a team member makes a mistake. 

As she puts it, “No one sets out to make a bad decision or mistake. When it happens, they’re likely going to be more upset about it than you are, so no matter how frustrated you are, approach the issue with empathy, and calmly and supportively lead your team member towards a better outcome.”

“Always assume good intent,” Toner adds. “Reacting negatively will only knock their confidence in themselves — and you — in the long run.”

Ultimately, good leadership doesn’t happen overnight. To become an effective leader, you’ll want to consistently request honest, candid feedback from your direct reports, and practice self-awareness to recognize — and improve — your leadership weaknesses. 

Fortunately, your direct reports don’t expect you to be perfect; they expect you to be human. Be humble, admit when you don’t know, and collaborate with your team to leverage each person’s expertise — all of which will bring you that much closer to truly leading effectively. 

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Looking for a Content Marketing Job? Follow This Advice To Get Noticed

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Looking for a Content Marketing Job? Follow This Advice To Get Noticed

Does anyone enjoy job hunting regardless of the circumstances?

But if you’ve recently lost your content marketing job or fear the ax might fall soon, you feel pressure to do it – and like you have no time to waste.

The good news is that excellent content marketing jobs are available for the taking (or the making if you’re entrepreneurially minded.)

To rise in the challenge you didn’t want, you must condense years of knowledge, skills, and experience into compelling materials to attract a new employer. Then you must get your carefully crafted profiles in front of recruiters. The key to success for both steps involves standing out from all the other candidates competing for the role you want.

In a recent Ask the #CMWorld Community livestream, Work It Daily’s J.T. O’Donnell and TogetHER Digital’s Amy Vaughan shared what today’s recruiters want and the disruptive ways to get on their radar.

Take a disruptive approach to find your next #ContentMarketing job, says @JTODonnell and @CafeScribbler via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You can watch the conversation or scroll down to read the highlights of their productive chat.

Take time to grieve, but don’t wallow

The Holmes-Rahe Stress Scale puts job loss among the top 10 stressful life events. When headlines fill the news about massive tech and media company layoffs, corporate hiring freezes, AI replacing creators’ jobs, and a slowing economy, a job loss can feel downright paralyzing.

Ignoring those feelings won’t make them go away and might make it more challenging to focus on finding your next job.

That’s why J.T. recommends taking some time to grieve before you begin a job search. “It’s an unexpected loss. You need to feel it and go through the emotions,” she says.

But don’t get so lost in your misery that you miss a new role that might pop up. “In my experience, people often end up in a new position and say, ‘This turned out better than I expected. I would’ve never come across this opportunity if this change wasn’t forced upon me,’” J.T. says. “Know that a lot of other people have ended up on the better side of it and get ready to move forward.”

Update your job search tools – and how you use them

First, revisit your resume and LinkedIn profiles. You need to ensure they’re updated, consistent, and precisely targeted to the roles you’re considering.

If it’s been a while since you last looked for work, you may need to relearn the rules of a productive job search.

For example, while application tracking systems (ATS) have been around since the 1990s, their time-saving features have made recruiters more reliant on digital tools in recent years. In fact, a 2018 study found nearly 99% of Fortune 500 companies use them. Advanced functionality has improved the software’s ability to create more accurate candidate profiles and match them to applicants’ work history details.

Optimizing your resume with keywords in the job description is essential to getting your resume discovered by potential employers.

Optimize your resume with keywords in the job description to get your resume discovered through digital application systems (and employers), says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

You also need to know formatting and information trends to make it past the digital gatekeepers. Your resume should be easily skimmable, results-focused, and tailored to the role in the application.

In a related discussion on CMI’s Slack channel, Headstart Copywriting’s Susan Varty shared a resume template that follows modern digital processes and trends.

The template structure, as shown in the image below, separates information into clear sections. She also details what to write in each section:

  • About: Here, you’ll introduce yourself, mention the role you’re interested in, and describe your qualifications in a relevant way.
  • Career highlights: These should be active statements that summarize the accomplishments you’re most proud of, so recruiters can skim the copy and understand who you are and what you can offer.
  • Work experience: Rather than list the roles you’ve played, use this section to describe how your work has helped previous employers achieve their business goals.

Click to download

J.T. also recommends updating your LinkedIn profile to ensure it aligns with what appears on your resume. “Recruiters pay attention to the resume and LinkedIn work history section. The information that appears there should be identical. Otherwise, they may be confused about which version is accurate,” she explains.

The information that appears on your resume should be identical to your work history section on @LinkedIn, says @JTODonnell via @joderama @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Stand out with a disruptive job search approach

Amy says recruiters will read resumes – and cover letters – that make it to their desks, but they spend only a few seconds on each.

You can’t expect to compete based on skills alone. But demonstrating your personal motivation to do the job for that employer can give you an advantage, J.T. says.

Finding the best opportunities where you can convey that motivation requires a disruptive job search. The technique helps you discover a relevant connection between your passions and career intentions and communicate it to employers who stand to benefit.

The more intentional and storified approach should work well for content marketers because you’re well-equipped to follow it. It also circumvents the gatekeeping systems by giving you a more relatable connection to prospective employers.

Take a more intentional and storified approach in your #ContentMarketing job search, says @joderama via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

J.T. summarizes the disruptive job search process:

  • Pinpoint the work you’re most passionate about: Think carefully about the kinds of work you want to do, not just where you might want to do it. What lights you up? What do people come to you specifically for? This will be the centering principle for your candidate story.
  • Create a bucket list of company targets: Don’t just apply for any and every role that matches your skills and interests. Research companies to find 10 to 20 that would genuinely benefit from your unique perspectives and specialized focus.
  • Get clear on why you want to work for each company: Hearing that they’re a great place to work and offer great benefits isn’t enough to prove you understand the business and its goals. What is it about them that you’ve come to learn is different and special?
  • Make a personal connection: Think about what you can bring to the role at the company. Be specific about your knowledge of what they do, who their customers are, and how you can contribute to the business outcomes you know they want to achieve.
  • Craft the details into a cover letter: Once you’ve outlined your relevant connection points, you can put those details into a cover letter that speaks to your unique understanding of the business and the distinct value you can contribute. “When you can get that story into someone’s hands at an organization, you’ll be amazed at what can happen,” J.T. says.

(Net)work your story into a job

“People need to meet you and see continuity in what you say and do. That can’t always happen unless they get that chance to meet you in person,” Amy says.

Networking can feel one-sided and awkward when you’re under pressure to find a new role. But you can make it more productive with these tips from J.T. and Amy:

1. Turn on LinkedIn creator mode

J.T. points out that LinkedIn has pivoted itself into a creator tool. Use it to prove the points you would discuss in a cover letter and attract the right attention.

Activating creator mode on your profile tells LinkedIn’s algorithm to note (and share with others) the content you share. It also gives access to additional tools that can extend your reach.

Here’s how to turn creator mode on:

  • Click the Me icon in the nav bar at the top of your LinkedIn homepage.
  • Click View Profile.
  • Scroll down to the Resources section of your profile. If it shows “Creator mode: Off,” switch it to on.

Click Next on the Creator mode preview pop-up window.

  • Add up to 5 topics (hashtags) to indicate what you post about the most.
  • Click Done.

2. Create and share relevant content on your feed

Think about your specialization areas and speak about them regularly in your LinkedIn feed. Creating new content (or reposting your content on other platforms) on those subjects helps prove your expertise.

You can also curate and add commentary to third-party news, articles, videos, and other relevant stories. It shows you’re in touch with what’s happening in that space and have something of value to add to the conversation.

Be sure to post consistently – J.T. recommends at least once a day – to build an audience of followers.

3. Use hashtags responsibly

Using the right hashtags on your LinkedIn content can introduce your content to people who aren’t in your network. But, Amy points out, it can also help you tap into a hidden job market – roles that don’t get posted but have recruiters looking to fill them.

She explains recruiters may take this approach when they have a great opportunity that would attract a lot of candidate interest and don’t want to get bombarded with applicants.

4. Incorporate personal passions into your work persona

Attracting an audience with your thought leadership content can help you rank higher on LinkedIn searches and gain the attention of more recruiters. But since just about any job applicant can position themselves as an expert, Amy suggests taking an extra step to stand out from the pack: Cultivate a personality brand.

If you’re a regular CMI reader, you’re probably familiar with the reasons to build a personal brand (and if not, I’d highly recommend reading Ann Gynn’s definitive post on the topic). But, Amy says, a personality brand is a bit different.

As she explains, job searchers often struggle to associate their passions outside of work with the work they want to be known for. But creating stories that tie together those interests can make a person more memorable to recruiters and others who can help advance the job search.

Amy explains what this might look like: “[In my content], I talk a lot about groundedness, nature, and empathetic leadership. To me, those things are all tied together because I like to be very grounded in how I lead and very calm in how I approach difficult work situations. Or maybe you are an endurance athlete, and you can build a connection on how your love of endurance sports goes hand in hand with your strong work ethic.”

The content related to your personality brand can make your networking feel more organic. “If you’re reaching out to people in your network just to get a job, they’re going to sniff that out,” Amy says. But if they know you because you’ve shared a relatable story or something of value, they may be more willing to connect with you and help with your search.

Use your content marketing strengths to prove your value to employers

Losing a job never feels good. But with a more precise job search approach, stories that demonstrate your unique expertise, and ways to create a personal connection, your unemployment status won’t last long.

Want more help with your job search journey? Register to attend TogetHER Digital’s free virtual career fair for women in digital on Feb. 23, 2023. And for more-detailed job search help (including action plans, templates, and examples), J.T. O’Donnell is offering our readers an exclusive $20 discount on Work It Daily’s job search packages. Use code CM20 when you sign up.
Need more guidance to hone your content marketing skills? Enroll in CMI University and get 12-month on-demand access to an extensive curriculum designed to help you do your job more effectively.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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Pillar Pages: Why and How You Should Add Them to Your Content Strategy

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Pillar Pages: Why and How You Should Add Them to Your Content Strategy

The author’s views are entirely his or her own (excluding the unlikely event of hypnosis) and may not always reflect the views of Moz.

In a recent study, we found that our pillar pages are magnets for links, organic traffic, and newsletter subscribers — especially compared to regular blog posts. Here are the results that both types of SEO content generated over the course of a year:

Do these results mean you should ditch your blog strategy in favor of pillar pages? Not exactly.

Here’s the catch: You really can’t have one without the other, and it all comes down to content mapping. I’ll explain exactly what I mean in this article.

What is a pillar page?

A pillar page is a piece of content that comprehensively covers a broad topic. Pillar page — also sometimes referred to as hub and spoke — content weaves together a wide range of relevant subtopics (spokes), organizes them all in one place (hub), and effectively showcases your subject matter expertise for the broad topic.

Pillar page content should be easy to navigate for readers looking to learn — at a high level — about a particular topic, but should also offer relevant resources for them to dive deeper. 

Example of related resources found on a pillar page.

It’s kind of like the choose-your-own-adventure of content marketing.

Topical authority: why it’s important

When it comes to content creation for SEO and digital marketing, you don’t want to create content around any old topic. Instead, you want to reinforce your brand’s topical authority with every new piece of content you create (be it a blog, a pillar page, an eBook, etc.).

Let’s put it this way: If you’re in the business of selling mechanical keyboards, it doesn’t make sense to publish a blog article about the best recipes for a summer BBQ. Unless you’re recommending that your customers grill and eat their mechanical keyboards, which is (highly) unlikely.

Instead, it’s more helpful to your brand — and your audience — if you cover topics related to mechanical keyboards, like:

  • What is a mechanical keyboard?

  • Mechanical keyboards vs. regular keyboards.

  • Custom mechanical keyboards.

  • How to transition to a mechanical keyboard.

  • Pros and cons of a mechanical keyboard.

By covering as many topics related to mechanical keyboards as possible, you’re building a foundation of informational content that tells search engines: “Hey, I know a lot about mechanical keyboards!”

And the more content you have that starts to rank for important search terms related to mechanical keyboards, the more likely searchers will see you as an authority on the subject. Ideally, they will start coming back to your content when they need to learn more about this specific topic.

Pillar pages + blogs = a match made in content marketing heaven

A well-executed and organized pillar page is one of the best ways to showcase to your audience (and search engines) that you have topical authority in a specific area. Blog posts help you achieve topical authority by allowing you to cover a wide range of relevant subtopics in great detail, and pillar pages organize all of that content into a nice, user-friendly package.

Let’s take a look at this tactic in action.

We built our content marketing guide as a pillar page, which allowed us to cover a slew of subtopics related to the broader topic of content marketing, all in one piece of collateral. 

All of these subtopics are organized into sections on the page, with a hyperlinked table of contents at the top to allow readers to pick and choose exactly what they’d like to learn about:

Then, throughout the page, we offer readers the opportunity to go deeper and learn more about each subtopic by linking to relevant blog content:

What is content mapping?

A pillar page is a great tactic if you’ve got a lot of existing blog content all focused on a particular parent topic. It’s one of our favorite ways at Brafton to repurpose and repromote our blogs.

But you can also create a pillar page with all brand-new content — it’ll just take more research, planning, and production time to complete.

Enter: content mapping.

Content mapping is the process of assessing your target audience, understanding what they are trying to achieve, and helping them along that journey with branded educational and commercial content. Its scope can span the entirety of your content marketing strategy or a single piece of pillar page content.

Why content mapping matters in content marketing

The planning (or content mapping) of a pillar page is just as important as the research done to choose the correct keyword to target for your business.

Pillar pages are kind of like the books of the marketing world. If you were an expert birder, for example, you wouldn’t set out to write a book about bird-watching without doing any research. Especially if you’ve spent a lot of time writing and publishing articles about bird-watching on your blog. You’d want to understand a few things before starting that book, like:

  1. Which of my blog posts generated the most interest from new and returning readers? (i.e. pages with the most new and returning visitors, as seen in your web analytics tool).

  2. Which blogs kept readers coming back for more? (i.e. pages with the most newsletter subscriptions, or the best newsletter subscription rates).

  3. Which blogs did my industry peers find most useful? (i.e. pages with the greatest number of high-quality referring domains and backlinks).

These questions can be answered by looking through your web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Moz Pro.

Example of content analysis by top linking domains.

You’d also want to understand what the competition looks like before you spend dozens of hours writing thousands of words to fill a book.

You’d want to answer questions, like:

  1. What do my competitors’ books on bird-watching look like? (i.e. the types of bird-watching subtopics the page 1 results cover).

  2. What does Google think searchers want to see when they search for bird-watching? (i.e. the types of content that are found on page 1 for your target keyword — and surprise! it might not be books).

  3. How long and detailed are my competitors’ books? (i.e. the level of complexity and comprehensiveness of the content ranking on page 1).

These questions can be answered by manually reviewing relevant SERPs and utilizing TF-IDF tools like Clearscope or MarketMuse to understand the breadth of subtopics and types of content ranking on the first page.

Example of manual SERP inspection.
Example of TF-IDF content analysis.

Once you understand which of your content performs best and which content Google and other search engines prefer to rank highly for your target keyword, you can start piecing together a plan for your pillar page.

A note about internal linking

Before we dive into the how-to portion of this piece, we should also acknowledge the importance of internal linking to this whole process.

And I’m not just talking about throwing in a link to a related product/service at the end of the page and calling it a day. The internal linking structure of your pillar page is literally the glue that holds the whole thing together. It helps readers easily navigate to related resources to continue learning from your brand. And it helps search engines understand the relationship between your pillar page content and the additional content you’re highlighting on the page.

But when it comes to internal linking, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

Including too many internal links throughout your content can cause a frustrating user experience or look spammy, so use caution and make sure the only internal linking you do on the page is extremely relevant to the parent topic.

If you’re unsure whether or not you’ve got too many internal links on the page, you can run it through Moz’s On-Page Grader tool, which automatically counts the number of links on your page and flags if you’ve got too many.

Tip: Keep in mind that this tool will count ALL links found on the page, including those in your main navigation and footer, so the “Too Many Links” warning could be a false positive.

As Moz explains: Google recommends you don’t go over 100 internal links per page, because it can dilute the SEO value sent from the pillar page to the linked pages, and it can also make it more challenging for users and crawlers to navigate all of the content.

Two data-led ways to map out content for a pillar page

There are a couple of different ways to approach the construction of this type of content, but they each rely on organic search data to lead the way.

1. Planning a pillar page and related resources (all from scratch)

Let’s pretend you don’t have any prior content created about a particular topic. You’re basically starting from scratch. Let’s also assume the topic you’ve selected is both core and commercially valuable to your business, and that your domain realistically has a chance of ranking on page 1 for that keyword.

Let’s say you’re a pet food company and one of your main products is cat dental treats. Once you’ve determined that this is the exact keyword you want to target (“cat dental treats”), it’s time to start your research.

Step 1: Manually inspect SERP to understand searcher intent

First, we’ll start by manually inspecting the first SERP for this keyword, and answering the following questions:

  1. What types of content are on the first page of results?

  2. Why are people searching for “cat dental treats”?

By answering these two questions in our SERP analysis, we’ll make sure that our plan for creating a pillar page to rank actually makes sense and it’s what searchers want to see on the SERP. We’ll also better understand all the reasons behind why someone might search this keyword (and we can then address those reasons in the content we create).

So let’s answer these questions:

Question 1: What types of content are on the first page of results?

Answer 1: The first SERP includes a variety of product ads, a People Also Ask section, and a selection of organic blogs and product pages.

Types of content found on the SERP for “cat dental treats.”

Question 2: Why are people searching for “cat dental treats”?

Answer 2: From a quick analysis of the SERP, we can deduce that people want to know why and how cat dental treats are important to a cat’s health, and they also want to know which cat dental treats work best. Perhaps most importantly, it’s highly likely that they plan to purchase cat dental treats for their furry companion(s) in the near future.

Step 2: Select related keyword ideas for blog content

Since you don’t just want to create a pillar page for just the primary keyword, you also want to pinpoint a selection of related subtopics to be written as blog content.

For this part of the process, head over to your keyword research tool, plug in your target keyword and (with an eye for topics that you’re well-suited to cover), jot down a list of keywords and phrases.

Here’s our list of potential blog topics:

  • Best cat dental treats.

  • How do cat dental treats work?

  • What to look for in cat dental treats.

  • Do cat dental treats work?

  • Can cat dental treats replace brushing?

  • Vet recommended cat dental treats.

  • Grain-free cat dental treats.

Step 3: Choose subtopics to cover in your pillar page content

Next, you’ll want to review the subtopics mentioned in the top ranking results. While this process can be done manually (by clicking into each result on the SERP and jotting down the topics mentioned), a TF-IDF tool like MarketMuse makes this part of the process much quicker:

These TF-IDF tools analyze the top 10-20 results for your target keyword and automatically present the common subtopics mentioned in each piece. This gives you a very good understanding of what you’ll also need to cover in your piece to compete for a top-ranking spot.

Here’s the list of subtopics we’ll want to cover in this pillar page, based on our MarketMuse data:

Step 4: Create your outline and plan content

Now it’s time to connect the dots from your research. The best way to do this is to start by structuring your pillar page outline, and then going back in and filling in the areas where you want to create supporting blog content.

Here’s an example of what the end result might look like:

H1: The Complete Guide to Cat Dental Treats: For a Fresh-Breath Feline Friend

H2: What are cat dental treats and how do they work?

  • Topics to cover: Cat dental treats
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: How Cat Dental Treats Work (& Why Your Kitty Needs Them)
    Keyword: how do cat dental treats work

H2: What are the benefits of cat dental treats?

  • Topics to cover: Clean teeth, fresh breath
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Do Cat Dental Treats Really Work? (Here’s What The Experts Say)
    Keyword: do cat dental treats work

H2: Are cat dental treats an acceptable alternative to brushing?

  • Topics to cover: Cats dental health
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Cat Dental Treats Vs Brushing: Everything You Need To Know
    Keyword: can cat dental treats replace brushing

H2: Do vets recommend using cat dental treats?

  • Topics to cover: Veterinary oral health council
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: Vets Recommend Using Cat Dental Treats — Here’s Why
    Keyword: vet recommended cat dental treats

H2: The best cat dental treats to try

  • Topics to cover: Purina dentalife, Feline greenies, natural ingredients, artificial flavors.
  • Blog post to support section:
    Title: 5 Of The Best Cat Dental Treats & Why We Love Them
    Keyword: best cat dental treats
  • Blog post #2 to support section:
    Title: What To Look For In Cat Dental Treats
    Keyword: what to look for in cat dental treats

Creating an outline for a pillar page isn’t easy, but once laid out, it helps us understand the content that needs to be produced to bring the whole thing to life.

Here is our list of content to create (based on our outline):

  1. Pillar page: The Complete Guide to Cat Dental Treats: For a Fresh-Breath Feline Friend

  2. Blog #1: How Cat Dental Treats Work (& Why Your Kitty Needs Them)

  3. Blog #2: Do Cat Dental Treats Really Work? (Here’s What The Experts Say)

  4. Blog #3: Cat Dental Treats Vs Brushing: Everything You Need To Know

  5. Blog #4: Vets Recommend Using Cat Dental Treats — Here’s Why

  6. Blog #5: 5 Of The Best Cat Dental Treats & Why We Love Them

  7. Blog #6: What To Look For In Cat Dental Treats

The best way to tackle this list of content is to create and publish the six blog posts first, then once they are live, you can write the pillar page content, placing hyperlinks to the supporting blog posts directly in the copy.

2. Planning a pillar page from top performing content

For this next method, let’s say you already have a ton of published content about a particular topic, and you’d like to reuse and repromote that content within a pillar page dedicated to that topic.

All of the steps in the previous process apply, but for Step 2 (Select Related Keyword Ideas for Blog Content), do the following:

First, you’ll want to understand which of your existing pieces generates the most interest from your audience. Let’s use our web analytics data for this. In this example, we’ll look at Google Search Console data because it shows the actual search performance of our website content.

Let’s use the topic of “content creation” as our desired pillar page keyword. Search for the query in Google Search Console (choose the “Queries containing” option): 

Pull all of the pages currently generating impressions and clicks from terms containing your topic, placing those with the highest clicks and impressions at the top of your list. Here’s what this might look like: 

As you can see, most of the content we’ve created that also ranks for keywords containing “content creation” is blog content. These will be highly useful as related resources on our pillar page.

Now, go back to your TF-IDF tool and select the subtopics related to “content creation” that you want to cover in your pillar page. Example:

  • Social media content

  • Content creation tool

  • Content creators

  • Content strategy

  • Content creation process

Finally, map your existing blog content to those “content creation” subtopics. The initial mapping may look something like this:

You may not be able to map each blog perfectly to the subtopic you’re covering in your pillar page, but that’s  OK. What’s important is that you’re providing readers with relevant content (where applicable) and that content, as you’ve seen in your Search Console data, is already proven to perform well with your organic search audience.

Pillar page planning templates and resources

Pillar pages take an incredible amount of time and planning to execute, but they are worth every penny.

Here’s an example of the success we saw after producing one of our more recent pillar pages, “How to Rank on Google:”

Growth of referring domains and links to the page since its launch in April 2022.

Here’s a template of the outline used to bring the page to life (and you can use it for your own pillar page). Just make a copy and off you go. Good luck!

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11 Free Email Hacks to Step Up Your Productivity

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11 Free Email Hacks to Step Up Your Productivity

If you’re anything like me, a solid portion of your day is sifting through your inbox, sending emails to junk, and responding to time-sensitive emails.

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