How to get an Assistant Brand Manager job

I got my first ABM job twenty years ago.  I remember how excited I was that first day and how frustrated I was the first few months at my true incompetence as I went through the Idiot Curve.  While things have changed tremendously over those twenty years, many of the same principles for landing that job remain the same.

To start with here is the job you’ll be Applying for How to a Great ABM   If that’s how you’ll be judged in the few months, than that’s how you’ll be judged in the Interview Process.

The first lesson I can tell you is there are more people who want to be an Assistant Brand Manager than there are jobs.   And that’s continuing to tighten in the tough economy as many places are going without.  So how bad do you really want this job?   Do you want it more than everyone else?   And will you do what it takes to get that job.  I remember interviewing so many times and not getting the job–I must have gone through 100 interviews before I finally landed the right job.   I remember one time, after 3 minutes the hiring manager looked at my resume and said “you have zero marketing experience, this won’t work”.  That one still stings after twenty years, but made me want it even more.  Persistence has to be the key.  If you are only half trying, then I have very little sympathy.   If you are completely immersed in the effort, trust me, you will eventually break through.

In this article, it will be filled with my biases, but at least you’ll get a vantage from a former CPG executive who was heavily involved in the recruiting of ABMs.

How do I get in?

There are five ways you can get in:

  1. MBA:  This was the #1 source of our ABMs.  It gave us the chance to have a consistency in our recruiting efforts, allowed us to have a focused timing for the hiring and even a consistency in starting dates so we could measure and compare ABMs.  One of the silent secrets no one can say is that an MBA ensures that ABMs are late 20s, rather than 22–which makes it easier for them to work with the sales teams.  Now, people always ask me:  “Do I need an MBA?”  My answer is “No, but it sure helps”.  It allows you to be part of the formal recruiting process, get in front door and be judged by that very process, rather than just a one-off hiring manager who is in a panic and doesn’t know what they want.  My question to you is “Can you do an MBA?” because if you can, I’d recommend it.
  2. Head Hunter and Recruiters: This was our second source for ABMs, especially when we needed ABMs outside of the formal recruiting process.  There are some Headhunters that specifically fill ABM roles and you should make sure you are connected with them.   If you are lucky, you can get a head hunter who gives you tips on your resume or feedback on your interview.  Ask for the feedback.  Stay in touch regularly.
  3. Networking:  As the economy has gotten worse, some companies have cut back on the use of Head Hunters and opted for using a “finder’s fee” to employees that recommend someone. So if you can connect with ABMs that already work at the company, they have an incentive to actually get you hired.  The advantages to networking is they’ll tell you the hiring manager, process and interview tips.  They’ll also alert you to when someone quits.  I would recommend you write down the 10-20 companies you want to work for, and get networking with other ABMs, BMs or the HR manager.
  4. Experience in the Company: A generation ago, many started off in sales and then moved over to marketing.  It still can happen, but it’s becoming less common.    If you try this route, push to get over the marketing quickly so you don’t get stuck in a role you don’t want.
  5. Job Posting:  Don’t wait for the postings, or you’ll be missing out on most of the jobs.  The HR department puts up the job posting, either because the company has exhausted all other methods.  The posting doesn’t always mean there is a job, but HR using it to fill the resume bank.  The new method for hiring is to go on to Linked In and put “We are Hiring” in job groups.
The Interview Process

On average, you’ll need 4-5 interviews to land the job–likely one with HR, a couple at the manager level and a couple at the director level.  If it’s part of the formal recruiting process, then you need to realize you are being judged at every moment, from the on-campus event to the potential dinner/lunch during the interviews and even how you act between interviews.  If they give you a mentor to help you, that person will also have influence.  In our debrief about candidates, there were just as many comments about things beyond the interviews as there was the interviews themselves.

Many interviews are moving to behavioural style where they might say: “tell me a time when you had a conflict…”  This means you need to translate all your strengths and weaknesses into stories that show you have experience in the given area.  Write down your answers in the form of Situation Action and Result. Learn how to tell the stories so that it answers the question and showcases your strengths.  Even if people don’t ask you the “tell me a time…” questions, it can be powerful for you to answer in that method.

You will still get asked “what’s your weakness?”.  It’s such a cliche question now, but it still gets asked.  I once had a candidate tell me they hated ambiguity, which was pretty much the death-nail.  Avoid the BS style “I’m too hard on myself” or “I work too hard”.  You just sound annoying.  The safest option I would recommend is “I’m not very good at negotiating” which is a skill that’s not really that important for marketing.

Here are the Interview Questions that I used to Ask:

  1. Tell me a time you used numbers to sell an idea?    You better have your story tight because your answer will be questioned one or two more levels to see if you really know your stuff.  Great Marketers can tell stories with analysis.
  2. What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done?  It really doesn’t matter what it was, but how far did you push yourself out of your comfort zone to find the creative solution.  Your passion for your idea should come through.    
  3. What’s the thing you’re most proud of?  When I read a resume, I want to see big accomplishments beyond your work experience or school.  Football, chess, travelling the world or charity work etc.  I want to hear your story and your pride come through.  Great Marketers accomplish things, and I want to know that you have a history of accomplishments.  Don’t tell just what you did, tell me what you ACCOMPLISHED!  
  4. Tell me a time when you’ve convinced your boss of something they thought wouldn’t work.   I want to see if you can make it happen.  This will show your leadership, selling skills, and willingness to push.  A great Marketer can get what they want.. 
  5. If you were Tim Tebow’s Agent, how would you maximize his value as a spokesperson?  I always took something in the pop culture news and asked how you would handle it.  I was looking to see how curious you are and how you could take something with very little subject matter expertise and put together a plan.  A great Marketer has a curiosity and can form opinions quickly.  This lets me see your thinking.  Pop culture is a great area that goes beyond books.   
  6. If you were on a team that solved a serious healthcare problem for Society, what factors would you use to price it on the global level?   This is a very thick question with many issues, especially adding in the global issue.  I want to see you think through those issues and layer those issues into your answer.  How do you handle the differences between North America and the Third World?   How important is profitability vs R&D vs compassion?   How would you leverage government, key influencers and where would that fit into your answer.  Great marketers can handle ambiguity and there is a lot within this case.  
  7. From your previous Interview with our company, what’s the biggest mistake you made and how would you now change that?   Great marketers are constantly pushing themselves to improve.  That starts with your own personal assessment.  I want to see that you have thought about it and now see a better solution.  It also puts you under a bit of unexpected pressure to see how you handle that.  
  8. What questions do you have for me?  To me this is one of the most important sections.  It demonstrates how engaged you are in the process.  The quality of your questions will help to separate you.  Have five great questions done ahead of time, ask about 2-3 each interview.  Ask deep questions, not surface questions.  Turn each answer into a conversation starter. 

Act like you want the job.  Show a bit of spunk and energy through the interviews.  Marketing jobs are a bit different.  Take a Red Bull before the interview.  Be leaning forward, make eye contact, be comfortable and dynamic in your personality.

Best of luck to you, and go for it.  


Here’s a presentation on Successful Marketing Careers:  

Other Roles You May Be Interested In
  • Brand Manager:  It becomes about ownership and strategic thinking within your brand plan.  Most Brand Managers are honestly a disaster with their first direct report, and get better around the fifth report.  The good ones let the ABM do their job; the bad ones jump in too much, frustrated and impatient rather than acting as a teacher.  To read about being a successful Brand Manager, read:  How to be a Successful Brand Manager
  • Marketing Director:  It’s more about managing and leading than it does about thinking and doing.  Your role is to set the standard and then hold everyone to that standard.  To be great, you need to motivate the greatness from your team and let your best players to do their absolute best.  Let your best people shine, grow and push you.  Follow this hyper link to read more:   How to be a Successful Marketing Director
  • VP Marketing or CMO:  It’s about leadership, vision and getting the most from people.  If you are good at it, you won’t need to do any marketing, other than challenging and guiding your people to do their best work. You have to deliver the results, and very few figure out the equation that the better the people means the better the work and in the end the better the results. Invest in training as a way to motivate your team and keep them engaged.  Use teaching moments to share your wisdom. Read the following article for how to be a success:  How to be a Successful VP of Marketing
Other Stories You Might Like
  1. How to Write a Monthly Report: One of the first tasks they assign the ABM is writing the monthly sales and share report.  Not only is a necessity of the business, but it’s your best training ground for doing a deep dive on analytics and strategic writing.   To read how to write a Monthly Report, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write a Monthly Report
  2. How to Write a Brand Positioning Statement.  Before you even get into the creative brief, you should be looking at target, benefits and reason to believe.   To read how to write a Brand Positioning Statement, click on this hyperlink:  How to Write an Effective Brand Positioning Statement
  3. Turning Brand Love into Power and Profits:  The positioning statement sets up the promise that kick starts the connection between the brand and consumer.  There are four other factors that connect:  brand strategy, communication, innovation and experience.   The connectivity is a source of power that can be leveraged into deeper profitability.  To read more click on the hyper link:  Love = Power = Profits 

Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center

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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at so we can stay connected.



5 thoughts on “How to get an Assistant Brand Manager job

  1. Thank you for your insightful advice, I intend to apply it in my continued efforts to break into a field I grow more passionate about every day.

  2. As someone trying to make the jump from a finance career into marketing (I do have a marketing-based background at University though), this is a very insightful article, specifically the interview questions.

  3. Thanks Graham; I guess I’m gonna use your advices one by one! Specially the conflict time story telling works! As this is like My Personal Brand Story, and as any other brand stories, if I tell it great, then people wanna listen to it and hear it more often! That’s almost the greatest secret of being a successful brand and ABM as well!

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