So you want to get into marketing. Perhaps you studied marketing in college and are ready to apply what you’ve learned in the real world. Or you had a different major but have been leaning toward marketing as a career path. Or maybe you’re working in another industry but are seeking the excitement and creativity you can find in marketing.
Truth is, getting your first marketing job (or any job, for that matter) can be a daunting task. At least, that’s how I felt when I was fresh out of college: I had some knowledge but hardly any experience, and I wasn’t sure how to make the leap from student to employee.
After a few failed attempts, I eventually landed my first marketing job as a digital marketing analyst at Conversion Pipeline. Not long after, I moved on to be a digital marketing manager for several startups, including PropertyRoom, Theralogix, and Waggl.
These days, I’m running my own remote content marketing agency. So the tips I’ll be sharing with you here about how to get into marketing are based not only on my own experience starting out, but also on what I look for as someone who now hires for my own team.
You may already be very clear on exactly what type of marketing role you’re interested in pursuing. Or you might still be learning about your options or considering a few different potential paths. That’s OK! Just make sure you’re familiarizing yourself with common marketing roles—from email marketing to brand management to product marketing—and thinking about what kind of job you’d like to take on now as well as what you see yourself doing in the long run. You can always start in a generalist role to help you hone your skills and decide where to go next.
Keep up with what industry leaders are reporting and trying in their own marketing campaigns. You can follow them on social media, subscribe to their newsletters, or read articles they’ve written on sites like Social Media Examiner, the Content Marketing Institute, and MarketingProfs.
By following these experts, you can learn from the trends they’re noticing or the new campaigns they’re launching. Many experts also publish case studies based on real brands and real campaign results, and these can give you deep insights on marketing strategies and best practices.
As you get to know the players, you’ll be able to identify people and companies you might want to work for and the areas of marketing you’re particularly drawn to and may want to specialize in down the line. You can also use this information later on in your interviews to show recruiters and hiring managers that you’re staying on top of industry trends and what they might mean for a particular business. It’s a chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm and passion for the role and it can set you apart from other entry-level or career changer candidates.
Do a little outreach and schedule some informational interviews with actual marketers. Do you have a professor from college who has marketing experience? Or is there someone in your personal network—like your aunt or your friend’s brother—who’s been in the marketing industry for a while now? Is there a marketer you follow whose work you admire who you wish you could connect with? Speaking to professionals who are already immersed in the kinds of roles you’re after can help you prepare for your applications, interviews, and first job.
Here are a few questions you can ask in your informational interviews:
- What was your path to get into marketing and get to where you are today?
- What does your job look like in a typical week?
- What skills do you practice most in your job?
- What is the hardest thing about your job? How do you overcome these challenges?
- What do you like most about your job in marketing?
- Do you have any tips on how to get into marketing with no formal marketing job experience?
For more advice on how to have a successful informational interview, read this.
In college, I was part of a group called the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization that connected me to my first mentor, the CEO of a software company. He and I would meet a few times a month to talk about tech startups and those conversations helped me discover my own interest in doing marketing specifically for companies in the tech industry.
Your mentor can guide you on how to craft an effective cover letter and resume to help you stand out from other applicants. Your mentor can also give you insights on what questions you’ll be asked when you get called in for an interview.
Some mentors will even tap into their personal and professional connections and endorse you to those looking for qualified candidates to fill various marketing positions. And since companies prioritize candidates personally recommended by someone they know and trust, that’ll increase your chances of landing your first marketing job even if you have very little experience.
Mentors can come from all sorts of places. Did you have a supervisor at a marketing internship who you had a great relationship with? Do you keep in touch with that marketing professor whose classes you loved? Did you really hit it off with one of the folks you met on an informational interview? As you develop relationships with people, you might find yourself turning to one or more of them regularly as mentors.
You can dip your toes into the practical world of marketing by creating your own content to distribute and promote.
Start a blog, a niche Instagram account, or even a YouTube channel or podcast to help you exercise some digital marketing skills and to show prospective employers that you have potential. Don’t forget to think about getting into the heads of your target audience, creating high-value content, and learning from what performs well and what doesn’t.
This can be a great way to spend your time while you’re also sending in applications or if you’re trying to plan ahead for an upcoming job search. It never hurts to have a creative, independent project to talk about in interviews as a way to demonstrate your passion, hard work, and skills, especially if you don’t have a lot of formal marketing experience.
Try and get yourself any freelance opportunities you can for marketing-related jobs—such as copywriting or social media management gigs. This is a valuable way to get real-world experience that you can put on your resume.
If you don’t know where to start, consider asking around your network. Do you have friends or relatives who might know small business owners who need help putting out weekly email newsletters or promoting a new initiative on social media? Does your mentor know someone who may not be hiring for a full-time role but could use some help on a specific project? If you’ve done a marketing internship, you might consider reaching back out to your contacts to see if there are any opportunities for you to freelance for them. Even if people don’t have something for you right away, you’ll be top of mind if anything comes up or if they hear of an opportunity from a colleague.
You can also look for freelance, part-time, and temporary gigs by turning to your alumni job boards or listservs, signing up for freelancer newsletters, joining marketing groups on Facebook and other platforms, or using networks like Upwork.
By putting on your freelancer hat, you not only get to earn as you build your experience, but you also get a taste of a day in the life of a marketing professional who needs to manage and deliver multiple creative and data-driven projects at the same time.
Another fruitful way to spend your time is learning and strengthening skills that will make you an appealing candidate for marketing roles, whether it’s to become familiar with Google Analytics or understand the basics of search engine optimization (SEO). Take an hour or two every day or every week to pursue digital marketing courses online to sharpen your skill set and help you stand out among other applicants.
You can implement the lessons from these courses in your own projects, whether it’s a blog or podcast, or in any freelance work you’ve been able to find. The fact that you took initiative to learn—along with the knowledge you’ve gained from courses and the experience you get from applying it in small ways—can also help you show interviewers that you know your stuff and will be a valuable, proactive member of the team, even if you don’t have a previous full-time marketing job on your resume.
If you have even a little bit of experience from freelancing or doing class or independent projects, compile your best work into an online portfolio. Having your own website can also show your initiative and help you instantly stand out from other job seekers in the market with examples of your most impressive work.
In this portfolio, you can show off any projects and campaigns you’re particularly proud of and even include mini case studies about the results. Don’t worry too much about needing killer results like viral videos or posts. While those kinds of things may impress employers, what’s most important is showing them your mastery with certain skill sets and the potential to improve those skills even more.
Your website is also an ideal place to tell your story—what got you into marketing, what roles you’re most passionate about, what you’re hoping to do next, and more. Make sure you include a bio that gives readers a clear sense of who you are and what you could contribute.
Even without full-time marketing experience (or a marketing degree, for that matter), you probably already possess some of the skills that are essential for success in the field—whether you gained them from coursework, freelance or independent projects, internships, volunteering experience, or a different kind of role you’re trying to transition away from.
You might be well-versed in reading and gleaning insights from data, for example, because you took a few statistics and data analysis classes or because you previously worked in consulting. Perhaps you’re already excellent at content writing because you worked on your college newspaper, have been taking writing workshops in the evenings, or write email newsletters for a nonprofit you volunteer with. Or you’ve racked up some sales experience from working in retail that helped you pay attention to the goals of your customers and how your product can help them achieve said goals.
If you have existing work experience from a non-marketing job, what are the skills you learned there that translate well into a marketing job? Ask yourself the same thing about coursework, activities, and anything else you’ve done in the past. Look for matches between the skills you know you have and the ones emphasized in a job description you’re excited about. Highlight these transferable skills in your cover letter and resume and be ready to bring them up during your interviews.
Last but not least, make sure you’re confident in your interviews and applications but not dishonest. You don’t want to tell prospective employers that you have experience or expertise you won’t be able to back up.
Instead, be earnest in your desire to grow as a marketer and, in turn, to contribute to and grow the company. Tell them about the skills you’ve started developing, but don’t try to come across as if you know everything. Working in marketing means knowing there’ll always be more to learn and showing your ability to constantly grow and adapt in a changing field.
As you start implementing a few of the tips above, remember that getting a marketing job is in some ways just like getting any other job: You’ll need to put in the work, prepare well, and make yourself stand out as much as possible. But unlike with other roles, you can think of that process—telling your story and proving you’re the best candidate for the job—as one more way you’re preparing for a career in marketing. After all, entering the world of marketing is all about marketing yourself.