Recently I attended an event at my graduate school alma mater, American University. Its purpose was to bring together current marketing and communications students with alumni working in these fields so that the former could learn about the “real world.” As an individual who began his career in government contracting, I appreciated these students’ clarity when it came to professional aspirations and taking the time to network.
Throughout the evening, I asked students, “Are you learning about things like SEO and digital advertising in the classroom?” As a marketing strategist, I know how vital these disciplines are to my daily work, yet I did not know if they were discussed among rising marketers. Well, I was right in my hypothesis. Students replied that they were familiar with these concepts but were not focusing on them in their courses.
With this in mind and knowing we are approaching a time where college students seek out internships and jobs, I wanted to offer some lessons learned from my own journey into marketing. My hope is that after reading this post, readers feel like, “Yes, I can have a fruitful marketing career if I put in some effort and push myself out of my comfort zone.”
Tips for a Successful Marketing Career
#1: Explore the Different Niches within Marketing
Though seemingly obvious, the first step one should take if considering a marketing career is to understand what type of marketing you’re most interested in. Specializations you could explore are:
- Public relations
- Traditional media
- Digital advertising
- Social media
- Video/content production
For myself, I decided to focus on social media and public relations when I made the pivot into marketing in July 2014. My decision stemmed from my community organizing experiences while living in Washington, DC, where I guided outreach efforts using these channels. Also, being a conflict resolution studies graduate and leading numerous dialogue groups, I recognized communications’ potential for bringing people together despite differences. Moving into digital media seemed like a natural transition and an opportunity to apply my skills in new ways.
#2: Commit to Learning on a Regular Basis
Once you have narrowed your list of disciplines, you will want to do some research on what each one requires in terms of skills and what training is available. Keep in mind that learning should be something you continue to do even after landing a job; the industry is always changing. Here are a few of the free resources that I personally used:
- Google Skillshop: a free online education platform focused on Google’s different products, notably Ads, Google My Business, and Analytics. As a dominant force in organic search and digital advertising, taking time to master Google products is worth the time.
- Coursera: another free online education platform that offers free and paid certificate courses from leading universities around the world. It helped me learn about new industry trends and the basics of things like using data to inform marketing strategies.
- Industry blogs: there is no shortage of marketing blogs out there, but the ones I personally recommend are Search Engine Land, the Ahrefs blog, and the Moz blog. Each provides a slightly different perspective and are informative, easy to understand, and often inspire me to try something new at work.
- Local professional organizations: if learning away from the computer is more your thing, then I suggest attending local events hosted by professional groups, such as the American Marketing Association or CreativeMornings.
- Reddit: the “front page of the internet” is for more than memes; it gives you access to discussion threads on all sorts of topics. Rising marketers should check out subreddits like r/marketing and r/SEO.
- YouTube videos: for people who are visual learners, YouTube videos can be great resources. Even six years into my career as a marketing professional, I frequently search on the platform for how-tos and informational content when feeling stuck.
#3: Flex Your Skills in the Real World
Armed with new knowledge, another activity you should be investing time into is gaining practical experience. This can entail:
- Taking on freelance marketing projects with small businesses or organizations.
- Applying for internships with agencies or in-house teams to gain on-the-ground experience and see how different organizations do marketing.
- Developing your own content and experimenting with different mediums: build a podcast, blog, social profile, etc. and show you can create something from the ground up.
Throughout my time in marketing, I have done a mixture of the above and found it to be invaluable. For example, producing Qatar’s first audio podcast, Doha Heat, empowered me with interviewing and video editing skills that I still use today. Doing some one-off projects for startups more recently has also helped me sharpen my digital marketing abilities and renew my energy at Duckpin.
#4: Make Lasting Relationships with Industry Peers
Networking, when done right, is a great tool for learning more about marketing from industry veterans, as well as giving yourself an advantage when applying for jobs. If you are starting out in the profession, a good place to begin is by leveraging your existing connections and reaching out (in a genuine, transparent way) to people on LinkedIn or other social media channels. To illustrate a good example from my own inbox, see below.
What I liked about this particular message is that:
- It reminded instantly of how we met previously and that this was not a canned message.
- The individual clearly stated what they hoped to gain from talking to me, i.e., insight about living and working abroad.
Craft similar messages, and you will have greater success in cultivating new professional relationships.
#5: Set Boundaries for Yourself and Your Work
Last, but certainly not least is establishing boundaries for yourself as you embark on your marketing career. The discipline is notorious for being demanding in every sense, thanks to tight deadlines, fast-changing trends and technology, and general subjectiveness of the work. Because of these facts, it is essential to set boundaries for yourself early on and maintain outside interests.
How this takes shape is up to you, but when needed, take breaks from your work and set aside time to read, exercise, or talk to friends. Doing so will help sustain your creativity and avoid burnout. Equally important is developing realistic goals and deadlines with your coworkers and/or clients, so you do not get continuously overwhelmed.
Making a lasting, meaningful career in marketing is possible, even for people like me who did not major in it at college. A bit of tenacity, risk-taking, and a commitment to ongoing self-improvement will help get you there in time.