How Do You Get a Job Doing Marketing for a Start up? [Part 1]

Below is the summary of the conversation I had with a young marketer who asked me how I got into marketing for startups in San Francisco.

My first startup in San Francisco, Uversity backed by Founders Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

It’s nearing 10 pm at a hostel in Bangkok. Lawrence, a rather tall and engaging fellow from London and I have the following exchange.

Lawrence has one of those accents and laughs that makes you wish you were British so make sure you’re reading it in proper English.

him: “What are you up to tonight man?”

me: “Awe nothing, I have some work to catch up on.”

him: “You’re working out here? Doing what?”

me: “I do freelance marketing for a few education companies in San Francisco.”

him: “Really? I want to work from anywhere in the world, how’d you get that job?”

me: “I ran marketing at some similar startups in San Francisco so I guess they want to hear how we did things?”

him: “ So did you like get a degree in marketing or whatever?”

me: “Sure, but that didn’t teach me anything about what I do now. I learned everything from the Internet, books, mentors, and just doing it.”

He looks back at me, intrigued, but not totally convinced.

me: “Colleges don’t really teach you what you need to know to do marketing at an early stage company. You have to hustle to learn the skills and actually get paid to do it.”

him: “Yeah everyone I talk to with a marketing degree says there’s no jobs out there.”

me: “Yeah most of the recruiters and CEO’s that contact me say it’s really hard to find someone with marketing experience, especially in the ed-tech field. It took 6 months to find a replacement for me at my last company.”

Unlike most graduates, Lawrence was able to land a job out of college working as a copywriter on a two month contract for a Chinese company.

He helps translate websites from Chinese to English and while the work is okay, he really wants to work at a startup in London or San Francisco. Unfortunately all of the companies he sees online wants someone with experience or to hire someone at a manager level hire.

me: “So why don’t you get experience?”

him: “Nobody will hire me!”

me: “Okay here’s what you should do..”

How to Get a Job in Marketing Even if You Don’t Have Experience

These steps don’t have to be followed in any particular order, but this was my stream of consciousness at the time. First I show Lawrence Angelist, a website that has thousands of startups and job postings. We filter for startups in London that are currently hiring marketing positions.

We find 27 postings. Not bad for a field with “no opportunities.”

But like Lawrence said, many of these roles are asking for people with experience. Here’s 5 ways to get around that.

Step #1 Get Your Foot in the Door

Before you go and start applying to every marketing job you can find on the internet, realize that this is the least efficient way to find a job.

Applying online is like sending your resume to a black hole as a job applicant and it’s like finding a needle in a haystack for a hiring managers. Trust me I’ve been there. When companies receive 100’s of applications for a job posting they are only looking for reasons to disqualify you.

I think this is where 90% of people get caught up.

As a job seeker you must find a way around this. To start go on Linked In and search for the employees at the companies you are interested in. Look for the founder, C-level or director position that might deal with marketing.

Now Google them and find their personal website, blog, Twitter, anything that can give you an idea if this is someone you could connect with. If you think the person and their company is cool send them an email, Linked In connection request or tweet to get on their radar.

Remember, you’re not looking for a job you are simply looking to learn more about their position and company they are working at because you have similar interests. Be genuine, offer to buy them lunch or coffee and now you have your first industry connection.

#2 Volunteer Your Time

There’s a few different routes this can take, but all of them come down to you doing free work to gain experience.

If you’re unemployed and can’t find a job, then you have plenty of time to make your own job. Use Step #1 to find local marketers who are a bit further along in their career and build a relationship with them.

If you can tell they like you, offer to do some work for them. For free! It’s not just marketers that need help, local non-profits are also great organizations to reach out to and volunteer your time.

This is a win-win approach for you as it gives you more visibility with people already in the tech community while providing you an opportunity to do a project to build your portfolio. If you do good work there’s no reason that person shouldn’t pay you in the future or suggest job opportunities they might come across in the next few months.

Now if you are in a full-time job this approach is a little bit harder. For example, my first job out of college was doing sales at a marketing company, but I wanted to work in marketing.

Whatever company or role you happen to be at, be sure to make friends with people who are working in marketing, learn about their role and eventually when you have a “career talk” with your manager be sure to bring up your interest in marketing.

Our #2 marketing hire at Uversity transitioned from our sales team after she had a “career talk” with her manager. She now works remotely in Alaska for a Bay Area company.

Your evenings and weekends can be spent watching TV and getting drunk or working an extra 5–10 hours networking and learning a new marketing skill. It’s up to you.

#3 Position Yourself the Right Way

Here’s where things can get fun. Let’s say you volunteer for a local non-profit to help them with a new fundraising campaign. You do some email campaigns, host an event and even beg your friend that does video production to help put together a kickstarter campaign for them.

Whatever you end up doing, use this in your conversations with the other companies and marketers you are reaching out to. Casually mention, “I’m working a freelance project for X doing Y.”

You don’t have to mention whether it’s paid or not, it’s simply freelance work you are doing for a client.

All of a sudden you go from “an unqualified recent college graduate looking for a job” to “a skilled, jr. marketing hustler who is doing freelance work” which is EXACTLY how you want to be seen.

Speaking of ‘being seen’ you should also probably have your own website or online presence. You will be Googled, so be sure whatever comes up aligns with your career aspirations.

Step #4 Make your Own Marketing Presence

A great first client to do some marketing work for is always yourself. Create a personal website and/or blog, summarize articles you find on Twitter and attend conferences or local meet ups that you can write about.

You don’t have to be a prolific blogger, but you do need to be able to show a prospective company that you can use modern digital tools like Wordpress.

When I was applying for my first job at a digital marketing agency the biggest thing that sold them on me wasn’t my resume, but a website and brand I had started two years earlier called Career Bull. (I used to offer resume writing and Myers Briggs assessments for college graduates)

I’m sure you or your friends have a business idea you’ve talked about. Even if you don’t go through with the idea come up with a name and build a mock website. There are plenty of cheap or free tools you can use like Wordpress, Squarespace or Wix.

“But I’m not a website designer/developer” you might be saying. Well guess what, now it’s time for you to learn a little bit of HTML. As a marketer, especially on a small team, you will have to learn some basic design and dev skills.

These skills are worth any time you have to invest in learning. Trust me, it’s the #1 thing I regret not learning in college.

Which brings me to my last point.

#5 Learn a Skill

“Marketing” is one of the most non-specific disciplines that could mean a million different things. In marketing land if you mean a million different things then you mean nothing.

To help your future hiring manager understand why they should hire you be sure you can bring a few tangible skills and portfolio projects to the table.

Here is an incomplete list of skills or tools a digital marketer could get familiar with:

  • Email Marketing (newsletter design, drip campaigns, sales prospecting)
  • Landing Pages
  • A/B Testing
  • Copywriting
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Adwords
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • Facebook Ads
  • Video Production
  • Photography
  • Graphic Design
  • Keynote/Powerpoint Design
  • Excel
  • Marketing Automation Systems
  • User Experience Research

Now back to Lawrence for a moment. While copywriting is technically a skill, by itself it’s not very powerful.

Don’t get me wrong, writing copy for a website landing page, email campaign or downloadable e-book is super important, but the strategy, analytics and impact on the sales funnel is the “manager level” view point a young marketer should be looking from.

In reality anyone who is literate can write copy. It might not be great copy, but if a jr. marketer can’t prove their copy is better with analytics to show their conversion, open and response rates are higher then your copy will be judged the same as anyone else who stumbles into a marketing role.

And trust me, there’s a lot of stumblers out there. I stop rambling for a moment and see Lawrence looks ready for action.

him: “So why doesn’t everyone just go and do this?”

me: “Because most people want things handed to them and are afraid to go and get what they want. But 10% of people are different and these are the people that hire and want to work with like-minded folks.”

After spending an hour with Lawrence my guess is that he lands a new job in marketing in 2016.

How did you get into your current position? Would love to hear any other tips for recent graduates or aspiring marketers, designers or developers.

Storyteller, listener, and collaborator. Freelance Growth Marketer for aligned companies and causes. More at →

Storyteller, listener, and collaborator. Freelance Growth Marketer for aligned companies and causes. More at →