How to start a career in marketing
Marketing is a very desirable career choice but often for the wrong reasons. So let’s start by saying: you won’t think events are glamorous when you’re building a trade show stand at 5am in a random European airport. It’s creative but you will need to show results. It’s fun, but at times very pressured.
Getting into marketing is hard, especially right now when so many businesses are making redundancies. But not impossible. I know because I’ve been where you are. My first office job was at the start of the credit crunch, as an admin temp, for £6 per hour. I served tea to executives and learned how to photocopy. I had never heard of the word marketing.
Up to that point, my career plan was to qualify as a journalist and get a job with a newspaper in London. The dream of many an elder millennial. I’d spent years doing work experience and internships. Then I learned what marketing was — it had all the best bits of journalism in a commercial setting. I got chatting to a sales and marketing director at a work event. It turned out he had a sales and comms support role. And that was my start.
As well as starting my own career in marketing, I’ve given plenty of other people their start too, in the form of working with me and for me, and as a mentor. Here’s what you need to consider.
Where can you work?
You want to work for a big brand, right? So did I. The only known brand I have worked for was the least creative and most miserable job I have ever had. There are so many other options, so keep an open mind. Your early career is the time to experiment and see what kind of team, culture, sector and business works for you.
You can work in-house or agency. This means you are either part of a company’s marketing team, working on their brands, or you have client accounts. Either way, you will enter at a junior level and learn the ropes.
An option I am not personally going to recommend is freelance. If this is something you want to do further down the line, you will be a far, far better freelancer if you spend time working in-house or agency first. You will learn about how to deal with people and situations, plus, how a business should run. You will make mistakes in a safe space and with a manager to support you.
Would you know how to handle a PR crisis, rectify a typo in a print campaign or deal with a very shouty client? These are all situations I learnt how to deal with in-house.
A marketing degree helps, especially if you do a sandwich course with a year in industry, but it’s absolutely not a prerequisite. My degree is in English but I did a marketing qualification later in my career. I know lots of people with no degree who have built very successful marketing careers.
Whatever your starting point, it’s workable as long as you’re willing to fill in the gaps along the way to get the right qualifications and experience. There are lots of short courses and workshops available. Just bear in mind these provide no guarantee of getting a job. Be wary of getting value for money and who you are learning from. Some of the best are run by known marketing suppliers such as Google, Hubspot and Mailchimp, and they are free.
I recommend getting a CIM qualification at some point. It will give you the theory and strategic thinking skills to step up to marketing manager and head of marketing.
It can seem odd that you need experience to get a job, but how do you get experience without having a job? What this really means is you need to demonstrate your commitment to marketing.
At any age, you can do an internship or to approach a company to spend a day or a week with their team. I did this all the time before and during university, which led to work experience at:
- The Times
- A news agency in Leeds
- A newspaper in Central America
This wasn’t subsidised by parents in London (mine live in rural Nottinghamshire); this was funded by my part-time jobs. There’s obviously a journalism slant here but it gave me a big advantage in my early marketing career.
Why not approach a senior marketer on LinkedIn and ask if you can have a virtual coffee? The worst that can happen is they say no and you move on. Ask a charity or community organisation if they need a volunteer to help with marketing. And look at your own brand. If you’re using social media or a blog professionally, this is marketing and there is nothing to stop you from developing this.
There are no excuses for an ugly marketing CV when there are so many templates and examples online. You don’t need to go wild with fonts and colours, just make it stylish and creative to reflect your personal brand, and absolutely no typos.
Make it really clear why you want to work in marketing. If you’ve had previous roles, highlight how this links to marketing, for example:
- Helping a retail customer find the perfect product
- Organising a product display; this is visual merchandising
- Managing a busy bar is basically managing a trade show stand
Or if you are more entrepreneurial, your Etsy shop, nail business or playground business back at school are all examples of marketing.
Final CV tip: Always show results and reasons, don’t just list tasks.
As somebody who has been on both sides of the table, the thing I would love to see more of in interviews is passion. This isn’t biased towards extroverts as I have interviewed some very passionate introverts. Explain why you want to work in marketing, what excites you about it? Why do you want to work for this company? What difference you could make? Passion doesn’t require experience or qualifications.
Your first role
Your first entry-level role is likely to be the equivalent of me stuffing envelopes and printing case studies before social media for business was a thing. Don’t look down on this. Pay your dues and do the work. Listen and learn from those around you. Take every opportunity to be mentored. Always think about the next step.
Lastly, make the most of the resources available to you. Read as much as possible, there are so many brilliant books and podcasts about marketing. Subscribe to newsletters from marketing experts and suppliers. Look out for free marketing conferences and workshops.
Here are my favourites:
It’s tough out there, but you can do it. If you do just one of these career options, get the work experience and squeeze every ounce out of that opportunity. Most people have been in the same position and will have insights to share. Good luck!