on September 4, 2019 (last modified on April 13, 2022) • 23 minute read
It’s clearly an expansive career with a lot of opportunity for growth, but, it can be tricky to get your foot in the door––especially if you don’t have any qualifications or experience to back it up.
Here, we polled 46 marketers to hear their opinion on how much a degree and experience matter and other tips for landing your dream marketing job. We’ll talk about the common problems you might be finding, such as:
…That’s a question you’re probably considering before starting your marketing career.
Universities cost $99,417 for three years of study. Is it really worth it?
“A marketing degree is not required but is extremely helpful,” says Dai Baker of Dai Baker Creative Group. “Integrated marketing communications would be the best choice for a digital marketing career as it is comprehensive.”
9Sail‘s Kyle Kasharian notes that this can have its perks: “If you are a student, take advantage of your university’s resources.”
“Many students are not aware that their college offers access to premium learning tools (LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, etc.), which are all exceptional ways to learn a new digital marketing skill or become acquainted with other skills that may not have a department or class attributed to them.”
Alysha Schultz of Intuitive Digital agrees: “You should get your Google Analytics certification ASAP for any digital marketing path. If you’re interested in PPC also at least get your basic Paid Google certifications. This tells us you have some experience in the platforms and that you’re a self-starter who can be proactive about job training and education.”
Amberlea Henriques of #AdSocial adds: “By no means do you need a degree (or even a high school certificate) but you do need to have studied the subject if you want to grow a business in digital marketing.”
However, Henriques doesn’t think you should bypass qualifications altogether: “Most social media platforms offer their own training programs that are scaled, tested and offer recognised credentials. When you learn from the software or their endorsed ambassadors you are sure to learn current techniques and strategies. Which is fundamental to staying ahead of the curve, is such a rapidly evolving sector.”
SyncShow‘s Jasz Joseph agrees: “Because digital marketing is an ever-changing field, it is challenging to learn about it in books or in the classroom. Gaining certifications from well-known organizations like HubSpot and Google are also amazing ways to boost your resume and personal brand.”
However, Better Proposals‘ Petra Odak thinks you can get a job in digital marketing without a degree: “Don’t rely solely on formal education. Marketing has become a very busy, popular branch, which makes it highly competitive. Thus, I strongly recommend exploring informal education opportunities.
“In other words, work on your skills on top of your university education and find out which area of marketing interests you the most. After you find the one that suits you best, invest your resources to gain knowledge and experience in that scope.”
Similarly, Hyfa Ahmad of Aufait advises against buying “any degrees or certificates or “e-learning” courses. Just read, read, and read some more. Then practice what you’ve read on your own website.”
Ahmad explains: “Try and understand the meanings of terms like search engine optimization, search engine marketing, social media marketing, and so on. You can check out websites such as Moz, HubSpot, Social Media Examiner, and Search Engine Land to get yourself familiarized with the basics of digital marketing.”
It seems this approach to finding a job in digital marketing isn’t uncommon. The overwhelming majority (89%) of marketers we polled said formal qualifications aren’t necessary:
Zety‘s Christian Eilers agrees: “When constant change is the only constant and Google makes up the rules, what counts is general competencies: the ability to learn quickly, a positive attitude, flexibility, and the ability to acquire and analyze information.”
“You need to learn on a daily basis and follow the latest digital trends, and there’s no better place to get this knowledge than from experienced professionals in the field.”
Eilers continues: “A college degree may have prepared you with the general concepts of digital marketing, such as SEM or SEO. But it’s kind of like learning about a country from its Wikipedia page. You’ll learn the details and statistics, but you won’t truly get a sense of the country, understand the culture, until you’ve visited for yourself.”
Summarizing, Adam Connell of Blogging Wizard adds: “Qualifications are great but they’re just words saying you can do something. You need to prove what you’re capable of.”
Are you ready to become a well-paid marketer? There’s only one problem: Recruiters want to see that you know what you’re doing. That’s tough to prove without experience or digital.
…But it’s not impossible.
We asked 46 experts to share the story behind their marketing industry breakthrough. And, we’ll share about the techniques you can use to get a job in digital marketing without experience or a degree, including:
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“Most people would say to be the best digital marketer, you should be able to “do it all”. I disagree,” writes Maciej Duszyński of ResumeLab.
“You should focus and specialize in a cluster of like-minded topics, but do them all on a master level, as opposed to knowing a bit about everything but not being able to master any of them.”
Angela of Sharp Growth Digital Marketing agrees: “Focus on one area that you think gels with you the most. Are you are a more creative person, into data, or really like more technical aspects of the job?”
“If they’re more creative, I would encourage them to specialise in social media or content marketing depending on what they’re more interested in. Even then you can niche down to focusing more on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, or any other ‘new’ social media platforms out there.”
These days, companies are hiring for niche jobs–and recruiting people who are specialists in a specific area.
In fact, content marketing is the area our experts think will increase in demand over the next 10 years:
For that reason,Medicare Plan Finder‘s Troy Frink thinks you should “find something that comes easier to you than other people you know and then learn your craft. If you’re a writer, learn how to write digital content. If numbers are your thing, learn SEO.”
“After you hone your craft, demonstrate that knowledge. If you’re a graphic designer or writer, publish your work in an online portfolio. Potential employers want to see your capabilities,” Frink adds.
In fact, Tom Feltham adds that Software Path “often meet applicants who are very focussed on one area of digital marketing, often social media. The candidates who have taken the initiative to read into other disciplines really stand out.”
As Bonjoro‘s Casey Hill summarizes: “Depth of knowledge in one field will typically grant you better results than a jack of all trades when you are in the early stages of your digital marketing career (or even if you are looking for freelance opportunities).”
“Digital marketing is a great field to break into because it’s so diverse. Use the skills you already have to break into the field through freelancing and then grow as you work,” says G2‘s Lauren Pope.
“I started my career in social media because I’d run several social accounts for my University clubs and programs. Once I got into the job, I learned more about analytics, certifications, and best-practices. My initial skill got me in the door and then I consumed as much information as I could. I taught myself to be an expert on the job.”
Pope continues: “You can teach technical skills on the job. You cannot teach soft skills like writing, communication, tech-savvy, etc. These transferrable skills will help you stand out amongst other applicants and help you bring something unique to the job.”
(It’s true; soft skills are credited for 85% of job successes.)
Best Company‘s Alice Stevens adds: “Writing is the biggest transferrable skill you can take with you from college or other professions. Be aware that writing for the internet is different from writing for your professor. Figure out a few ways to get practice in a variety of writing styles.”
“I am often approached by people looking to launch a career in digital marketing. Many of them are marketing graduates who do not have the confidence or skills to focus on digital,” says Erica Staceys of Scout.
“I always recommend that they get experience working with digital, and if they don’t have the confidence or opportunity to work with small clients, then focus on establishing and working on their own online presence.”
Staceys continues: “There are many platforms available these days that make it easy to create your own website, establish your own professional social media channels, learn the basics of SEO, social media marketing and online advertising, write and publish your own blog posts and content and more.”
“This type of experience is valuable in learning how digital marketing works, and also provides great examples to potential clients or employers.”
(These side projects aren’t just to get hands-on experience; Corey Haines of Hey Marketers adds that “having a great side project example will set you apart and give the interviewer more confidence in who you are.”)
Beth Adan of NisonCo agrees, which is why they recommend that “all PR-hopefuls to treat their job hunt like doing PR for themselves.”
“Brand yourself by creating a personal website or portfolio where you list relevant experience and professional skills/accomplishments. Grab your online domain (example www.YourName.com) and create a brand for yourself – make sure your resume, social media, and application material are consistent with your personal brand, right down to colors and images chosen.”
“Even if you don’t have vast work experience, you can still stand out from other applicants simply with your personal branding. When faced with a well-branded, professional applicant, recruiters will take notice and advance you to the interview stage – they are looking for people who go above and beyond,” Adan adds.
The same concept applies to SEO, as Steve Toth of SEO Notebook explains: “If you’re going for an SEO position, try to rank for a long-tail keyword that’s relevant to the industry. Even if it doesn’t have a lot of search volume, they’ll still be impressed that you ranked for it.”
In fact, it’s a tactic that Christina Pashialis used: “Before landing my first marketing job I ran a small blog about cool places in London. I learned how to use WordPress, gain subscribers, run a content schedule, promote posts; all valuable digital marketing skills! This helped me to stand out when applying for a junior marketing and community role.”
When we asked HubSpot’s team for their best tip to get a marketing job without experience or a degree, Alex Birkett said: “I’d advise them to learn how to properly run and analyze controlled experiments (A/B tests).”
“This isn’t a digital marketing specific function. Rather, it can be applied to almost any area of business, specifically in digital functions like product and user experience. That’s kind of the point – this is a generalizable skill.”
“Aside from the obvious and touted benefits of knowing how to run A/B tests (over the long run, it makes you lots of money!), the simple act of learning about statistics and experimentation shows you’re a rigorous thinker, and one I’d be willing to hire,” Birkett continues.
Remember the side projects we discussed earlier? Brooks Manley of Engenius notes that this side project is the perfect place to run marketing experiments: “Having a sandbox to hypothesize, test theories, and fail quickly is super helpful to learning disciplines like SEO, PPC, and content marketing.”
“Client projects aren’t typically the place to do this, but a side project gives freedom to try new things,” Manley adds.
In fact, you could build your website and begin A/B testing today, starting with your website pages–a channel we found to be the most popular with experimental marketers:
StableWP‘s Djordje Milicevic supports this: “Don’t obsess getting things perfect on the first try. Digital marketing is all about optimization, so start with general best practices, test and optimize (improve) along the way until you reach peak performance.”
A marketing portfolio showcases your best work–and proves to potential employers that you’re skilled at the digital marketing job you’re applying for.
…But how do you build a strong portfolio without any experience?
“If you don’t have any clients to put together a portfolio, you can use an online ‘brief generator’ and make up fake clients to show what you can do,” says Sonder‘s Laura English.
“Set yourself deadlines for your fake projects so you can take it to an agency and say, “The brief was X and I had X days to do it”. This will give them a good idea of your capabilities.”
You could even share the results of your work in a case study, as Matt Boyd of MoverFocus.com explains: “I would focus on building up a portfolio of case studies which document proven results which you can leverage to demonstrate that you have a proven track record in generating results and know what you’re talking about.”
Worried about the price investment you’ll need to get started? You could add a portfolio to your website, as Anthony Mastri of Search Engine Coach summarizes: “You can get a domain name and a year of hosting for the price of a dinner, and some colleges even offer a limited amount of hosting space for their students by default.”
“Digital marketing is not what it once was. Mad Men might have ruled in the past but the future belongs to the storytellers,” writes Alexander Porter of Search It Local.
“And you don’t learn how to craft a story by sitting in a lecture hall reading advertising guides printed last century. The simple advice for those wanting to launch a career in digital marketing is to place themselves in as many unfamiliar positions as possible.”
Porter adds: “By surrounding yourself with knowledge you’ll soak in the lived experiences of people who are tangible and real. Their stories become your stories, and your ability to tell the stories of businesses and brands will grow.”
Shelby Rogers of Solodev agrees: “Don’t worry about the software. Focus on clear communication. Digital marketing isn’t about the latest data analytics tools or CMS or email automation software. The heart of the industry comes from reaching people with a message. Software will rise and fall, but adept storytelling and impactful communication never goes out of style.”
Elise Ingram of Hire Writers explains what that might look like: “Choose 1-10 influential people in the industry that you want to learn from, and start listening.”
“Then slowly start reacting to what they say, in a genuine way. This can be through replies to their newsletters, comments on social or their blog post, anything. Be genuine and build up a relationship.”
Ingram continues: “Listening to key people can help your career skip a lot of the beginner phases starting companies go through. Now that everyone is online, it has become extremely easy to connect with almost anyone. But start with listening, it’s a skill that will set you apart from most of your competition.”
Summarizing, Womply‘s Dallin Hatch says: “Don’t underestimate the value of using lunch as an excuse to network. Rather than eating alone (or with the same people), use that time to meet up with other digital marketing professionals.”
It’s reported that some of the most successful people are always learning.
Diana Nguyen of Revenue River thinks the same concept applies here: “Continual learning enables you to keep your finger on the pulse of the current market and upcoming trends. I would recommend spending a few hours a week just reading and gathering ideas about various topics.”
Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group agrees: “When it comes to building your foundation, there are a huge variety of resources, like Moz’s SEO beginner series, Googles own certifications, and countless others, that can show potential employers that you mean business when it comes to digital marketing.”
Plus, Johnston argues that you should “try carrying out some audits on sites on your own, there are a bunch of free versions of tools that can help you start to get a real feel for them instead of going into an interview and simply saying you’ve never used any tools.”
Omar Fonseca of Medicare Plan Finder adds: “Stay on top of industry news by following major digital marketing sites and influential people on social media. As well as Google, Facebook, and Twitter who regularly tweak their algorithms and platforms.”
“Make time for digital every day, if you don’t, you can quickly fall behind. Never stop learning to guarantee you’re on pace with the ever-changing technology. The wider your skillset and the more knowledgeable you are about each area, the greater your earning potential.”
Rice Media‘s Craig Cooksley backs this up: “Demonstrate a commitment to continual personal development. It’s an industry that doesn’t stand still and therefore in order to be successful your knowledge and skills can’t stand still either.”
Now you’ve built up your experience and positioned yourself as a great candidate, let’s take a look at how you can find (and apply for) your first marketing job.
“Depending on your career stage, you may only be able to find an internship, part-time gig, or a role that includes non-marketing responsibilities mixed in with the marketing responsibilities,” writes Mr. SR of Semi-Retire Plan.
…But that doesn’t mean you’ll be stuck in the internship forever: “If you’re now launching your career or making a career change, you may need to start with one of these roles first. Marketing […] can require getting a “foot in the door” — but once you’re in, you’re in.”
Spendesk‘s Patrick Whatman agrees: “I hate to tell people to work for free, but honestly the first thing they’re going to ask for is your track record. If you want to work in content, you’re going to need to show a writing portfolio. If you want to build sites or create digital advertising campaigns, you need to show that you’ve done these before.”
“So my advice is, whether you can get experience as an intern (even unpaid), or if you have to create your own projects, the best time to start is now. I’ve never looked at a candidate’s academic history (even an intern’s), but I always look to see if they’ve done something similar to the tasks I’m going to need them for,” Whatman adds.
Regardless of where you’re interning, Joe Edgley of Amplified Marketing that hands-on experience “is by far the most valuable tool you could bring to the job.”
…So much so, that Edgley says: “As a business owner, if I am hiring someone the first and most important thing I look for is real-world, hands on experience that shows the candidate can take initiative and apply knowledge to action to produce tangible results – nothing better than a case study to show this!”
“Apprenticeships give you the chance to enter a paid job without any initial qualifications; you work towards the qualification while working full-time,” Bulldog Digital Media‘s Emily Wilson explains.
“There’s also a high chance that you’ll get kept on by the company once your apprenticeship is finished, so it’s a win-win! Even if you don’t get kept on, you have valuable experience which will make you stand out from the crowd.”
Kurt Uhlir of The Made in America Movement thinks it’s a great way to get your foot in the door: “If you can an apprenticeship where the marketing expert will train you what effective marketing looks like in the real world for a business and will help you build your portfolio, that can accelerate your marketing career by two to five years.”
Ulhir continues: “The experience and knowledge you’ll receive in an apprenticeship will put you not only farther ahead than your peer, but also further along than many people with a few years of marketing experience.”
When looking for a place to kick-off your marketing career, Quincy Smith of ESL Authority thinks you should “try to land a job at an agency as your first job [because] they often hire for a variety of roles giving you more options and the number of specialties you’ll be exposed to will help you narrow down your preferred career path. “
“Plus, there are also more people to learn from in an agency which can give you an edge when competing against someone who has been the lone in-house SEO or content writer for a company,” Smith says.
Will Chin of Pickfu.com also advises working at an agency or start-up because they “are usually extremely fast-paced environments that pivot at a moment’s notice. Whereas on the corporate side, the pace is more methodological since there are multiple stakeholders associated with any execution you might be working on.”
“Agencies and start-ups also allow you to find what niche works for you. I’ve tried PPC, Social media marketing and content marketing all within the span of one year – and I ended up settling on SEO,” Chin adds.
“In these smaller companies, you have the ability to grow yourself into a strong capable marketer in a very short amount of time.”
Jim Milan of Auto Accessories Garages followed this process: “I started my digital marketing career in SEO at a small marketing agency where I was free to make changes to the company website and then track how those changes affected the website with software like SEMRush.”
“After much experimentation, I began to get a feel for what kinds of changes to web content brought in more organic traffic. It was from this foundation of knowledge that I built my digital marketing career.”
“If I felt like every change I made to a site was exceptionally high-stakes, I would have been afraid to make any changes and I wouldn’t have learned the skills that turned me into an effective digital marketer,” Milan notes.
Summarizing, Firewire Digital’s Brogan Renshaw says: “Whatever your digital marketing interest the fastest way to learn is by doing. You will make mistakes but that is truely the best way to learn what works and what doesn’t in your chosen field.”
“If you really want an awesome job in digital, take the time to understand the company you want to work for. Then send them a list of things you can take care of in the first X months for that company,” advises Blake Smith of Blake Smith Consulting.
“An action plan of how you can hit the ground running for a company is much better for the employer than your boring CV.”
Smith continues: “With that said, many companies will require your CV too (particularly big organizations that have an HR department as that oversees all new hires) so it’s a good idea to make it awesome.”
Andrea Moxham of Horseshoe + co. thinks you should use your initiative, too: “Whether it’s reaching out to a company that’s not currently hiring and sharing the value you could provide, or doing research to show that you don’t need handholding in a marketing position.”
“A marketer needs to be innovative and resourceful. Before asking questions, do your research and try to come up with a solution on your own, first. The employer will appreciate your proactiveness.”
Moxham continues: “Don’t rely on the traditional job search funnel (search for keywords on job board, send resume, wait for email/phone call). Get creative and look in Facebook groups for people looking to solve a problem which your skills can help solve.”
“Personalize your outreach and show that you’ve done your research on the company and aren’t copying and pasting the same intro/cover letter to dozens of organizations,” Moxham summarizes.
Marketing is a fantastic career, and an exciting industry to work in.
If you’ve got the motivation and passion to learn, there’s no reason why these techniques couldn’t land you a job in digital marketing–without experience or a degree.
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