How to start a career in marketing

As someone who started their marketing career in my early 20’s, to now being a marketing director in my early 40’s who recruits people starting their journey towards a career in marketing, here are my tips on how to get your first marketing job.

Why start a career in marketing?

Before I get started, if you’re still asking yourself “why work in marketing” or “why work in digital marketing?” (my area of expertise), here is why; a career in marketing is fun, challenging, creative and no two days are ever the same!

Why do you want a career in marketing?

Marketing is a competitive industry to try and enter.

Candidates who can demonstrate a real passion for marketing, and a strong desire to start their career in marketing, always stand out to me.

Here are some questions to prep for, in anticipation of being asked during the interview, or to bring up yourself.

  • What marketing blogs do you read? (here are some I’d recommend reading regularly: Backlinko, Ahrefs blog, Search Engine Journal and Builtvisible’s blog)
  • Why do you want a career in marketing?
  • Which brands’ marketing do you admire (and why)?
  • Are there any brands you follow on social media/which brands do you think use social media best?
  • How would you improve our (i.e. the business you are applying to join) marketing/website?

That last question is one of the most important questions I ask.

It shows me three things…

  1. They have done their research on the company (too few do that)
  2. They have applied critical thought to that research
  3. They have the confidence to tell me the marketing isn’t perfect – as much as I with it were

Be realistic with who you apply to

Job hunting can become dispiriting and there is nothing worse than being constantly rejected.

A lot of candidates don’t help themselves when they try to get in to marketing, and apply for roles…

  • That ask for years of experience
  • That ask for specific marketing knowledge they don’t have (see below for more on that)
  • That are too far away to commute and have no intention of relocating
  • That ask for specific industry experience

Additionally not everyone can work for a blue-chip company.

In fact, small, local businesses are a great place to learn your trade and kick-start your career in marketing.

You’ll be hands-on a lot faster, and you’ll learn a more for it.

Don’t exaggerate your experience

The first thing to keep in mind as a first time jobber is most employers aren’t expecting you to have tons of experience.

Being a little loose with the truth on how involved you were with projects might get you to the interview stage, but if they start asking for more detail it will soon start falling down around you.

For example, if all you did was write a paragraph on a new website, don’t make bold claims such as “Wrote SEO optimised web copy for launch of new website” – firstly that means you wrote “Search Engine Optimisation Optimised” copy and secondly, you’re putting yourself in to a dangerous place if the interviewer wants to find out more.

It won’t take many questions to pull that apart.

Don’t talk about topics you don’t understand

This may seem obvious but I’ve seen a lot of candidates try to talk about topics they don’t know about.

SEO seems to be the biggest culprit. Knowing that “keywords” are important will only get you so far.

If you don’t know why they are important, don’t try and bluff your way out of it.

This may be because they have exaggerated their experience or because they didn’t have the confidence to tell me they didn’t know about that topic.

Here’s a typical conversation I often find myself having with marketing candidates…

Me: What would you say are the top 5 onsite ranking factors to consider when writing copy for SEO?

Candidate: “Keywords are important”

Me: “Yes they, but how to you use them?”

Candidate: “I make sure they are optimised”

Me: “OK, in what way?”

Candidate: “…”

Me: “Right, moving on…

If you are asked a question you are unsure about, say so rather than guess.

You will look more confident and give a much better impression.

Get the right qualifications or hands-on experience

In this competitive jobs market place you really need to stand out from other applicants.

The best way to do that is to  either be strong academically or professionally on your CV.

Even if you didn’t go to university, if you can show you have passed courses or have qualifications you studied for in your own time, you will instantly give yourself an edge.

A professional diploma such as one awarded by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) is where I would look to boost my CV.

Be persistent

For every entry level marketing job advertised you can guarantee there are dozens of candidates sending in their CV.

The odds are largely stacked against you so you need to have the desire and drive to keep slugging away.

Tailor your CV and cover letter for every job

Never send out the same CV and cover letter to every job, it is a scatter gun approach you can’t afford to take.

Each job advert will list specific responsibilities, roles and personal requirements.

You need to pick out what experience and skills you have that fit and then lead with them on your CV.

No filler on your CV

Employers are busy and can small filler a mile off.

The best case scenario is they have a wry smile and invite you in anyway, the worst case is they stop reading and dismiss you.

Don’t pad out your CV with made up skills such as being able to pay utility bills on time.

Research the company

In the age of the internet there is absolutely zero excuse for not researching a company before you go to an interview.

What do they do, who are their customers, where do they currently advertise, who are their competitors…?

Even if you aren’t directly asked these questions, drop the knowledge in to the interview.

Believe me you’ll blow them away!

2 thoughts on “How to start a career in marketing

  1. Hi. Thanks for the insight.
    If I’m honest, all of the above is exactly what I’ve been doing. But I still got no where. I applied for jobs for one year and didn’t get anything. Each job I had the exact skills they needed… E.g. I didn’t lie.

    I really don’t know where I went wrong.

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