I just got back from a career fair. We were there to talk to highly experienced marketing, sales, service and executive-level managers. We also got to meet many young people, including recent grads and some still in college. They took the time to stop by to ask how they should go about getting their first marketing job so they could get their career started. It was a good question asked by some individuals smart enough to seek guidance. This article and related blog will provide some guidance for those starting out.

I got started in marketing decades ago in a pre-Internet world. It was a time when businesses were starting to embrace marketing as an organizational discipline. Now almost every organization has a defined marketing function, there are plenty of trained marketing people and marketing jobs are commonplace. This evolution has both raised the bar and lowered it at the same time by creating 2 categories of marketers: people who work in marketing departments or agencies in straight forward tactical, administrative or creative jobs and those who get involved with sales strategy.

I’m over simplifying this, but the basic difference between the non-strategic marketing jobs and strategic jobs is the individual’s influence over what product/service/idea is sold and what markets are served. These are strategic issues because they are central to revenue generation. Strategic jobs in marketing are typically at the director and vice presidential level if you are not self-employed. They typically include responsibility for at least one “P” (if you don’t know what a marketing “P” is, you are not on the strategic track yet) and budget responsibility.

So if you are interested in marketing because you want to master the skills of revenue generation then you’ll want to get to the strategic level jobs. However, you probably won’t find an employer crazy enough to give you one of these strategic jobs straight out of college. As much as you have learnt in college, you won’t have enough hands-on experience in a marketplace at the time you are graduating. Marketplace experience is critical to the more strategic roles and this experience can take decades to acquire. This means most marketing careers start at the non-strategic level.

Many of the non-strategic jobs don’t require much knowledge of marketing/sales strategy even though they may require important skills and may be vitally important to an employer. Many PR people are trained and skilled in writing and journalism, not strategic marketing. There are many skilled artists who create the images, collateral and video used in advertising. There are coders who create the tools and web sites so critical to today’s business environment. Additionally, there are many jobs in person-to-person marketing such as telemarketing (sales and surveys), training and customer service.

For some, these non-strategic jobs are careers in themselves. For others they are stepping stones to strategic jobs and the highest executive levels of an organization. Either way, you need to consider what the hiring manager is looking for, not just what you are looking for. Don’t assume that a hiring manager has any interest in nurturing your marketing career. Assume they just want a particular job done properly.

The factors important to a manager hiring someone at the non-strategic level are:

  1. A particular skill,
  2. Chemistry, and/or
  3. Low-cost.

I’ll comment on the low-cost aspect first and offer some advice on each factor.

Trade pay for the right experience in the right industry

Unskilled and inexperienced people are low-cost because there are plenty to choose from so it’s a fact of life that your first job may not pay much. My advice: it’s better to do something for nothing than nothing for nothing. However, you need to make sure that that something is of value to a proper paying marketing job down the road. Doing something relevant is critical to getting a good career started.

What’s relevant? Jobs with “marketing” in the title are relevant. So are jobs that involve tasks important to marketing. These might include commercial design, business writing, web site design, commercial photography, data analysis and sales. Work directly on a product (service) and work directly with customers if possible. Many marketers start out in engineering, manufacturing, support, service and sales roles.

Additionally, the industry in which you start can be critical to strategic marketing careers. In marketing, product and market experience is very important. So if you are going to work for next to nothing, do it in a growth industry that interests you. The most jobs will be in expanding industries with the most organizations, not necessarily industries with the most revenue. Contracting industries or those that are consolidating to just a few big players will be tough places to build a career.

At the highest level there are the business-to-consumer (B2C) industries and the business-to-business (B2B) industries. There are also non-profit and government sectors. The entry level jobs may be relatively equal in each of these areas. However, the advanced jobs may not be what you want. For example, marketing jobs selling complex, high-value products will pay more than those in the non-profit sector and will likely pay more than those in retail environments. The harder the job, the fewer people who can do it, the more you will be paid to get it done. Starting in the right sector or industry is important because the further you get into any one of these, the easier it is to continue and the harder it is to switch.

Chemistry – Don’t blow it

Chemistry matters because people hire people they think they’ll like. At least they won’t hire people they don’t like so your appearance and interview skills do matter. Additionally, to work in almost any marketing job you must be articulate – a good communicator in person and in writing. Showing some initiative is a good thing for marketers.

I’m not going to talk much about interviewing skills or résumé writing because there are some great resources that can help with that. What I do what to share with you is what hiring managers see. They see hundreds, probably thousands of resumes. In these volumes, these are simply pieces of paper or database fields, not people. They are scanning for keywords related to the skills required for the job and their industry. You should, where possible, mention product types, markets, tasks, skills, organizations, etc. in your résumé.

You should write a custom cover letter to your potential boss that includes the title of the position you are applying for and why they should talk to you.  Do this because the hiring manager may otherwise never see your résumé. It may be screened out by a HR person. If you think you are truly a good fit for the job, find out who the actual hiring manager is and approach him/her directly. The HR manager may see 500 résumés for one job, but the actual person who makes the hiring decision may only see 10 (plus yours if you send it directly). The hiring manager will make a decision based on his/her impression of you (chemistry). A résumé churning computer and a HR screener will not.

You should always dress for success. At the career fair I attended some young men and women dressed like potential managers. They looked appropriately professional to me because they wore suits. Others were neat, but not dressed for business so they did not stand out or look entirely serious. One guy wore a sweat shirt with a hood (up). I remembered him for the wrong reasons.

One last point: Expect to be Googled.

Demonstrating skill at graduation

The hiring pool for entry-level positions includes both career bound marketers and everyone else who wants a white collar job. For a career bound marketer, the key is to bring a skill, or at least to demonstrate a real aptitude for the non-strategic task you might be hired to do as your first job. How do you do that?

You get started long before you graduate! Here are some ideas:

Focus your thesis on a particular product or industry, rather than some global or academic issue. The product and industry research you do will appeal to employers. The academic and statistical stuff won’t (in most cases). If you learn what makes a product successful in a market, you have something of value to an employer.

Take on marketing tasks when you can. Get involved in campus publishing and broadcasting. Create and manage web sites. Promote clubs, activities, events and the like. Learn from it by tracking results. There is no reason why your portfolio at graduation couldn’t have an advert, press release, web site and even a video if you stay involved in college activities.

Learn how to use Adobe’s creative software, especially Photoshop (images), In Design (page layout), Dreamweaver (web design) and Premiere (video). You don’t have to be particularly creative to use clip art and stock images. What’s important is knowing how to use the tools and creating a portfolio of work that demonstrates the ability to sell your ideas (e.g. pictures, headlines, features and benefits and a call-to-action).

Become a power user of Microsoft Word (reports with tables, indexes, pictures, etc); Excel (statistical analysis, charts) and Powerpoint (slide presentations).

Look for opportunities to demonstrate your ability to manage projects from start to finish. Good projects include events such as concerts, open houses, fund raisers and anything else with a laundry list of things that must be done properly, on time and within a budget.

If you have already graduated you can get some experience and build a portfolio of achievements by volunteering to help non-profits and local sports clubs with their marketing. Creating a functional web site, issuing a few press releases, seeking local publicity and creating fliers are all legitimate marketing experiences that you can eventually get paid to do.

Most important: All these skills and achievements need to make it to your résumé and/or cover letter.

Success Stories

Realizing that I am not new to marketing and my experience may differ from today’s marketers I asked the following question on LinkedIn: “For new marketers: How did you get your first real marketing job?” Click here for the answers.

About Marketingsage

Marketingsage is a full-service marketing agency that acts as a “force multiplier” that enables technology firms to cost-effectively compete with larger or more established rivals. Using unique mix of market knowledge, integrated marketing services, and proprietary tools, Marketingsage has helped clients make millions in new revenue by generating sales leads, building brands, launching new products, and establishing new sales channels. Marketingsage has achieved that at about 50% of the cost of adding to payroll or using typical agencies.

Marketingsage was founded in 2002 by Agnes A. Lamont and David X. Lamont who each have over 20+ years experience marketing data storage and data management products. Their hands-on experience includes executive management, sales, product marketing, channel marketing, PR, and marketing communications for large firms such as IBM, Seagate, EMC/Legato and a number of innovative start-ups. They have successfully marketed solid state storage, hard disk drives, RAID, backup and recovery, infrastructure management, security, and cloud-based as-a-service products directly to enterprise customers and through OEMs, distributors and resellers.

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