Getting your first job in digital marketing can seem like a daunting challenge, especially when you don’t have any professional experience under your belt. Browsing forums, news sites, and LinkedIn posts you’ll see people complaining about how candidates with no experience are totally screwed in this competitive job market.
“You can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job.” This simply isn’t the case. There are plenty of people out there getting great jobs at top notch companies with very little “official” experience.
What’s great about the digital marketing industry is the accelerating pace of change. Brand new startups, SaaS companies and digital agencies are popping up every day, changing the way we do business and disrupting traditional career paths (and the need for advanced college degrees). The digital skills gap is real. By 2020, there will be 150,000 digital jobs and not enough professionals to fill them.
Here’s another secret: You can teach yourself these digital marketing skills without the need for an expensive college degree. Think about it. Are colleges covering things like search engine optimization (SEO)? Programmatic ad buying? How to run effective paid search campaigns? Conversion rate optimization? Leveraging influencer marketing? No, they’re not, but a career in one of these fields can net you a six-figure job with just a few years of experience.
So how do you get your foot in the door without formal experience? How do you teach yourself enough to land an entry-level digital marketing job so that you can start climbing the corporate ladder? Well, in 2013 I did just that, and I’ve outlined the steps below so that you can too.
1) Get Confident
When you’re first starting your professional career, you may look around and compare yourself to your peers - others with more experience than you, better grades, more internships, more connections - and you may feel discouraged. Don’t fall into this trap. Start with an abundance mindset, realizing that there are thousands of opportunities out there ripe for the taking. Step one is to get confident.
Professional experience, college grades, and fancy internships cannot compare to the power of your personality and communication skills. Yes, companies look for hard skills and specific knowledge learned through training, but soft skills are even more important.
In fact, the top seven characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including those with different values and views); having empathy and being supportive of co-workers; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.
After speaking with dozens of digital marketing recruiters over the years, I’ve come to a basic conclusion on the two fundamental things that hiring managers want to know before sending you a job offer:
You’re a good person.
You can do the job.
It’s that simple.
As long as you can be persuasive, develop rapport with your interviewers, and have a halfway decent résumé, you can literally get any entry-level job you want. And more good news, there’s no limit to the amount of interviews you can get. You can try, try, and try again, and the first key to success is confidence.
2) Choose your Digital Marketing Career Path
So you’ve decided you want to begin a career in digital marketing. Before going down this road, you need to know exactly what you want our of your career by asking yourself a series of questions:
What do I like doing?
What am I really good at?
Am I better working alone or collaborate with others?
What skills and strengths do I currently have?
Am I more creative or more analytical?
There are a number of different digital marketing disciplines, each carrying its own unique career path. Although you can’t afford to be too picky when applying for your first job, matching your current interests and strengths to a digital marketing discipline that you like will be the most rewarding.
A common entry-level digital marketing job is a Digital Marketing Specialist, which is a person who helps with search engine optimization (SEO), paid search, content marketing, conversion rate optimization, social media marketing and more. These roles are multi-faceted, and you’ll need a background in a number of disciplines to be successful. Accepting this role is a fantastic way to start your career; it will fast-track your hands-on learning and accelerate your career growth. Although the role is multi-faceted, you should focus on 2-3 highly-specialized disciplines to tell a story on your résumé and increase your potential earnings.
Below I’ve listed some of the most in-demand digital marketing skills and the associated tools you should learn to master them. Google each discipline in-depth and decide which 2-3 sound the most interesting to you.
Content Marketing - WordPress, Yoast SEO plug-in,
Digital Analytics - Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Optimizely
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - Moz, Ahrefs, SEM Rush, Google Search Console
Search Engine Marketing (SEM) - Google AdWords, Bing Ads
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) - Optimizely, Google Tag Manager, Craft
Social Media Marketing - Facebook Ads, Twitter Ads, LinkedIn Ads, Hootsuite
Affiliate Marketing - CJ by Conversant, Impact Radius
Marketing Automation - Marketo, Pardot, Bronto,
Email Marketing - Mailchimp, Constant Contact, AWeber
Web Development - WordPress, Magento, Joomla, Drupal
Project Management - JIRA, Basecamp, Timeforce, Trello
In addition to this list, don’t forget about good old-fashioned Microsoft Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint, and Word. They are still crucial to any digital marketing job and are used daily.
3) Teach yourself the Basics with Digital Marketing Courses
Once you’ve decided on a few disciplines you’d like to add to your résumé, it’s time to start learning! The great thing about digital marketing is that there are so many different free certification courses you can take that will look great on your résumé. On top of all of the free certification courses, there are over 55,000+ marketing courses on Udemy, 2,000+ on Coursera, and 6,200+ on LinkedIn Learning alone.
Below I’ve listed my personal favorite courses that you should take to improve your digital marketing skills (updated October 2018). Please note, I’ve taken every one of these courses, I recommend them fully, and many of them helped me land my first digital marketing job.
Google Academy for Ads (free certification). This is the #1 course that helped me land my first job back in 2013. With Google’s free training, you’ll learn all about Pay-Per-Click advertising on AdWords’ Search, Display, and Shopping networks. Plus, you get a legitimate certificate that you can add to your LinkedIn profile and résumé. Note: Many entry-level digital marketing jobs will require this certification.
Google Analytics Academy (free certification). Don’t even think about applying for a digital marketing job without a strong understanding of Google Analytics. This free training teaches beginners and experienced users alike how to grow an online presence through intelligent data tracking and web analytics tools. Data analysis is at the heart of digital marketing; you can’t make informed decisions without understanding user behavior. This course is required viewing.
HubSpot Inbound Marketing (free certification). This free course covers the basics of what inbound marketing is all about - drawing in customers, attracting leads, crafting engaging landing pages, writing strong calls-to-action, and growing an audience. This course should be required for all digital marketers.
Bing Ads Accreditation (free certification). This often forgotten (but highly important) search engine also offers a free certification course. Similar to Google AdWords in its user interface and implementation, Bing Ads is a great tool to be familiar with and will help you stand out from the pack when applying for search engine marketing roles.
Facebook Blueprint (free to take, but paid certification). This course provides advanced-level proficiency in Facebook and Instagram Ads. It’s a must if you’re looking to get into social media marketing, learn Power Editor, and grow businesses through Facebook and Instragram.
Hootsuite Academy (free certification). With Hootsuite, you can earn industry-recognized social media certifications that will help you stand out from the crowd when applying for social media marketing jobs. You’ll learn how to engage a social media audience, automate posts, collaborate on content, and improve your company’s presence online.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but by working through these courses, you can obtain six professional digital marketing certifications for your résumé and impress that next hiring manager. A primary reason I was hired for my entry-level digital marketing job wasn’t because of my professional experience, but because I was certified in Google AdWords, Google Analytics, Bing, Hubspot, and Facebook Ads.
4) Start Digital Marketing as a Freelancer
Before applying to your first professional digital marketing job, it’s a good idea to test your new knowledge and start some hands on work. Since you’re just starting out, you shouldn’t focus on making money, but on helping people grow their online presence and gaining valuable experience to build your portfolio.
Do you know any small business owners that you could help? Most SMBs aren’t well versed in digital marketing and could benefit greatly from your new expertise. Maybe an old friend owns a local restaurant and has no social media presence. Set them up with Facebook Ads. Or perhaps a family member owns a barber shop but can’t be found on Google. Use your new SEO chops to help them out! Maybe you’ll get some free dinner or a haircut out of the deal. Either way, if you’re tracking ROI and using sound strategies, you’re helping local businesses, building your digital marketing portfolio, and learning valuable skills.
Once some time has past and you’ve got everyone on the block and their mother asking about your services, you’re ready to start getting paid for your efforts. Hop on freelance sites like Upwork, FlexJobs, or Fiverr and create a freelancer account. First, populate your new profile with the portfolio of work you’ve so awesomely done for free. This content will build your credibility and lead to more interest in your work. Second, set your freelance rates to be competitive with the market.
Make sure to showcase the platforms you’re proficient in, like Google AdWords or Analytics. Finally, sharpen your personal brand, connect with other freelancers, and reach out to those looking for digital marketing help with an introduction. Once you land some contracts, you’ll have even more work to add to your portfolio. Try to work with strong brands and companies that you can add to your résumé. This isn’t “official” professional experience, but it’s basically just as good. That’s the great thing about digital marketing - if you can show results, your background doesn’t mean a thing.
After you have some freelance experience under your belt, add the awesome companies that you freelanced for to your portfolio, résumé, and LinkedIn profile. Okay, you’re ready. You now you have enough experience to land your first “official” digital marketing job.
5) Prepare for your First Digital Marketing Interview
After acing your digital marketing courses, helping your connections build an online presence, and getting started as a freelancer, you’re now ready for the big leagues. It’s time to prepare for your first digital marketing interview.
Ben Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” Interviewing is all about planning ahead. The more comfortable you are with yourself, your experience, and your new digital marketing skills, the better your chances of landing that job will be. Here are some tips to make you successful in your first digital marketing job interview:
Take a deep dive into the company. You should fully understand the company’s history, CEO and executive team, core values, and current financial situation to show you’ve done your homework. Added points if you look into their digital marketing strategy and find actionable strategies that you would employ day one.
Match your résumé to the role. Your résumé should be viewed as a living, breathing document. Your main bullet points and experience should be altered to maximize impact for the current role you’re applying to. This isn’t lying, it’s just adding selective truths to make yourself stand out.
Prepare yourself with situational questions. These are the classic “tell me about a time when” and “what would you do if” questions. Make sure to write them down and practice because they’re meant to stump you. These questions are botched by many and you’ll really stand out if you nail the answers. You can employ the STAR technique to convey to a hiring manager the Situation, Task, Action, and Result that occurred to make sure you show your value and are a quick thinker. Check out these 20 situational interview questions and how to answer them for more help.
Be prepared for a digital marketing assessment. My first entry-level digital marketing job required that I take an interactive assessment. Instructions were provided in a PDF format and I had to: set up a PPC campaign with proper ad group and keyword organization, edit HTML and CSS on a landing page, and set up a few accounts in Google Webmaster Tools (now Google Search Console). These assessments are fairly common and a great thing about them is you’re give time to complete them on your own (usually 2-7 days) and if you can’t figure something out, you just Google it (like real life).
6) Negotiating your Entry-Level Salary
So let’s say you crush the interview and the company comes back with an offer: a full-time salaried role, a 401k, paid time off, a gym membership, fucking ping pong, the whole nine yards. Your eyes light up with excitement as you’ve finally landed your first job in digital marketing. Your dreams are coming true! You’re already planning on what photos to add to your desk, getting lunch with your boss, mapping out directions to the office, what you’re gonna wear your first day.
Hold on just a second!
The biggest mistake you can make is accepting that initial offer for your entry-level job. Sure, it’s awesome that a company wants you and this may be your first time receiving a formal offer, but you need to let the excitement die down and get to real business.
The first offer is never the best offer. Repeat it with me: The first offer is never the best offer.
For my very first digital marketing job, I accepted an initial offer of $42,000 when I easily could have gotten $52,000. After jumping to a few new companies over the years, I now make over twice that amount, but looking back on those early days, I could have accelerated my career quicker with some simple negotiating. Getting your foot in the door and gaining experience is factor number one, but your first salary lays the groundwork for years to come, so make sure to know your worth.
Use a salary estimator tool like LinkedIn Salary to see what companies are paying for positions like yours in your current city. According to salary tools, a Digital Marketing Specialist in the United States should be making $50,000 per year on average - don’t settle for anything less than that. Follow these salary negotiation tips and you’ll be making more from the very start of your digital marketing career.
7) It’s time to put in the work
If you followed these steps, you did it! You landed your first digital marketing job and are now in a position to forge your own destiny.
To recap: Without any formal experience, you just taught yourself digital marketing. You started by taking free online certification courses, then gaining experience working with personal connections. Next you freelanced and started making real money. Finally, you leveraged your freelance experience into your first full-time job.
Here’s where it gets exciting. Using this entry-level experience, all you have to do is make a few strategic jumps to new positions and you’ll get that six-figure salary you’ve always wanted (in as little as 2-3 years with no formal education, internships, or connections necessary). Not to mention, you’ll accelerate your learning, get invaluable hands-on experience, and network with others in your industry. So what’s stopping you?
Do you work in digital marketing? How did you get your first full-time job? Are there any other challenges or ideas not presented in this blog post?
Please let me know!
And if you’re interested in working with me to jump-start your career and build a side business while working full-time, please click below to join me.