Build A Career In Digital Marketing
Are you one of the millions of people who quit their job as part of the Great Resignation? Maybe you had your next move already lined up or your side hustle took off and became your full time gig. Or maybe you haven’t quit yet, but you’re planning to. Maybe you’re sitting at your desk right now, avoiding your inbox, reading this blog, and plotting your way out. I’ve been in your shoes.
I graduated in 2010, right into the aftershocks of the Great Recession, with a dual degree in English and History. My prospects were not strong. So I did what many others in my position did…I went to grad school. 3 years later I held a masters in Library & Information Sciences. I pursued this path because I really do love libraries and there were supposed to be waves of Baby Boomer retirements that opened up jobs. The former is still true, the latter never happened.
Flash forward to August 2020 and I was beyond burned out. The pandemic exacerbated my growing sense of dissatisfaction with the field but I couldn’t see a way out. The idea of going back to school, again, made my head hurt and I’d already invested so much in this career. I thought that walking away was a sign of failure. But I realized I couldn’t go on being so unhappy for another 40 years before retirement. I needed to do something but I had no idea how to make a career change.
Maybe you, like me, have experienced a dramatic shift in your priorities over the past 2 years when it comes to what you want out of your job. For me it was better work/life balance, better pay, better growth opportunities, and a remote work option. A friend of mine knew that his former employer, a digital marketing company, was hiring and sent the listing my way. At first I was hesitant. I knew I wanted out of libraries but I wasn’t sure how my skills and experience would be relevant. With the benefit of hindsight, I see now that this hesitation was unwarranted. A related degree would certainly help, but making the switch to a career in digital marketing wasn’t as hard as I thought. I wish I had a guide like this to help me prepare for interviews and figure out what to expect so now that I have a bit of experience under my belt, I figured I’d write one myself.
How to Get a Job in Digital Marketing? First, Do Your Research.
Take some time to sit down and sift through job postings. Cast a wide net and get a feel for what different titles mean and how the requirements might change depending on the industry (ie: travel marketing vs. ecommerce). Keep a running list of what sounds interesting to you, what sounds like a possible entry point, and what you emphatically don’t want to do. If you have an end goal in mind – job title, salary, or even company – start thinking about possible paths to get there, especially if you don’t have the necessary experience to slide right into your dream job. Your first digital marketing job may or may not be entry level, but think of it as the first step in a new direction. It’s likely going to take a bit of time before you’re where you really want to be.
If you don’t have a relevant degree, keep a list of companies that either don’t require one or explicitly say they accept comparable work experience in place of a degree. Even if a degree is on the job posting as a requirement, it can’t hurt to apply, especially if you sound like a good fit otherwise. Keep a list of the most common skills that appear on job postings. Identify areas where you know you fall short and start looking for ways to bridge this gap. You could look into boot camps or certification programs, but they’re often expensive and unnecessary. There are countless freely available resources online to help get you enough training to break into the industry, start with those. (I’ve even included a list at the end of this post to help get you started.)
Once you find a few job titles you think would be a good fit, set up some job search alerts on LinkedIn and start updating your resume. In the meantime, let friends, family, and colleagues who’ve made a similar transition know you’re looking. Experience plays a large role in the job hunt, but word of mouth and personal recommendations can drastically improve your chances. Reach out to people you know who might be able to give you some industry advice, even if it’s a friend of a friend of your second cousin. You never know when a conversation with an acquaintance might lead to a job.
Assessing Your Skills is Crucial to Making a Career Change
Once you have an idea of what jobs sound interesting to you, it’s time to take a look at what you’re bringing to the table. Create a giant list with your hard skills (ex: Excel, budgeting, reporting) in one column, and your soft skills (ex: creativity, analytical thinking, problem solving) in another. This makes it easier to customize your resume and prepare for interviews based on the job requirements. For each of your skills, try to think of a couple of examples that demonstrate your proficiency in that area. The next step is mapping your skills to the list of common skills you identified from the job postings you pulled.
For example, I hadn’t done keyword research in a digital marketing context before, but I’d taught people how to search within massive databases and ran several social media accounts. I knew that some search terms required filters to be useful (finding Stephen King’s It in the catalog → negative keyword research) and that some keyword combinations packed more punch than others (finding the best Instagram hashtags to promote a library program → finding the right keywords for PPC and on-page SEO). I had experience experimenting with language and deciphering the intent behind the words people chose.
Working in perpetually underfunded libraries also prepared me for managing and maintaining client budgets and analyzing reports to hit ROAS goals. Before, I had to justify every dollar spent as it related to circulation stats (checkouts, renewals, downloads, etc.). Libraries are a service and therefore aren’t expected to turn a profit, so that’s a foundational difference in the fields, but the general work of managing budgets isn’t all that different.
I knew that no matter what, there would be a bit of a learning curve. But taking the time to map my skills in this way helped me shake off the sense of imposter syndrome that kept me stuck in a job I no longer wanted. I’d been telling myself that it was too late to change careers and I had no transferable skills. But I did have transferable skills, I just had to zoom out and view my daily work from a slightly different angle to see it. Doing this also indicated to interviewers that I was prepared and was able to think creatively and conceptually. It helped me control the narrative around what could otherwise have been seen as weak points.
Here are some of the most common skills I came across during my job hunt, I bet you already have some of them: writing, editing, design, content creation, social media management, data analysis, sales, marketing strategy, creativity, analytical, self-educating/keep up with trends, experimental/flexible, adaptability.
Intimidated by a Career Change? You’re Not Alone
Changing careers can be scary, especially if you don’t feel a “calling” to work in a particular field. I was curious if my coworkers had similar stories and how many of them got their start in a field completely different from marketing. Before transitioning to digital marketing, my coworkers came from a variety of industries, including: the financial/mortgage industry, radio, travel call centers, travel sales and tech sales, travel agencies, corporate training positions, the hotel industry, the solar industry, stagehand work, a/v work, and home construction.
Some of my coworkers hold marketing or marketing-adjacent degrees like a BA in Communication. But many of them went to school for something completely different, like finance and travel. Still others are entirely self-taught – they learned on the job, started as freelancers, and took advantage of freely available marketing resources online prior to landing their first gig. Our company specializes in the hotel industry, so it makes sense that many of my colleagues have backgrounds in travel and hospitality; maybe there’s a similar leap you can make within your current industry.
One of the biggest hurdles for me was moving beyond the sunk cost fallacy – the idea that I had to stay in my previous career because I’d already invested so much time, schooling, and money into it. But in this area too, I wasn’t alone. Some of my coworkers spent 20+ years in their previous career before making the switch. Others transitioned out after 2 or 3 years. Everyone has their own reason for making such a major change, but nearly everyone I spoke to mentioned the need for job security and less volatility. For some of us, the decision was wrapped up in questions of personal identity and letting go of our plan of how life was supposed to go. For some it meant walking away from an industry we believed in, but that we couldn’t rely on to pay our bills and or maintain our mental health.
For most of us it involved a lot of effort at the ground level to learn the ins and outs of marketing, to catch up to our coworkers who did go to school for this work, and to find our niche. For those of us coming from another industry, it meant we had to hit the ground running. It requires a lot of work at the start, yes, but it’s not impossible by any means.
For the first few months I felt like I was building the plane while flying it. But so far I’m finding that digital marketing is engaging and interesting work. It satisfies my creative and analytical sides in equal measure. The position I’m in now is flexible – I don’t work nights, weekends, and holidays anymore. I work from home so I see more of my husband and I spend less time in traffic. In the grand scheme of things, I’m still new to the industry, but I already see more opportunity for growth and development (and income) than I did in 7 years in my previous career.
Word to the Wise: How to Make a Career Change From People Who’ve Done It
I asked my coworkers who made a similar career change if they were given any advice they found particularly helpful when first getting into digital marketing, or if they had any wisdom to impart now that they were on the other side of it. Here’s what they had to say:
- It’s important to remember that we all have skills and things to gain and contribute.
- Life doesn't need to be constricted to one specific industry in order to be successful.
- Trying new things can lead us to places we never would've known were possible.
- It’s all about the right attitude. You need to be excited about learning something new, the ability to problem solve, and the willingness to roll up your sleeves and do anything it takes to get the job done.
- Don’t be afraid to try something new. What do you have to lose? Nothing.
- You should do as much research as possible about any industry you are looking into. Talk to friends or friends of friends who might be in that vertical.
- Some areas to explore for building a career in digital marketing: SEO, PPC, Display, Social Media, Email, Website, Metasearch, Local, Reporting, Research, On-Page, Content
- Set goals for yourself and don't be afraid to ask your coworkers questions.
- Be prepared to dive in head first and never be afraid to ask for help from your colleagues.
- Figure out which vertical of marketing you are most interested in & begin to learn about that topic & its subtopics.
- Learn your "learning style"...that way you can teach yourself things in the most efficient way possible. Google/research every topic/word you are unfamiliar with the second you come into contact with it.
- Every marketing resource is available online. Articles are available for every topic in marketing & digital marketing. It helps to create a list of topics & then find articles on each in order to learn about them. YouTube is also a great resource.
- Creating your own website/vlog is huge! It is also a great way to begin learning.
- Don't fall for "online gurus" who try to sell you on a course/mentorship. The great thing about the internet is that we can find so much useful information for free by top professionals in that field.
Resources to Kick Start Your Career in Digital Marketing
MOZ: Beginner’s Guide to SEO
Search Engine Roundtable
Search Engine Land
SEM Rush Blog
Microsoft Ads Certification