One of the most common questions I’m asked is how to prepare for a position in the modern day marketing department, so I thought I’d devote this post to answering that question for my younger readers.
The most important thing to know is that marketing has changed in the last decade.
Ten years ago, marketing was about gut and intuition. There was very little empirical data to go on. Today, modern marketers have more tools at their disposal. Between marketing automation tools, demand-side platforms and analytics platforms, marketing has become an analytical exercise.
I would argue that the days of creative marketing are long gone and have been replaced by A/B split tests and click-thru optimizations.
With analytics ruling the day, here is my three-step advice on how to best prepare for a life in modern day marketing.
Take the right classes
Beyond your core classes, take a few courses off the curriculum that will better prepare you for a job in marketing. Here are a few surprising suggestions:
- Programming: It pays to know a little programming in order to optimize your marketing programs. Most marketing channels, including Facebook, use a light programming language called SQL to help you get the most out of your campaigns. Learning it will pay dividends. The same goes with HTML and CSS—two programming languages that are useful for quickly manipulating Web pages, email templates and banner ads.
- Math: Let’s be honest. People used to gravitate toward marketing to avoid mathematics. But today, math is more useful than ever. I don’t know how many times a day I calculate things like click-through rates or costs per click. Statistics, business algebra and even a good Excel class are recommended.
- Psychology: At the end of the day, marketing is all about human behavior. Whether you’re marketing to a consumer or an enterprise, human beings are making emotional buying decisions. So learning about what appeals to people can only be useful, right?
Do some extracurricular learning
Outside of school, there are many ways you can get hands-on experience with what marketers do on a day-to-day basis. There is nothing better than walking into an interview with a working knowledge of the tasks at hand. Here are four ways you can be prepared:
- Social media: It seems as if social media runs in the veins of today’s graduating class, so this shouldn’t be a problem. Embrace your natural social media prowess and learn from it. What you know about Facebook, Vine and Snapchat can prove useful, even in a corporate setting. Since many of the entry level jobs are in social media, these skill sets are good to have.
- AdWords: Anyone can open an AdWords account with just $5—the price of a latte. Google also provides online tutorials and helpful documents to bring you up to speed, and they are all free. Learn the system and offer to run AdWords for a friend, your uncle or your neighbor’s business. Nothing is better than building some useful work experience, and this is an easy way to do it.
- Facebook or Twitter ad campaigns: If you think it’s easy to run a Google ad, it’s even easier to run a social media marketing campaign, like a sponsored tweet or a Facebook ad. Learn how to do this and practice at school. Let’s say your club is having a barbecue or you’re performing in a play—promote it. It doesn’t cost much, and you’ll learn a lot about targeting potential consumers.“There are many other ways to gain important experience as well, such as taking on a marketing role in your fraternity/sorority or other campus group,” Emily Ettel, a brand planner at Twitter, told me. “You can gain experience by proactively offering to help a local small business with its marketing challenges, or reach out to a charity to help manage its social media campaigns or email marketing.”
Manage your own personal brand
Put the best version of yourself in front of the hiring manager and leave a lasting impression by creating your own personal brand. Your brand comes in a variety of incarnations. Make sure you’re in control of all of them, namely:
- LinkedIn: If you don’t have an account, get one. If you do have an account, make sure it represents your personal brand, work experience and skills in the best way possible. Don’t be afraid to list all of your work experience and accomplishments. Being a waitress at a local diner shows a strong work ethic. Being a collegiate cheerleader shows dedication and teamwork. It all counts.
- Résumé and cover letter: Be ready to customize your résumé for each individual job application. If you are applying for a writing position, make sure your résumé highlights some of your published work. If you are applying for a sales position, highlight your sales experience, however entry level. Also, have a draft cover letter ready. This is your opportunity to tie your experiences directly to the position and to show how passionate you are about the opportunity.
- Social presence: There is an old saying, “You should never do anything that you would be embarrassed by if it were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.” The same goes for social media. But in the event that you do post such things, take some time to remove them before venturing into your marketing career. Melissa Siepp, senior marketing associate at DirectTV, said to me, “Public profiles are one of the factors employers might take into consideration during the hiring process. If there is something on your profile you would not want to discuss in an interview, then I suggest you do not publish the information to a public profile.” Today, it’s too easy for a hiring manager or colleague to find your page and search through your posts—so just don’t take the chance.
Marketing is going through an exciting change. Now more than ever, the marketing department has an important seat at the table. This means that it’s an exciting time to start a career in marketing. Good luck finding your dream job.