So You Want to Work in Digital Marketing ...

Posted by Nick Mattar

Aug 8

The economy is on the rebound and companies are expanding.  New marketing agencies open their doors seemingly every day with low start-up costs and the ability to work entirely online without a need for physical office space.  Meanwhile, companies in other industries are expanding marketing departments by adding positions devoted solely to social media or other aspects of online marketing.  Many of these positions are entry-level and offer plenty of room to grow within the company since there are not many senior-level positions dedicated to the online marketing space.  


For upper-class college students interested in internet marketing, this is a great opportunity.  Unfortunately, many students squander the chance to learn about online marketing and its many different topics.  As one who hires entry-level online marketing employees, I can say with confidence that half of any job’s applicants have absolutely no clue as to what a position in online marketing requires.  They do not know what email marketing is, their knowledge of SEO is antiquated and they think social media for business is exactly the same as posting to a personal social media handle.  Having seen these errors widespread over the past three years of hiring people, I think it is imperative that students know about the endless resources available to them so they can be prepared when walking into that first interview. 

Rather than examine case studies and review some good and bad job applicant examples, I have condensed my thoughts into an 8-step checklist.  Yet, following the checklist alone will not get you that social medi coordinator position.  You must exude the necessary traits to really get yourself into the online marketing mindset: 

  1. Passion for the subject matter
  2. Desire to always learn more
  3. Perseverance when you face adversity

These three traits may look like they came off a bumper sticker, but maintaining them will carry you throughout a career in online marketing.  The internet landscape changes literally every day, but passion, desire and perseverance will keep you sane in a crazy industry. 

Without further ado, here is my 8-step checklist to starting off your online marketing career on the right click.  

1. Decide what you want to do after your entry-level job

You may be certain that you want to work in digital marketing, but what comes after that?  As I alluded to earlier, most of these positions do not have a clear upward trajectory in the workplace.  The people who held the earliest digital marketing positions have since moved on to a myriad of positions or even career changes.  Whether it is a general marketing director position or a more technical information technology position, it is important that you have a preliminary idea about your future.  

This is not to say you need to map out your career, but in interviews you will likely be asked where you see yourself in five or ten years.  Spend some time thinking about your ideal career trajectory.  If you want to be an entry-level coordinator for your entire career, you can skip this step.  But if you have aspirations of becoming a mid-level manager and eventually a director or vice president, you should have some ideas on how to achieve that.  Spending 10 or 20 years at one company will not be enough to get that promotion – you will need to earn it. 

2. Know the terminology

One of my pet peeves has always been the interchanging of “online marketing” and “digital marketing.”  


The fact is, digital marketing is an umbrella term that includes much more than the internet (hence the title of this article).  It includes text messaging, video and more.  Meanwhile, online marketing is a subset of digital marketing that is all online. 

The terms heavily overlap and are often blurred, but it is important to know the difference when interviewing.  If you say you have experience in digital marketing, you should have some experience beyond your typical social media and email marketing, because that term is far broader than you think.  

However, many hiring managers without experience in the digital sphere will not know the difference when interviewing you.  In this case, simply be consistent when speaking or writing on the topic.  This article generally uses the term “online marketing” but will occasionally utilize “digital” instead when encompassing things beyond the internet. 

Some other terms you should be familiar with when doing your research and applying for jobs: 

  • U/X: user experience
  • KPIs: key performance indicators
  • Bounce Rate: number of single-page visits to a webpage
  • SEM: search engine marketing (not to be confused with search engine optimization, or SEO)
  • PPC: price per click, generally on a banner or social media advertisement

One thing to remember is that the terminology, like much of the industry, is always changing.  Stay up-to-date on the latest online trends, whether it be hot web designs like parallax or new social media insights such as Facebook reactions.

3. Take advantage of the blogosphere 

This may be the most overlooked step in the process of becoming an online marketing professional. The internet is loaded with people similar to you who merely a few years ahead in terms of experience, research and education.  Do not be discouraged by the fact that there are already people working in your field.  Instead, learn from them!

You can learn about the latest online marketing trends and techniques by simply searching for or subscribing to any topics that interest you such as email marketing, Twitter or website design.  Below is a list of several blogs that you can use (ranked alphabetically).

This is merely a shortlist of blogs, but there are many more.  A simple Google search for what you want to learn will undoubtedly lead you to an entire new world of digital marketing information. 

4. Learn from successful online marketing strategies

Best practices from online marketing strategies offer some of the greatest insight into the industry.  While it is often larger corporations that set trends in the field, there is an immense amount of information out there to gather and use for your own online marketing programs.  

One example is Snapchat.  Taco Bell and Gatorade are considered pioneers in the Snapchat advertising game, as their sponsored lens received tens of millions of impressions over a 24-hour period.  But what did they mean for business?  Did it increase revenue?  Did it boost brand awareness or brand equity?  These are questions to ask and answer so you can thoughtfully apply it to an interview question that may arise.  Case studies like Taco Bell and Gatorade on Snapchat provide real-world examples of how companies turn digital momentum into tangible results.  

Digital marketing positions require outside-the-box thinking, and knowing the business case for a resource like Snapchat is something that will impress hiring managers.  But, as mentioned earlier, you need to know the end result of these successful campaigns in order for it to truly matter.  For example, we do not really know the impact of Snapchat on Taco Bell’s bottom line yet, but you can certainly pull out articles from important publications that laud the fast food chain’s forward-thinking internet marketing prowess, something that greatly enhances the brand’s awareness and online reputation. 

5. Review basic marketing techniques

Inbound_Marketing-336605-edited.jpgReviewing basic marketing techniques can seem tedious and overkill, but this is important if you want to truly understand the digital marketing world.  Look back at the previous step.  What exactly is brand awareness and brand equity?  While you do not need to regurgitate textbook definitions, you should be able to speak to basic marketing concepts. 

I will not dive too deep into the basic marketing concepts, but the best way to understand them is to read the aforementioned blogs and jot down the terms they use that you do not understand.  If you read an entire article on “buyer personas” and do not understand what a “buyer persona” really is, then check out the definition and how it applies to the type of job you want.  Then, re-read the article while making sure to understand the key points. 

6. Familiarize yourself with common web clients

Nearly all online and digital marketing positions require a working knowledge of multiple web client applications and programs.  In other words, brush up on your Wordpress, Hootsuite, and Constant Contact skills. 

Those are only three, albeit very common, examples of website programs that are useful when working in online marketing.  When entering the professional world, it is best to know these programs inside and out so you can speak to those in interviews and shorten the learning curve when you begin your career.  However, you should also be familiar with competitors and complementary programs.  Once you become the primary user of these programs, you will be in a position to make recommendations for other programs that may provide your team more value.  

About 10 years ago, web client programs became popular as a means to save time and support marketing efforts.  Social media was expanding and the internet became a legitimate marketing medium.  As companies began investing in these programs, their marketing teams chose web clients that supported their goals.  Now these programs are still wildly popular and the companies that use them expect incoming hires to use them, as well.  The bottom line here is to know the popular web clients, but also be aware of other programs that can streamline your workload.  

7. Focus on one or two cutting-edge topics 

Multiple Plans“Cutting-edge topics” is a very broad term here, but it is important nonetheless.  Think of all the concepts, social media sites and programs that have been mentioned in this article – they are all considered “topics” in this case.  If you can demonstrate a clear strength in the online marketing world, you can use that as a major selling point in a job application or interview, even if the hiring company does not explicitly mention it as a focus area.  

Personally, I look for my job applicants to show an expertise in at least one social media site.  Even if their focus area is one that I no longer emphasize on my team, I know that there is room for the applicants to learn and master others.  Besides, the individual may bring a new insight to my team that I had not considered in the past.  I always welcome new ideas and a focus area that is not the same as my own. 

The question people then ask is, “How do I become an expert?”  The answer is very straightforward and aligns with the main general takeaway from this article.  Do research!  If a recent college graduate (or anybody that has never worked in online marketing) can show that he or she has spent time learning about these topics which are not often taught in the classroom, the hiring manager will take notice.  

8. Develop your online presence 

Much has been made about how an individual’s social media presence can destroy his or her job prospects.  Photos of one partying, drinking or doing anything illicit is harmful, to be sure.  But to have no online presence at all is even worse.  And while it may not be true in every situation, most hiring managers believe that if they cannot find an applicant online, then that person is hiding something. 

Instead of having a damaging online presence, embrace it.  Spend time building up your online profile with both personal and professional content.  If you traveled and took hundreds of photos, post them on your Facebook page for all to see.  If you spent time doing community service, share that on your various social media profiles.  Or, if you really want to impress hiring managers, develop your own personal website.  It does not need to be more than a few basic pages describing you, but it shows you know how to market yourself and you have some web development skills.  But make sure your website is an accurate representation. Use colors and photos that represent you well and you would be proud to show to the world.  And, most of all, make sure the website shows up when you perform a Google search on your own name. If you make the website URL simply your first and last name (.com) then that should be automatic.  But if you spend too much time working on too many bells and whistles, your site can become convoluted and distracting.  Make sure it accomplishes three things:

  • Introduces yourself and your interests
  • Links to your various social profiles
  • Displays your resume in a visual form

If you can do those three things on your website, then you will put yourself ahead of the competition.  If you can market yourself, companies will know you can market their businesses. 

That’s it!  Follow those eight steps, and follow them with a passion, desire and perseverance.  If you truly want to work and succeed in the digital marketing world, your talent will show in the job application and interview process.  

Good luck!  

Topics: Inbound Information Technology, inbound marketing, Digital Marketing

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