How to rock your first marketing job – what they don’t teach you in school

how to make it in your first marketingjob

Marketing majors graduate with working knowledge of marketing strategy and tactics.

But marketing in practice is a bit different from what you learn in school.

If you want to get a leg up on other candidates for marketing jobs and excel once you’re on the team, consider focusing on these areas in preparation for your job search.

And hey, even some seasoned marketers will benefit from looking back at this list as well.

Define your career path within the marketing landscape

It’s one thing to know you want to be a marketer and connect people to things that make their lives better, like I do. The next step is to understand the complexity of how that gets done in the real world, and where you will fit best.

The general population seems to equate marketing with advertising, publicity and mailbox coupons.

And they’re technically correct – ads, PR and coupons are marketing – but there is so much more to marketing beyond those three customer-facing channels. (Yes, marketing has its own PR problem.)

Depending on the size of an organization, there may be one person who handles all aspects of marketing in one role. In larger organizations, there will be people who specialize and work on influencing people at different stages of the buyer’s journey.

You’ll find people who work on corporate communications, pricing, servicescape, brand, product marketing, regional marketing, partner marketing, channel marketing … the list goes on. There is also internal marketing and talent and employer brand marketing. Each role has a different set of skills that lead to success.

Marketers have the opportunity to settle into roles that match their skills and interests. You can excel as an integrated marketing communications generalist or you can specialize in pricing. It’s up to you to decide.

Your to-do list:

  • Learn about buyer’s journey and sales funnel models, and think about which stage you would like to work on.
  • Connect with marketing professionals in different roles and learn about how their companies’ marketing teams are organized. Ask what makes people successful in the different roles.
  • Read up on blogs focused on different areas of marketing.

Communicate like a professional

Even if you work in an area other than marketing communications, you need to be able to communicate, persuade and sell ideas.

The basics you learn in school combined with your fresh perspectives can help you come up with a truly great idea, but if you can’t pitch it to your boss – and give her the tools to pitch it to her boss in turn – it will never see the light of day.

Marketers love presentations. Again, maybe you achieve truly stellar results, but if you just slap stats on an ugly slide that is hard to read, you may not get the credit you deserve. Being skilled in developing slides and decks will make you desirable immediately.

Your to-do list:

  • Always, always, always consider your audience first – always. What do they need to know and how do they need to hear it? The higher up people sit in the corporate hierarchy, the shorter and more concise emails need to be.
  • Become an expert at building presentations. The same rule about hierarchy applies – the more senior the audience, the shorter and more concise the presentation should be. Offer up details and supporting data in an appendix.
  • Get comfortable with presenting. Consider joining Toastmasters.

Work well with others

Most schools have caught on to the reality that business is basically one big group project and are including group work in most marketing classes.

In the real world, you have to decide how to achieve results and shine as an individual while getting buy-in from of a diverse group of teammates and inspiring productivity from others.

Your to-do list:

  • Build and exercise your emotional intelligence.
  • Develop an attitude of curiosity with regard to feedback. Practice accepting negative feedback – you can’t grow without it.
  • Build relationships with coworkers.

Manage your time

What you quickly learn when you start working is that many organizations spend a lot – and I mean A LOT – of time talking about things and leaving very little time for executing. Your day may end up being 80-90% meetings, and you’ll be expected to execute whenever you’re not in a conference room or on a call. And then you’ll have to get approval from people who are in meetings 120% of the work day.

Your to-do list:

  • Think about when you are most productive. Are you a morning person or an evening person? You may not have much freedom to schedule your own meetings at first, but you can get up early to get a leg up on the day or come in later so you can work at night.
  • Find and use productivity tools that work for you. Do you like keeping a physical notebook with to-do lists? Spreadsheets? Project management apps like Asana?

Collect experiences to grow your career

You may love your job today, but it’s important to remember that it will not last forever.

Obviously you’ll want to grow at your company – and position yourself to land a great job once you leave. To do this, take advantage of every opportunity to expand your skill set. Become a project management expert while you have the chance – it will serve you well in any role you land. If your boss wants you to do a project on an area outside your job description, say yes (within reason) and rock it. It could lead you in a direction you will love.

Your to-do list:

  • Constantly collect experience for your resume. Focus on being able to report great results using statistics, and set yourself up to be able to describe how you recognized a problem, devised appropriate strategy and tactics, and achieved results.
  • Position yourself to be able to link your work directly to results. Ideally you will lead projects on your own, but at the very least keep track of the influence of your work.
  • Keep networking! Build relationships with people around your company. Keep up with your friends from school and engage in professional development groups. Meetup.com and your favorite social media watering holes will serve you well.

Help others

Finally, share your knowledge and help whomever you can. Lifting others is a great way to help yourself as well. Be active in your school’s alumni groups. When people try to connect with you asking for advice or for introductions within your company, help them out. Cultivate and maintain humility, and always remember that today’s intern is tomorrow’s CEO.



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