The Top 10 Skills You Need To Get Your First Role In Digital Marketing

First off, you need to establish whether digital marketing is really the career path for you. You could chat to some people who already work in the industry to find out what it’s like, you could read some digital marketing blogs and you could talk to your university career’s advisor. All of these suggestions are worthwhile.

But what I recommend you do above all is establish whether you have the digital marketing skills and personal attributes for a job in digital marketing.

What I mean by that is whether you are suited to the role. So as you’d imagine a sales person needs to be persuasive and have thick skin, a PR person is often bubbly and personable, an editorial person would be good with words and have a large vocabulary and so on.

Why should I decide on this first?

You may be thinking this is all a bit overwhelming, but don’t worry, once you understand exactly what it is you need to be able to do, it will be far easier to tailor your CV to demonstrate the skills and attributes the employers are looking for.

This type of planning and research before you start your job search really pays dividends. And I’m going to take you step by step through it. So here goes…

Digital Marketing Skills

OK starting with Skills. Let me first explain what we mean by skills. I’m talking about the hard skills required to get the job done. These are things that you will learn and pick up throughout your digital marketing career.

You already have plenty of skills that you will have learnt at university and school and in other areas of your life. They are things like writing well, mathematics, researching a topic for an essay, IT skills. Heck, most of you grew up with technology so your tech skills will be far better than when I left university before the days of digital!

All of this will stand you in good stead for what’s to come. So by skills we mean the practical skills that your future boss will be looking for – so they are confident that you can hit the ground running.

In a digital marketing role these skills are…

1. Analytical

All decisions are based on data in a digital marketer’s role. It will be your job to analyse the data, look for patterns and look for clues as to what the next move should be. Demonstrating that you have a naturally analytical and logical brain will be a huge tick for you.

2. Strong Attention To Detail

Ever heard the saying that the devil is in the detail? Well it couldn’t be more true for digital marketing. Whether you are working in search engine optimisation or pay-per-click, email marketing or conversion, you have to have your eye on the minutia of what is happening in your campaigns. So whatever happens don’t have spelling or grammar mistakes on your CV, as this immediately smacks of poor attention to detail.

3. Commercial Awareness

Working in marketing all your decisions eventually impact the sales of the business. So whilst some digital marketing roles are deemed to be more technical, you should never make a technical decision that appears better without considering how it impacts sales.

If, for example, you work in PPC (pay per click) marketing you are responsible for buying advertising and so it would be your job to make sure that you don’t pay more for your ads than they generate in sales – known as a positive return-on-investment.

Most interviewers will look for some indicator of commercial nous. Have you sold anything before, have you worked in a retail environment, have you made money using your initiative before? Any examples you can have up your sleeve to demonstrate this will pay dividends.

4. Technically Savvy

Being technically savvy is an absolute must. You already have a head-start as you grew up with technology. But you really have to have an affinity with technology to function well in most digital marketing roles. You will be working with technical systems like Mailchimp for email, WordPress for content management, Google Adwords for PPC and Google Analytics for data measurement (to name only a few!).

5. Copywriting

Pretty much all digital marketing roles require you to be able to write good copy. Copy is our word for text. So just as in point 2 your CV and cover letter are demonstrable examples of how good you are at copywriting. Often candidates cannot understand why they haven’t been selected for an interview, and often it comes down to what is contained in their application.

When I recruited marketing roles, I refused to interview people with spelling or grammatical mistakes on their application. Harsh I know! First of all, such mistakes suggest that the applicant can’t write or spell, and secondly it says that they haven’t had the foresight to check their own work or that they are simply lazy (and haven’t run a spell check).

If you struggle with grammar (as many of us do), I recommend you check out a copywriting tool such as the Hemingway editor.

Personal attributes (soft skills)

Let’s start by defining what we mean by personal attributes.

These are soft skills. So where we just talked about the hard, or practical skills you need to get the job done, employers will also be looking for soft skills. And often this will not be explicit in the job description. Where the hard skills will likely be presented in a list, the soft skills may not.

Soft skills are focussed on how you work with and interact with other people; your behaviour. How you react in a certain situation, and how you operate within the working environment.

You may be thinking that digital marketing jobs are nearly always desk jobs and so unlike sales or PR the soft skills will be less important – not so!  Keep in mind that you do have to interact with people and in some very specific ways, which is why it’s going to be key that you can demonstrate you have these personal qualities.

Just like the hard skills, you have soft skills in abundance, and as you progress in life these skills will also get sharper. It’s things like verbal communication, being a team player, being persuasive, learning, educating others… you get the idea.

So let’s take a look at my top 5 soft skills for digital marketing professionals:

1. Coordination and Collaboration:

If you get a job as a digital marketing executive you will have the very important task of getting various departments to work together. You will have to get your developers talking to your creatives talking to your designers, whilst making sure they all talk to you. If you don’t you will get nowhere fast.

Can you think of a time where you collaborated on a project at university? Perhaps you had to get two of your friends who had fallen out to work together? That’s a good example of collaboration. Or perhaps you are part of a band, or a group or membership society? Anything where you operate as a key member of a group is a great example for this one.

2. The Ability to Learn

The digital marketing industry moves at the speed of light. Your ability to learn and your commitment to learning is something that will keep you at the forefront of the industry. The good news? This is easily demonstrated. You could take some additional digital marketing training, you can read classic marketing texts such as the Purple Cow or Growth Hacker Marketing and you can keep up-to-date with industry blogs such as SEOmozDigitalMarketer and of course our very own blog.

3. The Ability to Teach

Hold on your just learning, how could it be your turn to be teacher? Working in digital marketing requires that you are able to succinctly explain what you do to non-digital people. A lot of people won’t know what SEO or PPC mean let alone understand how they work.

So whether you need to explain responsive design to the CEO or the importance of site speed to a designer, you’ll constantly be in teaching mode. Not only do you need to collaborate (point 1) and get everyone listening and liking you, you will have to educate them too.

Think about times when you had to do a presentation. Do you have younger brothers and sisters that you have to teach, or older folk that you’ve shown how to use a computer or smartphone? When pressed you should be able to come up with an example of this. Or weave it into an interview answer if it’s relevant.

4. Persuasion

Marketing folk are selling all of the time, whether we realise it or not! I had to persuade you to read this far. Take a moment to think about how I did that. What link did you click to get here? What content did you read above that made you read-on? How persuasive was it? Did you get this far unwillingly, or did you think, hell yes, I really need to learn this stuff, it’s going to help me get a great job?

All selling requires persuasion. Perhaps you need to persuade a customer to buy your product. Perhaps you need to persuade a client to implement your advice. Or perhaps you just need to persuade your boss that digital marketing is as important as billboard, TV or tube advertising. Whatever the case, persuasion — a soft skill — is required to make digital marketing effective.

Think of the times when you’ve had to be persuasive. Your friend to lend you £50, your course lecturer to give you a deadline extension, your Saturday job to let you have a Saturday off, your project group to follow your idea, your friends to go to the bar you want to go to. Persuasion is used every day in abundance, how good at it are you?

5. Being Adaptable

Adaptability is key to all digital marketing roles.

Most things you try won’t work first time. So recognising that and having the ability to tweak or change the marketing tactic for next time is crucial. It’s all part of the fun and challenge of building digital marketing campaigns.

It’s perhaps not so easy as the others to think of loads of examples of this off the top of your head. Think about your university education. Are there times when you had to change the course of a project because what you thought was going to happen didn’t? Or perhaps you had to change plans at the drop of a hat because something new came up? Perhaps you had to work on something that you had no idea how to do and so you had to adapt and learn quickly? It’s definitely worth giving this one some thought and writing down an example.


If a job ad contains the words adaptable, flexible, persuasive etc then it’s a good idea to have an example of this in your CV and prepared for interview. And when recruiters put their soft skills in a list and are real explicit about it, be prepared to get interview question on a fair few of them.

Digital Marketing is a fantastic and rewarding career path, and one that suits many people. If you feel that you don’t naturally possess all 10 of the skills listed above, don’t lose heart, they can be learned and it may just mean that your next step is to brush up, take some training, get an internship or some work experience. There are also roles such as a content or a social media marketer that are more creative and less technical and roles such as a PPC exec and SEO manager that are more technical and less creative.

Good luck with your job search!


About post author

Hello. My name is Lucy Smith. I recently quit my full-time Marketing Director role at a tech start-up in London, (after 13 years hard graft getting there), in favour of starting up on my own. Why? The journey from graduating with a 2:1 in Media and Cultural Studies to Marketing Director hasn't all been plain sailing, but is has been challenging and tremendous fun. A career path that I heartily recommend to anyone who will listen. Digital Marketing For Graduates is my brain-child. I'd like to give something back, as well as have the experience of starting my own business. I will give it my all. Provide and source the very best information I can, but I know I can't do it all alone. For Digital Marketing For Grads to evolve I will need some help. Please get in touch if you'd like to be part of the idea.
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