This blog post topic is really the bread and butter of our site, so a) I need to do a bloody brilliant job and b) I thought before I just start writing I should take a look at how well the topic of ‘how to get a graduate job in digital marketing’ is covered already, and make sure I give you advice that is more thorough, more up-to-date and especially accurate and helpful.
This is the post that came top in a Google search and it’s from Prospects (you know the career guys), and whilst the information is accurate, it is fairly common-sense stuff that I expect you know already. And, frankly, the last thing you need to shine in this industry is common-sense. You need to standout and be different. You need to be creative.
So with that in mind, I’ve taken my 12 years industry expertise working in digital marketing, combined it with my experience recruiting for graduate jobs in digital marketing on to my various marketing teams (I counted over 20 recruits under my belt in total) and sprinkled it with some feedback from this year’s cohort of grads trying fervently to bag a fabulous graduate job in digital marketing.
So here goes…
The ultimate guide to getting a graduate job in digital marketing.
A good place to start is with, you, the grads, and the challenges you face. I ran a survey to the grads of 2016 and the most common responses fell into four categories:
- My CV isn’t good enough
- Companies usually want you to have experience
- I’m lacking the necessary digital marketing skills
- I don’t understand enough about the industry and the roles
So I’m going to take these four problem areas, one by one, unpick them and dispel any myths. All you’re going to see here is a shed load of practical advice and help to get you well on your way to bagging a great graduate job in digital marketing.
1. CV – relevance, relevance, relevance!
I’m only going to say this once. Are you listening? Useless, irrelevant information wastes valuable time.
Here in lies the problem with so many graduates who apply for graduate job in digital marketing and don’t hear back. In the survey I ran, most grads said they weren’t worried about their CV.
And here’s the big fat slap in the face – this is one of the main problems if not THE MAIN PROBLEM why most grads don’t hear back from recruiters.
In my experience too many entry-level CVs are jam packed with irrelevant information, vague descriptions and far, far too much text – yawn! If you are applying for a role in digital marketing right now, go and check that yours is short, succinct and to the point – before you hit send.
Irrelevant information at the very top of your CV
Here I’m listing genuine things that I’ve seen appearing at the very top of page 1 of a CV applying for an entry-level digital marketing role (and my responses to them – sorry in advance if you think it sounds harsh):
‘I have a 2:1 in Mathematics’– “Great so up until yesterday you wanted a financial career. No pile.”
‘I have three months work experience as a travel agent and am now looking for a challenging environment to develop a career in digital marketing.’ – “Not with me you’re not”
‘Picking and packing of products from stock for store delivery nationwide’ – “How does this help me? No pile”
‘I speak English, Hungarian, French and German’ – “I admire people who can speak lots of languages but do I need a linguist for this digital marketing role?”
‘Occasional dog walking for my neighbour’ – “Huh?”
The point I’m trying to make is that you can say all sorts of things at the top of your CV, so why choose to put something that is totally irrelevant and not what the job description is asking for?
Go through the job description with a highlighter pen and highlight the things the employer is asking for. Then work out if you possess any of those skills. And if you do, pop it at the very top of your CV.
If you really can’t think of anything relevant at all then maybe you shouldn’t apply as you will only be wasting your time and the recruiters time.
Lists of skills and experience (that mean nothing!)
This is another pet hate of mine. Too many skills listed without anything to back them up. Sure, I can easily write that I have all this, so can you, so can anyone…
- Commercially savvy
- Team player
- Excellent communicator
- Strong eye for detail
- Creative thinker
- Social media aficionado
…but do you believe me?
First of all, the list often does not match the list provided in the job spec – duh! That is the easiest thing to get right. Second, there is no proof. How about creating some examples on your CV that read more like this:
Commercially savvy: From a young age I’ve enjoyed business; I set up and ran a series of parties to generate income which involved marketing, sales and a high degree of organisation.
Team player: I worked with a team of 5 students to produce this video: youtube.com/video at university and it was awarded 72% mark equivalent to a first degree.
Strong eye for detail: I edited page titles for company name’s website during my work experience, ensuring they were spelt correctly and relevant to search.
In a marketing role it’s common place to provide proof of your claims. You will often hear the saying “what’s in it for me?”. Explain to the recruiter what is in it for them. Why should they hire you, and what experience and skills do you have that they want. Give them the proof. Simples.
Longer is not better
For 3 reasons longer is not better:
- Longer gives the recruiter too much to read. We have hundreds of these things to sift through. Give me the short version, and I might actually read it all.
- Longer smacks of desperation (sorry!) It says I’m including everything I can think of just in case you find it interesting.
- Longer shows you do not have the ability to pick out the useful bits or to sell yourself well.
Two pages is more than ample. You are a beginner, and I don’t mean to be rude, but there is only so much relevant experience you can have so far in your career. So don’t write reams about stacking shelves in a supermarket, or the work experience placement you did working for a travel agent, or the dog walking you volunteer to do for your neighbour. (I’ve seen it all!)
Bonus: Download a free CV template that shows you exactly how to showcase your experience so a recruiter takes notice.
The merits of your degree
Now your degree is something to be proud of. I’m not going to take that away from you. You should absolutely include it on your CV. But it isn’t the be all and end all. You cannot and should not rest on your laurels and think your 2:1 in English or even Marketing will get you through to an interview for a graduate job in digital marketing.
The truth is, a degree says that you can knuckle down and study a bit (maybe 12 hours of lectures a week, or was it 6?) It also says that you are probably a pretty social person who enjoyed exploring the various pubs and clubs of whatever city you studied in, and stayed up late to cram for exams to scrape your 2:1.
I went to university too. As did most of the recruiters and marketing directors you will meet at interview.
We understand only too well that you don’t actually learn anything that means you can hit the ground running in your first graduate job in digital marketing – straight from uni.
We know that you haven’t been taught how to set up a Facebook ad campaign, or optimise a landing page… even if you have a marketing or media degree. That is why the subject of your degree doesn’t matter all that much to us.
And it’s the number one reason why you hear employers saying you have to have work experience to get a graduate job in digital marketing.
2. Getting the coveted work experience
“Companies usually want some sort of experience so they don’t have to teach you everything however if you’re a graduate and this is your first role, how can you get experience if no one will give you a chance?”
This is direct quote from one of my recent grad survey respondents. I get it. It’s not easy. The obvious thing to do is to try to get an unpaid work experience placement or unpaid internship. And some of you can’t afford to work for free, and even if you can the competition is fierce for these positions, And yes it’s likely that the internship recruiter will also take the person with the most relevant experience and skills. This is where I think you need to get creative. Here are a few ideas for you:
Create a blog
It’s easy and free to create a blog depending on what platform you choose. I’d suggest using WordPress which is a free, open source technology. There are hundreds of WordPress tutorials to get you started, and free themes that will help you get a professional looking design. If you put your mind to it, I reckon you could get a blog live within a couple of days with minimal cost. All you’d need to pay for is the domain which can be as little as £1-2. I use GoDaddy for my domains.
Create an online CV
The obvious place to do this is on LinkedIn. But if you are applying for a creative role, why not put your talent to work and do something more creative? In today’s digital world, a personal website is a secret weapon when you are job hunting. And having one as a grad who is just starting out could really put you ahead of the competition and is arguably as important (if not more important) than keeping your cover letter up-to-date. A good place to start is Squarespace. They have beautifully designed templates including personal website templates and they run a free trial for 14 days.
Offer to guest blog
Why not contact organisations who take guest blogs and offer to write for them. Perhaps you have a particular hobby or interest that you are expert in, or if not perhaps you could contact sites whose audience are graduates (like us), and offer to write about your experience as a student or grad. We welcome graduate guest posts as many other sites do.
3. Brush up on (or get) digital marketing skills
Aside from getting work experience, there are a number of other ways you can pick up some digital marketing skills. The obvious one is training. Now, you could spend an arm and a leg doing digital marketing training at the IDM, the CIM or the DMI, but I’d recommend you pause for thought for three reasons:
- These accredited bodies tend to teach you theory (not practical digital marketing)
- They cost £1000s of pounds
- They tend to be taught by teachers (not digital marketing professionals)
And lastly, (not to blow our own trumpet too hard) we offer training here that I’d much prefer you do. It’s intensely practical, affordable and fast and you can do it at your own leisure from the comfort of your home. But I’d be misleading you if I said we were the only ones to offer practical training, here are three for you to compare (including us!):
Digital Marketing For Graduates
Our training is currently free of charge, as we are in test mode. The idea behind all of our training courses is to help graduates get their first job in digital marketing. And not just any job, a job they enjoy and will feel fulfilled in.
So the training covers every step of the job hunting journey and also teaches you digital marketing skills. We do both because we believe you need to learn both in order to get the best job. And all the content is crafted in a simple and down to earth way. Often grads have loads of great experience under their belt, but have done a poor job on their CV or cover letter. Head over to our first course in Search Marketing to nab yourself a free place if this sounds interesting.
Google Digital Garage
The Digital Garage offer free tutorials in digital marketing. The content is really tailored towards business professionals rather than students or graduates, probably because their end game is to get you spending marketing pounds through their products, but all that said, this training is free and it’s practical and easy to understand.
Neil’s Recruitment is an interesting one, and I really, really like what he’s doing. He places grads into digital marketing agencies and doesn’t make a penny from graduate recruitment. He also provides some helpful training videos to get you started.
Use social media
You will be as proficient as the next person on social media, I’m sure, but there’s one tool when you are looking for a job that really shows you know what you are talking about. It’s LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a great way to a) get noticed by recruiters and b) to show recruiters that you have digital marketing nous, through having an optimised profile.
To really stand out, you have to craft your message and pull it through the whole profile. LinkedIn have a handy Profile Strength widget to tell you how good your profile is. Nothing less than All-Star should do. You may be the perfect candidate for the job, but if your profile doesn’t communicate that, the recruiters won’t look at you.
Here are 5 LinkedIn activities you can do right now to improve your profile:
- Connect to recruiters
And all potentially useful people. The larger your network on LinkedIn the more likely you will hear about the jobs, and the greater your chance is of connecting to people who can help you with a career move. Remember you don’t just see updates from your network, you see updates from your second and third degree connections.
2. Have a strong profile photo
Taking a professional quality photo is easy. Make sure you have a plain background, and it is a headshot of you from shoulders up. Without a photo people don’t take your profile seriously.
3. Don’t have a boring/generic headline
Imagine the headline is the headline for an online article. A newspaper wouldn’t say ‘Marketing Graduate seeking Employment’ it would say something with more keywords in it. People find you on LinkedIn using keywords. So use your headline words wisely. I’d suggest 5-7 words and perhaps something like this: Marketing Graduate with Passion For Digital Marketing.
4. Include the right keywords
As with any kind of optimisation, it’s all about keywords. If you want to optimise a website you include your target keywords in the copy on the page, a part of Search Engine Optimisation. If you want to boost an app in the App Store, you include target keywords in the App Store profile (known as Appstore Optimisation) and the same is true for your profile on LinkedIn. Have a think about what recruiters might be looking for and include those words and phrases in your headline and profile text.
5. Make sure your profile is public
You’d be amazed how many people haven’t enabled their profile. To do this go to account settings from the picture of you in the top right. Making sure you can be found is key!
Practise using free digital marketing tools
All digital marketers use tools of all sorts. Most are paid tools, but some are free or have freemium models (where you don’t pay for limited usage or the first month). Being familiar with how some of these tools work and watching the tutorial videos on their sites is a good way to teach yourself some digital marketing skills. Here are 4 tools that are free or have a freemium option and what they are used for that you could try out:
Email marketing: Mailchimp has a free forever plan that allows you to create and send up to 12,000 emails per month to up to 2,000 subscribers. You don’t have put a credit card in to use it, and you can get started straight way. How about creating a beautiful html email in Mailchimp and sending that with a link to your downloadable CV to apply for a role. They also have a great blog that’ll teach you all there is to know about email marketing.
Data and Analytics: Google Analytics is Google’s free analytics tool. The only snag with this is that you need a website to hook it to so that you have some data to look at. But other than that it’s free and you will undoubtedly be required to use it in your first role so definitely worth having a look at. You will need a Google account to use it (you can set one up here) and they have their own support and training videos.
Pay-per-click advertising: Google Adwords & Keyword Tool
As with Analytics you need a Google Account to use this tool, but you can go in and create ads and mess around with certain features such as the keyword tool, without adding a credit card or paying for ads.
Social media marketing: Hootsuite
You can use Hootsuite’s free plan to start to manage your social media accounts. You can have up to 3 social profiles, schedule content, and look at analytics. They also have a good free resources section with social media video training once you are logged in.
If you like these tips on how to get digital marketing experience why not tell your friends about them so they can benefit too?
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4. The digital marketing industry and the roles
The wow factor – surprise and delight the recruiting manager
When you start working in a marketing department you will hear people talking about how to ‘surprise and delight’ customers. Well, that goes for you too. How can you surprise and delight a potential employer. If you truly manage this you will definitely be remembered (hurdle 1), you will undoubtedly get an interview (hurdle 2) and you will definitely be in the running to get the job (hurdle 3). Thats what known as a slam dunk!
Here are some creative examples from job applicants that I’ve experienced or heard of in my years of recruiting for marketing roles to get your juices flowing:
Applying for a role at a digital agency – you could create an interactive CV. Here’s a great example of an interactive CV
Applying for a role at a games company – this chap did rather well to create a game where the character runs around and unlocks details about him
Applying for a role at a craft beer start-up – the applicant brewed and sent in some craft beer alongside his CV.
You get the idea. These are perhaps some more extreme examples where a lot of time, thought and effort has gone in at the very start. But if you think about it for a second, how many applications do you think these people would have made before they got an interview? If you put the effort in at the beginning perhaps you won’t have to spend days and days sending off hundreds of applications, AND then you can afford to be picky.
I’d love to hear about any of your ideas that have got you noticed. Post them in the comments at the end (or email me!)
Now this is important. Always be picky. Don’t be desperate.Try to work out exactly what type of graduate job in digital marketing you want; one that suits your skills and one that you think you will enjoy. Make a list of target companies that you would like to work for, and then think about what you could send them to get you noticed. You don’t always have to apply in response to a job ad. Many companies will take speculative applications, and will meet you if you impress them, even if they haven’t got an open role.
Learn about the digital marketing industry and the types of roles
“Despite having done many marketing modules, I have no idea how I would be involved in the marketing activities of a company and specifically the execution of a project.”
“I’d like to have a greater understanding of which companies offer bespoke digital marketing roles e.g. agencies are not pushed much through university.”
These are two direct quotes from graduates who completed my survey. So it seems that a lack of industry knowledge is a sticking point, and could well be something that holds you back and makes you feel less confident when applying for roles. Let’s look at how you could brush up on your industry knowledge, without experiencing workingin the industry:
Follow key industry people
There are fair few people that I recommend you follow and read all their stuff. For starters it’s great interview fodder and will show anyone who’s listening that you are making the effort to learn your stuff. In no particular order they are:
Neil Patel is the founder of Crazy Egg, Quicksprout and Kissmetrics and his talents lie in analytics and conversion. His blog is full of actionable advice written in a really easy to understand way. He also has some very different opinions and thoughts to the masses which makes him a stand out marketer.
Rand Fishkin is the founder of Moz.com, possibly the most respected and read blog that started about SEO and now covers many aspects of digital marketing and growing a business. He also authored the book Inbound Marketing and SEO: Insights from the Moz Blog.
Ryan Deiss is co-founder and CEO of DigitalMarketer.com. Ryan is a marketer that makes it his business to practise what he preaches. Along with his team at DigitalMarketer they have spent $15 million on marketing campaigns in the last 3 years. He is also author of the Invisible Selling Machine (a really practical book about setting up and running automated marketing campaigns).
Tim Ferriss is an usual one for a digital marketing list. His advice is mostly about productivity (which, let’s face it, we can all do with some help with every now and again) and he is known for being an investor and lifestyle entrepreneur, and perhaps most known for his best-selling book The 4-Hour Work Week (which if you haven’t read I’d highly recommend.) The reason he is on here is for the more entrepreneurial among you, he is really inspirational and will help you work smarter!
Read key industry blogs
I’m not going to give you too many to start with as you won’t be able to keep up with them all. These ones are picked because they are easy to understand and include some beginner material as well as being sufficiently well known that a name drop in an interview will set you in good stead.
Moz.com – Calling all SEO superstars. If you want to work in search engine optimisation you HAVE TO READ THIS BLOG!
TypePad – the blog by Seth Godin. He writes short and pithy blogs on all things marketing. His insight is second to none. If you haven’t read one of his earlier books The Purple Cow you should. It’s one of the modern classic marketing texts. And every marketer worth their salts has read it!
Copyblogger – one of the original and best. If you need to improve your copywriting – (think creating an amazing cover letter) – these are your people.
Digitalmarketer.com – the blog and the podcasts are packed with utterly practical how-to digital marketing information. They test everything they teach albeit primarily in a B2B market, but well worth keeping up with.
Econsultancy – one of the industry stalwarts. Econsultancy run a lot of research and publish their findings in industry reports. If you don’t read this now, you will certainly be recommended it for something or other when you start working.
Hubspot.com – this is the sales and marketing blog from marketing automation software company Hubspot. I’d recommend subscribing as they send regular emails with 2-3 new posts every week and guaranteed you will want to read at least one of them. Oh, and they know a thing or two about subject lines. You will click I promise.
DigitalMarketingForGrads.com I couldn’t very well write a list and not include our blog. Now we haven’t been around as long as any of these veteran blogs, neither do we have the kudos they carry (yet!) but we are unique and written just for grads. We provide you with digital marketing advice that all pertains to helping you get the very best graduate job in digital marketing. All of our information is written with a beginner digital marketer in mind, and it is completely jargon free. We hope very much that you find it useful.
So, what’s it like working in digital marketing?
I would say it’s one of the best industries in the world (if not THE best!) If you have a curious mind and a passion for getting results it could well be a great career path for you. Here are 5 characteristics I imagine you will experience in a graduate job in digital marketing.
- Digital/Tech Focussed
Maybe it’s stating the obvious but a graduate job in digital marketing will be heavily digital and technology focussed. All of the tools you will use will be online tools, most of the work you will do will be online, on a computer. So if this is your worst nightmare, and you just prefer talking to people, then maybe consider a career in PR!
But seriously, if you struggle with technology, and you are not a natural, then you may want to consider doing something else.
2. Cutting edge
We’ve talked a lot about how fast the industry moves, and that is not going to change any time soon, so whatever digital marketing discipline you go for you will be required to keep up to date with the changes that happen across the various tool and platforms you will be using, and also across the industry generally.
In some roles you are at the coal face and responsible for sales. Typically in digital roles, there is no longer a sales person between you and the customer. It’s your job to attract them in the first place and close the sale. It can be really scary to be ultimately responsible for sales. It’s pretty unheard of in your first role, but certainly later if you stick with and get promoted, you could be directly responsible for sales. Can you handle that pressure? Some people can, others can’t. It’s not like the old days where the sales team were responsible for sales and the marketing team would act as the support department. Today with the growth of the internet the marketers find the audience AND deliver the sales.
4. Young team environment
The nature of digital means that your closest colleagues, the ones doing the digital jobs are likely to be younger because the skills are new. That’s not to say that is always the case or that older people are not capable of digital jobs, but it is more likely. So your first graduate job in digital marketing can often a good way to meet people, make friends and go for beers on a Friday. I’ve found working in marketing to be extremely social.
Above all else, if you take to it like a duck to water, it will be fun. Working with like-minded, social people, and in an environment where everything is tested to see what works, can give you a real buzz.
Ok so now let’s look at the types of graduate jobs in digital marketing individually.
Types of graduate jobs in digital marketing
There are loads of different job titles that you will hear. Some fancy like “growth hacker” and some more normal sounding like Digital Marketing Assistant or PPC Executive. One of the key distinctions to make is whether it’s a specialist role i.e. you will specialise in a specific discipline such as pay-per-click advertising or email marketing or whether it’s a more broad general role where you will do a bit of everything.
The typical characteristics of a general digital marketing role are:
- You will work what’s know as in-house (not agency)
- You will work as part of a larger marketing team
- It’s likely to be a start-up, or a small or medium sized business (5-200 employees)
- You will do a bit of everything and work across all the marketing channels e.g. email marketing, search engine optimisation, PPC, mobile, commerce etc
- You will learn on the job, and fast!
This type of broad role is great if you think you will prefer to work for a smaller company, and you would like to get some broad experience across digital marketing as your first job. If you eventually want to specialise, don’t leave it too long though, as specialist roles when you’ve been in the industry for a couple of years can start to get a bit more fussy and specific about your experience. I actually never specialised so have always straddled all disciplines.
If you never specialise your career path will usually take you on to become a marketing manager or director responsible for overall company strategy.
The typical characteristics of a specialist digital marketing role are:
- You will either work in a digital marketing agency, or in house at a large corporate company
- You will work alongside people doing the same thing as you as part of a specialist marketing team
- It’s likely to a larger business (200+ employees) and could well be a global business
- You will be trained in one discipline and you will specialise in that discipline e.g.
- PPC account executive (specialises in looking after clients PPC campaigns)
- Email marketing assistant (specialises in creating and sending email campaigns for the business)
- Social media marketing assistant (specialises in managing Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts for the business)
- You will likely be put on some sort of training programme when you start.
A specialist role is typically great if you want good earning potential quickly and you want to work for a larger company with employment benefits. If you feel this route is for you, it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about the discipline before applying for roles so that you ace your interview and excel in the role when you start. Remember if you specialise but then decide you want a more broad role, you will have to prove that you have working knowledge and experience of the other disciplines. This route could take you on to head up the specialist team and even run an agency one day.
Now it’s over to you…
Phew! That was a pretty mammoth task. Hopefully you found this guide intensely practical and helpful. I’d love to hear from you.
What do you now think about tailoring your CV and creating a WOW! impression?
Perhaps you have a question about one of the steps in this process, or perhaps you’d like to share your experience with us.
Either way I’ll be reading all comments and answering all questions.
Good luck in getting your graduate job in digital marketing.
And if you’re feeling generous, we’d love a share 😉