So, You Want A Career in Marketing?

Almost every week, without fail, I get this question. It is ever present in my Instagram DMs, my LinkedIn messages, my Twitter feed, and at almost every keynote I present.

Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media, getting ready to speak to students on a career in marketing.

Shama Hyder, CEO of Zen Media, getting ready to speak to students on a career in marketing.


“How do I get started with a career in marketing?”

You might think this question comes from college students or recent graduates, but more often than not, it comes from seasoned professionals who are looking to change career tracks. And, the truth is, it doesn’t matter where you’re starting because my advice to anyone who wants a career in this industry is very similar. Here’s what you need to do.

1) Create your own curriculum.  Marketing is part art and part science and to get really good at it, you need to create your own curriculum. It doesn’t matter if you have a degree in marketing, most schools can’t keep up with how quickly this industry evolves. It may provide you with some solid basics, but you will need to commit to crafting a curriculum which is current.

This will serve two purposes. One, it will actually teach you what you need to know, and two, it will make it easier when you interview for a job in the field when all your experience may have been in a completely different and unrelated field. Be sure to track your own curriculum. Books you’ve read, conferences you’ve attended, certifications you’ve obtained. Heck, create an addendum sheet to your resume which actually showcases your custom curriculum. Here are some resources which can get you started.

    • Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Certification Course – it’s free, takes three hours to complete, and there are even quizzes at the end of each section.
    • Google’s Applied Digital Skills Training – Digital marketing is more than just coming up with clever campaigns. Being able to research, project manage and keep teams in the loop are crucial skills. Take advantage of Google’s free training. You can also sign up for their certification which includes a two-hour exam.
    • General Assembly – While not free, the digital marketing courses offered in person and online can be very effective if you want something a little more structured but without the years-long commitment.
    • LinkedIn Courses – There are some great courses by multiple renowned experts here. Commit to completing a course per day. They are quick and very soon you will build up an arsenal of skills. There are courses on everything from Google Analytics to LinkedIn basics.
    • Take an Acting Workshop – While it may seem odd that I’m adding this as a resource to a career in marketing, being able to present your ideas in person is key whether trying to land a job or win over a client. An acting workshop can teach you a lot about performance, voice modulation, and overall presentation. I am a big fan of Tom Todoroff’s Studio, and he offers weekend seminars around the country.  They are extremely reasonably priced. Catch one. You’ll be glad you did.
    • Books to Read – There are so many excellent books in this category that I found it hard to narrow it down, but here’s where I recommend you start. Please note this is a starting point and not a comprehensive list.
      • Reinventing You by Dorie Clark. It’s a fast read and will help you create your narrative as you shift industries or even if you are trying to land your first job.
      • New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott. It will help you grasp how the marketing world has truly evolved.
      • Blue Ocean Strategy by Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim. This isn’t about marketing as much as it is about differentiating which at the end of the day is what gets your product or service noticed. It’s how you create buzz in a world of busy, and if you can do that…you have a future in marketing.
      • The Zen of Social Media Marketing (4th edition) and Momentum by yours truly. Start with the Zen of Social Media because it is meant to be a primer and it is already used to teach social media in college classes around the world. Momentum is the next book which covers more the principles of digital marketing in today’s landscape. Definitely more intermediate to advanced.
  • Real World Conferences – Start to attend marketing conferences. Not only will you learn a ton, but you will also get to network with people from the industry. The list of conferences is ever growing but I am partial to Social Media World (by Social Media Examiner) in San Diego and SXSW Interactive in Austin. Both these conferences have a ton of great content and excellent speakers. You are sure to find something which appeals to you. I’ve spoken at both before and find the audience to be a good mix of advanced marketers and those looking to enter the field.

2) Use the “Briefcase Technique.” I like Ramit Sethi’s briefcase technique when interviewing for a job, and I especially like it when you are applying for a job you don’t have a lot of experience doing. In short, it’s where you wow the employer by showing them your research and how you can apply it to their needs. After all, they are hiring you to solve a problem or multiple problems.  Imagine opening a literal briefcase you’ve brought to the table and impressing them with what you’ve discovered. This is 90% more than most applicants do. They simply haven’t taken the time to really think about what they’d bring to a company aside from their “positive attitude and work ethic.” Bring more. Bring what you’ve learned and more importantly, how you’ve already begun to apply it for the benefit of the company you are interviewing with. Bonus points because it shows you know how to market yourself. *Just a small caveat here, combine this technique with a humble attitude. You want to come across as “This is just one outsider’s perspective but I thought this would be helpful and if it is, nothing would make me happier” vs. “I’ve barely begun but let me tell you why I know better than you who’s been at this much longer…”

3) Leverage your Current Company. This is one of my favorite strategies especially if you work for a bigger company. Here are some simple ways you can do this. One, see if your company offers an internal certification or program. Even if outside your department, just ask if you can still petition to take it. I’ve never known an employer to turn down someone proactively looking to grow. Most people just never ask. Two, get to know your colleagues in the marketing department. Invite them to lunch and see what you can learn from their experiences. As a bonus, have them introduce you to the agencies and partners your company currently works with. You will get a warm introduction and meet a potential future employer. Three, use your desire to switch careers as a catapult while adding value to your current employer. For example, launch a marketing symposium or host a young professional’s luncheon. Most companies have a budget for just such a thing. You just have to do some legwork…and paperwork. If you do this correctly, you can even invite someone you admire to keynote. Not only does it create value for your company, but it also allows you to network and form relationships with key people in the industry while creating an opportunity for them as well. I’ve done many keynotes like this where the inviting party became a close friend and mentee.

4) Offer a Non-Profit your Services. This is a particularly good idea if your learning has been limited to book learning, and you want to gain some real-world experience. Many non-profits are too small to hire marketing help and would welcome a volunteer. If you feel you can’t commit too many hours, approach it from a campaign basis. You can run the marketing campaign for the next blood bank run or fundraiser. Your help will be appreciated and you will get to learn from your mistakes without the harsh light of judgment.

5) Commit to a Student Mindset – for Life.  Of all the industries you could choose, marketing is one of the most rapidly evolving ones of our time. If you are looking for a career where you can learn one skill set and be set for life (more or less), then this isn’t the field for you. After a decade of being in this field, I still find myself devoting a good two or more hours each day to just learning & re-learning. What worked six months ago may not work tomorrow. Some people thrive in this environment, whereas others find it overwhelming. There are no right or wrong choice here, but if you are going to embrace the field of marketing, be prepared to be a student for life.


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