I know the feeling.
You’ve studied the marketing whizzes and applied to plenty of open positions, but you can’t seem to get your foot in the door.
You start to worry that your job hunt is just a waste of time. Will you ever have anything to show for it? How can you gain experience when nobody will give you a shot?
The competition in digital marketing is intense but marketing rookies break into the field every day–and you can too. In this blog post, I’m going to share 5 ways to land your first digital marketing job with no experience.
I’ll tell you how I got started, share real-world advice from pros who’ve made it to the top of the ladder, and how you can finally get ahead of the competition (even if it feels impossible).
Why It Pays to Be Curious
What’s the first step to take when you have zero experience? For starters, throw yourself into the marketing game and start learning.
Here’s the thing. I’ve been working in marketing for the last 5 years. But before I got my start in the marketing field, I was at a job I hated. I was desperate to discover what I was really passionate about.
Ask yourself this:
Why marketing? What is about this industry that excites me? Where do I want to end up in the long run?
When I interviewed Rand Fishkin–the co-founder of Moz–and asked his advice on how to land your first marketing job, he shared that having a passion and specialization is a great method for getting hired by marketing companies.
According to Rand Fishkin, you should find something you love and are truly enthusiastic about. This can be a vertical area like an industry.
Here are a few examples:
- Working exclusively with travel companies
- Helping B2B SaaS companies grow
- Building up businesses in e-commerce
- Etc…the possibilities go on.
That’s one way.
From the Future is a marketing agency specializing in Technical SEO and UX.
Rand Fishkin suggests you can take it one step further when it comes to specialization by getting more specific. For example, “I help people in the travel ecommerce industry.”
Another way to specialize is to learn more about a particular marketing tactic or role. In this case, you can specialize in technical SEO, Facebook advertising, or email marketing. You’re niching down deeper and clearly defining your skills.
In the words of Rand Fishkin, “I am the best Facebook advertising person you will ever find…I am the best retention marketer for physical subscription products out there.”
You won’t know what you’re passionate about until you’ve tried it. If you’ve never actually worked in the field and studied books on the topic, it’s going to be difficult for you to define your passion.
And that’s okay. It’s perfectly acceptable to not feel confident about what’s your passions are yet. Try things out anyway because the experience can lead to more opportunities down the road.
As a matter of fact, I first became attracted to marketing because of my interest in psychology.I wasn’t interested in the business side of it so much as the human side. Then it hit me; I realized marketing is really about understanding people. So I started to read tons of books and blogs about marketing.
When you don’t have a clear idea of your interest or skill sets it’s going to be tough interviewing at any company. Companies are hiring you for what you can bring to the table–and they can see through the bullshit.
Quite simply, start with learning.
Don’t Underestimate Your Personal Network
Once you’ve started hitting the books and absorbing everything you need to know to understand the foundations of marketing, it’s time to reach out to your network. We often take the value of our own network for granted.
Let me explain.
I truly believe that trust is the currency of marketing. Without trust, you have nothing. Whether you’re marketing to consumers or businesses, it’s really about building relationships and confidence in your business.
You can’t expect people to trust you as a stranger. When I first pursued marketing I had no credibility or trust. Therefore, the only people who are willing to take a gamble on me were people that I already knew.
You have to start where you’ve already have earned trust. Reach out your network. This could be your uncle, someone you met at a company event two months ago, a former colleague, a professor from university, etc.
Think about it this way.
Referral marketing is the most powerful form of marketing because it’s built on trust and recommendations. When you look at it from this angle, leveraging your personal network is another form of referral marketing when it comes to finding a job.
Don’t be afraid to expand your network over time. But remember, be genuine when you meet people (or you might come off as just another asshole opportunist). Offer to help people whenever you have the chance.
You never know who you’ll meet.
Building relationships with people is important–and can potentially to lead to new opportunities in the future. The truth is, connecting with people has never been easier than it is today. You can find someone on social media in less than 3 seconds – with one simple search.
Just don’t expect strangers to trust you instantly. The key to winning people’s trust is to build credibility.
How do you make that happen? I’ll explain.
How to Build Credibility Without Experience
Right now, you have zero credibility in marketing. So what can you do about it?
Rand Fishkin recommends showing up publicly in some way. He suggests starting a blog, even if it’s a blog that no one reads except for your potential new employer.
On this blog, you should be analyzing, dissecting, and providing smart advice on your particular area of expertise. This works because it gives your interviewer or recruiter a way to visit your work.
They can instantly see what you know and get excited about it. But in order for this strategy to be effective, people should be able to tell from looking at your projects that you know what you’re doing.
“Show up publicly someway. Give an interviewer or a recruiter, a company, a product person a way to go visit your work and see what you know and get excited about it from there.” — Rand Fishkin
A word of caution: I tried this approach but I got it all wrong.
In 2010, I started a blog about marketing but my approach was way off. I was trying to act like a “thought leader” but I was basically just repeating what I learned from other people without giving them credit (obviously this was really unethical).
I see this happening all over the internet today, but I’m sharing it with you in hopes that you’ll learn from my past fuck up.
Later, I took another attempt at building credibility. I got a professional diploma in digital marketing. It was a 12-week program and I did it purely for the credentials.
I couldn’t even afford it.
The bank wouldn’t give me a loan either, so I had to borrow money from a friend in order to take the course. However, after I completed the program I found my first marketing job at a mobile marketing startup. I worked there for 2 years until I left to start my own company (but that’s another story for later).
The point is if you don’t have the experience you’re going to have to demonstrate that you can do the work somehow.
The Truth on Working for Free
I realize that the topic of working for free is controversial, but I’m going to make a statement that might surprise you: I think it’s a good idea.
Hear me out on this one.
You don’t have to work for free forever. In fact, I don’t suggest you do it for very long at all. But if it’s a company you’ve dream of working for, you might consider offering to work for them for free for a short period or to execute a small project.
Work your ass off on that project. If you go above and beyond and blow their mind, you’ll immediately build credibility.
That’s one option.
But working for free doesn’t even mean you must physically show up as an intern at an office. It applies to other methods for building trustworthiness too. Like your portfolio. Don’t have one yet due to your lack of experience? It doesn’t matter.
Make one up.
Create a writing sample and get it to rank high in Google for a focus keyword. You don’t even need to build a website or a blog (though it certainly won’t hurt). Publish your blog post on a platform like Medium.
You can even use this method when you’re applying for a job. Write a spec blog post for the company you want to work for and email it to their marketing manager when you send in your application.
The only thing that matters is that you can prove to people you know what you’re doing.
(Plus, you’ll stand out from everyone else applying because most people just don’t go above and beyond. Doing less won’t get you anywhere.)
Let’s go back to what I said about learning. Take an online course or some form of specialized training. Even though marketing is about humans, the business side of digital marketing uses a lot of software and tech applications.
Take a training in email marketing, SEO, or content marketing.
You don’t have to spend $2000 as I did. HubSpot offers an inbound marketing program for free and you’ll even receive a badge that you can add on your website.
Courses like this popular HubSpot Academy certification can teach you marketing basics in a few short hours.
What Happens When You Put Yourself Out There
The job hunt can feel like a numbers game sometimes. When you’re desperately trying to land a new job, you tend to apply for everything you come across.
Instead, I suggest you only apply for companies that sell products and services that you really love. Before you wind up in a position that isn’t the right fit, dig into the company and their way of thinking.
What do they value? Talk to their current employees if have the chance and try to see if who they say they are is really who they are in the day today. Do your homework beforehand and only apply to companies that share your values.
Jennifer Dziura, the founder of Get Bullish, has another unique approach to job applications.
Listen to this podcast interview with Jennifer Dziura to discover more ways to ignite your dream career.
She runs a business that offers career advice to women and when one of her readers reached out and asked her how to get an internship for marketing museums, Jennifer responded:
“Why go for an internship and compete with a bunch of interns? Why not, instead of just saying, ‘I’m an intern, do what you want with me,’ why not write a proposal for a fricking museum?”
In other words, your dream job might not even exist yet. But you can create it by researching the company, finding the right person to contact, and making the job up by telling them what you can do for THEM.
This is probably the point where you realize shit, this is a lot of work. It’s true. Both of these methods will take time and effort on your part.
But you want to break into marketing to find a job you love, right?
Honestly, the biggest lesson I’ve learned over the last year is on tranquility. In the past, I only chased results. I was impatient and restless. I would start projects with a major vision and quit after a week when I didn’t see those immediate results. Now I trust my process. I know if I continue to put myself out there success is within my reach.
So I’m going to tell you the same. My podcast, Everyone Hates Marketers, has always been my side project. It’s a passion project but it’s led me to many new opportunities.
When I started it, I had been running my own business for nearly two years.
I was really burnt out.
I launched a business that was almost a failure from the start because I had no credibility when I started. Nobody knew who I was. Little did I know that my podcast would lead me to my dream job in marketing.
I interviewed David Darmanin, the CEO of Hotjar. We had a great chat where I dug into his personal life and asked him some tough questions. It was a fantastic conversation and I really had fun. I discovered we shared a lot of the same values.
A few days later, David reached out to me via an email.
He asked me to take a look at the Jobs page of Hotjar because he thought there might be an opportunity there that I would enjoy. Soon after, I found myself in the role of the Content Lead at Hotjar.
Today I still run my podcast for fun. And even better? I get to learn from the marketers that I interview and apply those lessons to my day job.
Key Takeaways on How to Land Your First Digital Marketing Job
- Figure out what it is that attracts you to marketing. Find an area of specialization that you feel passionate about and start learning everything you can on it.
- Utilize your network and reach out to people that know you first. They know the work you’re capable of and you don’t have to work toward winning their trust.
- Consider whether you should work on a project for free. If it’s a dream opportunity or short-work, it might be worth it in the long run. If the project doesn’t lead somewhere in that company, you’ll have some experience.
- Show up publicly to build credibility. Get active online–the possibilities for making a name for yourself today are endless. You can start a blog, podcast, YouTube channel, create a following on your favorite social media platform, etc. Just get out there.
- Can’t find your dream job? Make one up. Research the shit out a company, find out who to contact, and explain what you can do to help them.
- Rand Fishkin’s Step-by-Step Guide to Inbound Marketing
- How to Start a New Career in 4 Original, Actionable Ways
- Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got: 21 Ways You Can Out-Think, Out-Perform, and Out-Earn the Competition by Jay Abraham
- The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life by Rosamund Zander
- Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazi
I’m a no-fluff marketer living in Dublin, Ireland (but yeah, I’m French).
I believe you can treat people the way you’d like to be treated and still generate results without using sleazy, aggressive, hack-y marketing. This is why I’ve started Everyone Hates Marketers – a no-fluff, actionable marketing podcast – as a side project in April 2017.
I’m also the Content Lead at Hotjar – a powerful way to analyse people’s behaviour on your website or app and understand how you can improve their experience.