If you’re here, you probably know that digital marketing careers are one of the fastest-growing careers you can get. Marketing careers, including digital marketing careers, are expected to grow by 10% over the next few years (double the average growth of other professions).
The odds are in your favor, but getting that first entry-level job in any career is a challenge, especially if you don’t have professional experience under your belt.
How are you supposed to get professional experience if no job gives you a chance? I hear this a lot in other industries. Yet, the truth is, there are people getting jobs at companies as digital marketers with little to no professional experience all the time.
What’s great about digital marketing as a career is that the industry is always changing, and the demand for marketing specialists continues to grow. Platforms such as Google AdWords and Facebook Ads change their platforms, new platforms such as Tik Tok emerge, and the industry is forced to adapt for the better.
This isn’t a career path, where you need an advanced degree to get an entry-level job. The jobs in digital marketing are so dynamic that colleges couldn’t possibly offer a 4-year degree.
Option 1: Get a Certificate
Although there are no 4-year degrees in Digital Marketing, there are certificate programs offered by some universities. Certificate programs, like the one offered at the UC Davis Digital Marketing Bootcamp (I was a T.A. there), are popping up all over the country.
They cover marketing plans, free and paid traffic sources, group projects, and more in just a few months. The only downside is it costs a pretty penny.
Here’s a secret: certificate programs are fine, but they’re not necessary if you can teach yourself digital marketing skills.
Option 2: Teach Yourself
I was one someone who made my way into the digital marketing industry by creating my own experience in Google Ads and SEO. I’ll be sharing exactly how I did this in this article.
In the guide below, I’m going to show you how you can get your first digital marketing job with no formal experience. Three years ago, I was in your shoes, and, after putting in some work, I landed my first job.
I’ve outlined the steps I took to achieve this with no marketing degree. If you don’t have a college degree, a related business/marketing degree, or you’re ready for a career change; this guide is for you!
The Step-By-Step Guide to Getting Your First Job as a Digital Marketer
1. Decide Your Digital Marketing Career Discipline
Did you know there are different disciplines in digital marketing? Just like mathematics has different disciplines (i.e., Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Differential Equations, etc.), so does digital marketing.
Here are just a few digital marketing disciplines :
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM): involves managing Google and Bing Ads
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO): involves ranking websites for keywords (search phrases) in Google & other search engines
- Content Marketing: involves planning content for the blog, video platforms, and marketing campaigns
- Social Media Marketing: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat advertising and posting
- Email Marketing: involves communicating, nurturing, and selling to leads and buyers via email marketing
These disciplines are by far the most in-demand job openings you’ll find on job boards (and the most well paid).
To increase your odds of long-term success in getting your first digital marketing job, I recommend learning 1-2 of the disciplines above well. Once you start becoming a pro at one discipline, companies will start competing to hire you.
To understand which digital marketing discipline fits you best, you should ask yourself the following questions:
- What can I see myself doing?
- Am I more analytical or creative?
- What are my strengths and existing skillset?
These questions will help narrow down your career path in digital marketing.
Typically, if you’re more analytical minded, you can thrive as an SEO Specialist and/or a Paid Search Specialist (AKA. PPC Specialist). If you like working with meaningful numbers (i.e., traffic, conversions, CTR, cost/lead, ROI, etc.) that can have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line, these positions are for you.
If you’re more on the creative side, Content Marketing positions and Social Media Specialists are excellent positions. Content Marketing is great for people who want to create written or video content for companies. Creative “right-brain” individuals do well as Social Media Specialists.
Especially those who become social media advertising experts (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc.) because they have to think outside the box to capture people’s attention in today’s age where people’s attention spans are at an all-time low.
This step involves knowing thy self. When I went through this step, I knew I was going to do well as a Paid Search Specialist or an SEO Specialist because I came from an analytical background, and it had always been one of my strengths.
Once you have a good idea of what discipline(s) of digital marketing, you’d like to pursue, move on to the next step.
Note: there is a job title called “Digital Marketing Specialist.” This role involves helping the marketing team with content marketing, SEO, paid search, social media, email marketing, and more. These positions are suitable for entry-level positions, but eventually, you want to become a master at your discipline. The rewards are worth it.
2. Learn the Fundamentals of Your Discipline with Online Courses
Now that you have a better understanding of your digital marketing career path, it’s time to learn the hard skills you’ll add to your resume.
There are thousands of courses that teach digital marketing. You can find them on Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera, and other platforms.
Below, I’ve divided my list of course resources into four segments: SEO, Paid Search, Social Media, and Social Media Marketing.
Note: A few of the resources below have free certifications that look great on a resume. You should go through the course(s) and get them if it applies to your discipline.
Search Engine Marketing Resources
Google Ads Search Certification (Free) – Adding this certification to your resume can help separate you from applicants who don’t have it. This is Google’s free training on how to use Google Ads to get traffic to websites via their search network. You’ll learn how the pay-per-click text advertising works, which is the network most employers hire for. I recommend taking the display network certification training afterward if you want to stand out. You can find more Google Ads certification training here.
Bing Ads Certification (Free) – Microsoft Ads, formerly known as Bing Ads, also has a paid advertising platform very similar to Google’s. If you can, get this free certificate too. Although Bing/Microsoft’s search engine has fewer searches, it still works for internet users who haven’t switched to Google Chrome/Firefox.
Digital Marketing Career Blueprint (Paid Course) – This is a paid course that holds you step-by-step from learning digital marketing, all the way to applying and interviewing tactics for your job. I listed it under this section of resources because it has the most lessons on Search Engine Marketing. Seth, the course creator, was a film major who got his first job as a PPC analyst and got a six-figure work-from-home position in a few short years. I took Seth’s Digital Marketing Career Blueprint course (review link) and highly recommend taking it.
Ultimate Guide to Google Ads (Book) – This book has been in print for years and is held in high regard by paid search specialists. Studying this book before and after you get your first job can be beneficial to your SEM career.
HubSpot Inbound Marketing (Free) – Hubspot is a leading Customer Relationship Management tool used by thousands of businesses. This helps you, as the SEM specialist, understand where you fit in, in the grand scope of a digital marketing campaign that’s responsible for improving lead acquisition and other KPIs.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Resources
MOZ SEO Learning Center (Free Course) – SEO is all about getting traffic from search engines by ranking websites on the first page of Google. To do that, you need to understand keyword research, searcher intent, on-page optimization, technical SEO, and link building. MOZ has compiled a comprehensive one-hour course that teaches you the fundamentals of SEO.
Google Analytics Academy (Free Course) – Google Analytics is a free platform that’s once integrated with your website, can provide extremely valuable data. Knowing how what pages bring in the most traffic, bounce rate, time on page, CTR, conversion rates, and other organic metrics come from Google Analytics, but you have to know how to use Google Analytics at least at a basic level.
SEO 2020 (Book) – Writing a book on SEO, where algorithms change so quickly, is a tricky business. However, this book captures the fundamentals of search engine optimization. Make sure to get the most up-to-date version.
Social Media Marketing Resources
Facebook Ads & Facebook Marketing Mastery Guide (Paid Course) – This is a course I took on Facebook Advertising after I got my first job. It’s beginner-friendly and packed with everything you need to know about Facebook Ad funnels, installing your pixel, creating your ad, and scaling your ad campaign.
Hootsuite Academy (Free Course) – If you’re going to be managing a company’s social media platforms and it’s content marketing, you’re most likely going to be using a social media management platform such as Hootsuite. This is a free course that offers a certification.
The above lists of books and courses will develop your skills and knowledge in the discipline(s) you’ve chosen in the previous step. The courses that offer free certifications will let your resume stand out among other applicants.
Email Marketing Resources
Strategic Email Marketing Course by GetResponse (Free) – This is an excellent course by GetResponse that teaches you email list building, effective email marketing, email and drip automation, statistics, and tips. Email marketing is an essential part of online marketing campaigns for SEM, SEO, and social media marketing.
3. Start Building Your “Experience e-Portfolio”
Now that you have some digital marketing knowledge under your belt, it’s time to apply that knowledge with meaningful projects that will demonstrate that you’re capable of the jobs you’ll be applying for.
To get started, you need to create an e-portfolio you can easily share (Google Drive works great for this). Your portfolio will consist of different projects that demonstrate your competence in SEM, SEO, or Social Media Marketing.
You can gain project experience by helping out friends or family that have small businesses, working as a freelancer on platforms such as Upwork.com, or creating your own online marketing campaign. Below I’ll cover these in detail.
Gain Experience by Helping a Small Business Owner
Usually, you can find people in your network that have a small business but a weak online presence. You’ll want to ask your friends and family. If your friends and family don’t have a business you can help, ask if their friends do. When they ask you, “what exactly are you going to do?” can tell them based on the knowledge you gained in the previous step.
- You might have an aunt that has a house cleaning business with an existing website, but no traffic. This is an opportunity for you to help her out by using your SEO and/or SEM skills (Facebook Ads can work well in this situation too).
- You might have an old high school friend who has an auto repair shop that could use more customers – another great opportunity for an advertising campaign.
- You might visit your local chiropractor and notice he’s not ranking on the first page of Google for chiropractor terms and offer to help him on his or her website SEO.
Whether you help a small business owner with their SEO, SEM, or social media marketing, define a clear marketing objective. Ideally, you want your work to bring fresh new leads to the business. You’ll know if your marketing campaigns are acquiring leads if you followed the digital marketing training courses outlined in the previous step.
After 30 days, create a Google doc and document how your online marketing campaign helped the small business. You’ll add this to your e-portfolio. More on this soon.
Note: At this point, don’t worry about getting paid for your efforts. If you can get money out of your deal, great, but be willing to work for free and help a business grow its online presence. If they ask, “what’s in it for you?” answer honestly and say “experience!”
If you’re struggling to find a small business owner you can help with your digital marketing skills, don’t worry, you can always create your own experience!
Create Your Own Experience
If you can’t find a small business to help, the next best thing you can do is create your own experience. This is the route I chose when starting.
Note: this strategy involves affiliate marketing and will require you have a small budget.
The strategy I’m about to share with you works best for those who want to ad gain experience with SEM (specifically Google Ads) and/or Facebook Ads.
It can work for SEO experience, but affiliate marketing SEO is competitive, and it will take months before you see any results (if you want to get experience as an SEO, find a small business you can help as the competition in the local arena is much less competitive).
What I like best about this strategy is that it lets the employer know you understand what an online marketing campaign is (at least on a minor scale) and how to implement one.
Here are the steps:
- Pick an affiliate product to promote on an affiliate network such as Clickbank.com (CB is a trusted affiliate network that has digital products in multiple niches. You can create an account free here. I recommend you stay away from health/fitness & business opportunity products as advertising platforms have high regulations for those industries).
- Buy a domain name and get web hosting from Bluehost.com (don’t stress over the domain name – you’ll only be using it for a landing page).
- Install WordPress on your domain via your web hosting.
- Install a WordPress page building plugin such as Elementor or Thrive Architect.
- Invest in an email marketing service (EMS) like GetResponse or ConvertKit and build a form that captures email addresses. The EMS will give you an HTML form code for the next step.
- Create a squeeze page with your WordPress landing page builder plugin and install the form code on it. The goal is to get the person who lands on your page to convert into an email subscriber. This will allow you to practice your web copy. Your squeeze page visitors will have two options: fill in their email address and gain access to what’s offered or leave the page.
- Create a Thank You page (aka. the Success page). The TY page should have a message with a call-to-action button that’s hyperlinked to your affiliate link (some affiliates redirect subscribers to their affiliate promotion URL once the form is submitted).
- Create an email marketing automation series that gets sent to the new leads after they subscribe. Your email series should market your affiliate product, every other day. You’ll need a few touchpoints between the time the subscriber first sees your product offer (on some occasions, people will buy on day one). Three to six automated emails are standard.
- Set up a Google Ads (or Facebook Ads) campaign that drives traffic to your squeeze page. For Google Ads, you’ll want to bid on keywords in your niche. For Facebook Ads, you’ll want to target the right audience(s). For either ads platform, use the squeeze page you created in step 6 for your ad’s website URL.
- Let it run for 30 days at a daily ad budget of $5-10 per day. Feel free to optimize your campaigns based on the training you completed in the previous step.
- Document your campaign in a Google Doc. After 30 days, if you had form submission conversions, that’s a good sign (it shows you know how to set up conversion tracking). If you got a few sales from promoting the affiliate product, even better!
As you can see, the steps above involve a lot of steps. However, creating this experience demonstrates that you know how to build a marketing campaign from scratch.
It consists of a product/service offer, creating a landing page, copywriting, email marketing, competence with an advertising platform, conversion tracking, and reporting.
Whether you helped a small business owner or you created your own experience, I document your online marketing campaign(s) in a Google document. Describe the campaign objective, detail the steps you took, include images of your campaign (i.e., text/image/video ads), target keywords or target audience (and why you chose them), KPIs, and more.
Make it as presentable as possible because you’ll use it throughout the hiring process.
Feel free to add as many projects to your e-portfolio. If you have more than one project, create a public Google Drive folder and include all your marketing campaigns in it. You’ll be able to share this Google Drive folder with a share link URL.
Congrats! You now have more experience than other job applicants with just certifications or 4-year marketing degrees.
4. Applying to Jobs and Preparing for Interviews
Now that you have both knowledge and experience in digital marketing, it’s time to start applying to jobs strategically and interviewing well.
Cover Letters and Resumes
When it comes to your cover letter and a resume, I recommend modeling after successful cover letters and resumes.
A simple search for “[enter your digital marketing discipline here] + entry-level cover letter” (or resume) will give you hundreds of articles that have example documents.
Use the sample cover letters and resumes as inspiration instead of copying them word for word. Employers start to notice patterns when they start seeing similarities in these resumes and cover letters.
Tip: an excellent way to get your cover letter noticed is to link out to the digital marketing e-portfolio you created in step three. When I started hyperlinking my portfolio from my cover letters, I started getting more employers calling.
Applying on Job Boards and Finding Entry-level Positions
Next, go to job board sites like LinkedIn, Indeed, and Monster. Each of these job sites allows you to filter for entry-level jobs and notifies you via email when new digital marketing jobs are posted.
- If you want to apply for Search Engine Marketing jobs, common job titles you’ll search for are: Paid Search Specialist, PPC Analyst, PPC Coordinator.
- If you’re applying for SEO jobs, common job titles you’ll search for are: SEO Specialist, SEO Analyst, SEO Link Builder.
- And if you’re searching for Social Media Marketing jobs, common job titles are Social Media Specialist, Social Media Strategist, and Online Community Manager.
Tip: create a unique cover letter for each company you apply for.
Once you have an interview appointment, you’ll want to start preparing for it.
Here are a few tips I found helpful when interviewing and getting my first digital marketing job.
- Study the Company: Understand the company’s product and/or service, their history in the industry, and the role you’ll potentially be fulfilling.
- Know Your Resume Inside and Out: 99% of the time, the people interviewing you will have a copy of your resume in front of them and ask you questions about your what you listed on it. Prepare to talk about everything you included on your resume.
- Know Your Digital Marketing Discipline: Expect to be asked about your digital marketing discipline. An example question I got for a paid search analyst interview was, “what keyword match types do you use when starting a Google Ads campaign and why?”
- Read 60 Seconds, and You’re Hired! (Optional): This book helped my interviewing skills a lot! I was never a natural interviewer, but the interview tactics presented in this book have never left me astray.
- Bring a Printed Copy of Your Portfolio: it never hurts to bring a folder with your portfolio experience printed out. It helps reinforce the point that you’re able to do the job. Bringing in your resume is not a bad idea, either.
The guide above contains the macro steps I took to get my first job in digital marketing.
In this industry, your first job will most likely not be your last. Once you get your first entry-level job, and after the one year mark, you’ll start getting recruiters looking to hire you at other companies (expect LinkedIn private messages). I’m not kidding; the supply of people who have professional 1-2+ year experience is even lower than tho entry-level positions.
These recruiters are known as “poachers” or “head-hunters.” Their job is to get you to move work for their company and will pay you a better salary for doing so.
As far as salary goes, the average digital marketing specialist salary in the U.S. is $50,000 per year. Don’t expect a mind-blowing salary in your first year (you’ll learn a LOT your first year of professional experience).
After one to two years, you should start aiming for $60,000 plus salary (a six-figure salary isn’t uncommon at this point).
What other industry have you heard of that’s got it this good?
Anyway, get started and let me know how you do!