Starting a Job in Marketing, What’s it Actually Like?

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by John-Paul Cody

Updated

Having worked for an Inc 5000 marketing agency and a multi billion dollar retail company, I’ve seen first hand what a marketing career is actually like.

Unlike most, I got my first marketing job without traditional experience about 3 years ago.

Today, I’ll highlight my biggest takeaways and lessons learned from working in marketing so far.

Let’s jump in!

What’s it like working in marketing?

Continuous learning is the first theme that comes to mind. Fortunately, getting a degree in economics helped me sharpen this particular skill.

Marketing is built on consistently growing your marketing instincts by watching marketing campaigns unfold, doing audience research, monitoring industry trends, and observing human behavior.

Other core themes in marketing include fast paced, collaborative, and problem solving. This career also touts excellent work life balance, which is a primary reason it interested me.

Lots of Options

Work from home policies abound in marketing roles. Since starting my career, I’ve been asked to stay past 5pm once, and we were compensated with a free dinner delivered in.

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is-marketing-a-good-career

When considering my career choice, the goal was working to live, not living to work as it’s often said.

Marketing also opens the door to countless freelancing opportunities, a great perk to keep in mind. Whether you wish to make side money or branch into your own company, marketing is favorable in these pursuits.

So far we’ve only shed positive light on this career, in order to see a balanced view let’s discuss some potential challenges.

Building the Fundamentals

With my first marketing job (marketing agency), a lot of my time was spent doing the same or similar tasks for each of our clients. This was basic marketing work that didn’t involve much problem solving or strategy.

One of those tasks included updating broken links and redirect links on websites.

These fixes felt monotonous at times, but occasionally I welcomed the straightforward work. Looking back, there’s no question executing these updates hundreds of times made me a stronger marketer.

Thanks to that exercise, I now have a firm grasp of web protocols and how data flows between browsers and servers.

If you find yourself in a similar situation, remember this is only a stepping stone in your journey, but a necessary one. Today I’m able to make decisions confidently when it comes to complex SEO projects, because of that foundation I spent time developing.

Understanding Marketing Salaries

Additionally, my salary starting out was on the lower end compared to what the average new grad earns. However, I knew marketing typically pays lower the first few years, but can start to increase rapidly.

Here’s a look at the marketing career landscape.

marketing-careers

Before my first job, I reached out to several marketing managers to ask their opinion on job outlook and general career satisfaction.

One marketing manager actually brought up salary during our phone call and said, “if you work in marketing, and aren’t at six figures in 5 years you’re doing something wrong.”

While it was a memorable statement, there’s more to career choice than salary for most of us.

My point in sharing that conversation is to highlight this feature about marketing careers – salary tends to start low, but can grow quickly.

Is Marketing a Good Career?

thinking

Each person has a unique set of wants for a career, which makes it difficult to give a blanket answer. Personally, marketing aligned well with my character, and what I look for in a career.

In the section below I will breakdown pros and cons for this high income skill.

Great Work Life Balance

I’ve experienced first hand the flexibility and sense of balance that comes with a career in marketing.

As mentioned above, I have been asked to stay past 5 o’clock one time in the last 2 years.

The flexibility factor especially shines when it comes to work from home opportunities.

At my first job, I had the opportunity to work from home 1 day a week (the day of the week was up to me). Some people on my team worked from home as much as 2 or 3 days a week.

Countless Learning Opportunities

If you consider yourself a lifelong learner, marketing might be a good career fit. There is always something new to research, test, and learn.

At my current role, I recently spent a whole day studying marketing analytics, data visualization techniques, and a/b test case studies.

Personal development days are rewarding, but also necessary to stay on the cutting edge of the industry.

Mix of Art & Science

Marketing is unique in that it’s a blend of art and science. For example, let’s say we’re designing a marketing campaign to promote a new product launch. This list outlines science and art related tasks necessary for the project.

Art Driven Tasks

  • Ad graphic design
  • Ad copy creation (words and phrases associated with an ad)
  • Planning and designing user experiences for web

Science Driven Tasks

  • Research target markets (audience research – age, location, interests, pain points, etc)
  • Analyze campaign performance and analytics
  • Develop campaign strategy, accounting for all stages of the sales cycle
  • Research market gaps (including: product opportunities, content opportunities, keyword opportunities, etc.)

Two things to keep in mind here. First, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are many other science and art driven tasks that go into marketing, this is the tip of the iceberg. Second, it’s totally possible to focus more on one area over another.

Now let’s take a look at some potential challenges:

Occasionally Repetitive

For your first job or two, most of your time will be spent on basic marketing tasks. Some examples include: writing ad copy, building reports, doing keyword research, cleaning up common webpage errors, etc.

It will feel monotonous at times, but every great marketer started out at this stage. Remember these basic tasks will build a rock solid foundation in marketing fundamentals, you’ll be grateful for down the road.

Marketers Often Wear Many Hats

This greatly depends on your role and employer. But in some cases (especially at agencies), there will be a wide variety in job tasks.

Sometimes ranging from writing, graphic design, to customer management. Changing gears frequently can be stressful but certainly keeps things interesting.

Although exhilarating for some, wearing a lot of hats can lead to stress and anxiety for others. Whether or not marketing is a good job for people with anxiety will ultimately come down to company culture.

How to Crush It Your First Few Years

what-makes-a-good-marketer

After working in marketing for 2 years, I want to share a few tactics that will help you fast track your career. Some are marketing specific, while others hold true for any career.

Immerse Yourself in the Industry

You’ll be amazed how much you can learn about an industry by diving in head first. Here are some great ways to do that:

  • Listen to marketing podcasts
  • Read blog posts from industry leaders
  • Attend marketing workshops
  • Set up a Q&A with an industry leader at your company
  • Subscribe to marketing subreddits (r/marketing, r/seo, and r/dataisbeautiful are great)
  • Keep tabs on leaders in the industry via publications, websites, and social media accounts.

Recent post from r/marketing on Reddit.

Immersing yourself in the industry will teach you cutting edge marketing concepts, buzz words, and new tools and software disrupting the space. If you’re still trying to land your first marketing gig, you can start doing this now.

One of the most common reasons people can’t find a job is they are not enthusiastic enough about the industry during the hiring process.

Keep an Open Mind

Avoid being that friend who says “I don’t like sushi” And then you ask “You’ve tried it though, right?”

*awkward pause*… “uhh no.”

In marketing you’ll be exposed to all sorts of projects and marketing disciplines. If you keep an open mind during these early years and give new ideas a chance, who knows what you’ll discover along the way.

Initially, I wanted to work in paid marketing, but as luck would have it I started in SEO.

Over the years, SEO served as a catalyst for numerous opportunities and ultimately opened the door to marketing analytics (I’ll share more on SEO and analytics in other posts).

Socialize with Other Marketers

This is a big one for me, as I firmly believe in striving to be a multiplier on teams. Part of which includes being cordial and simply talking shop with team members from time to time.

For example, I recently asked the email marketing lead at work about tactics to boost email conversion rate.

She shared some surprising statistics, insights I would’ve never known without simply asking the question.

This socializing habit will undoubtedly expand your understanding of marketing, and also develop a stronger team dynamic. At the agency, I often talked with people across many different teams.

We quickly realized the benefits of sharing our philosophies with one another.

Always Push the Envelope

This one isn’t marketing specific, but valuable nonetheless. If you hope to fast track your career, going above and beyond is a game changer. For example, let’s say you were asked to compile a list of high growth keywords from 2019.

As part of the report, perhaps include visuals that showcase your findings and a brief summary of actionable insights.

From personal experience, I can tell you that pushing the envelope has certainly led to more opportunities and visibility.

Wrapping Up

Overall, it’s been a challenging but rewarding 2 years. Hopefully these stories and tactics will help you in your journey.

If you have any questions about working in marketing or SEO, let me know below.

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About the Author

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John-Paul Cody is the creator of Trends & Tactics, with the mission of helping people demystify entrepreneurship and money so they can live life on their terms. John-Paul has a Bachelor's Degree in Economics from UNC Chapel Hill, and currently works in data analytics and marketing.

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