From Intern to Beyond: How to Stand Out in the New Marketing Career Landscape

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Marketing is an attractive career, whether you decided on it in college or you’re been drawn to it from another vocation. The reality is,  width=there are many different avenues you can take in the marketing industry and you have to find the specific path that is right for you. As illustrated in “The High-Performance Marketing Department” eBook, the landscape of marketing itself is changing, which means that marketing departments are hiring for different skills sets compared to those of ten years ago. What used to be mostly a collection of creatives has expanded to emphasize data analysts and operations specialists. Marketing today is a broader, more comprehensive practice than it used to be, and there’s a wider range of opportunities.

When I started as an intern I was responsible for assisting with the nitty-gritty, day-to-day operations so I was able to expose myself to many different facets of the industry very early on. What does that mean for those just starting out? If you play your cards right and learn as much as possible in your entry-level roles, you will not only stand out as an asset for promotion, but you can find out which job functions you’re truly passionate about and develop your career path towards those interests.

That brings up an important question: how do you stand out when you’re just getting started? In my personal experience, it’s a good idea to become a jack-of-all-trades to show your employers you’re a good investment for advancement. I’ve worked my way up from an intern position to my current role as a specialist, and I’ve got my eyes on the future. Here’s what I’ve learned along the way to help myself grow.

Develop an Appetite for Knowledge

Never pass up an opportunity to learn something new. Nothing makes you stand out more than being the person who can show your team how to make the most of an emerging process or technology. But there are endless possibilities of new skills to learn and some basics to master, so balance between the two. Here are a few key capabilities to consider that can make you more obviously efficient and valuable to a team.

DesignDesign: Not every marketing department is fortunate enough to have an in-house designer, and even if yours does, there will be times when you just cannot wait to get a file back. Today’s marketing department is incredibly fast-paced and even the smallest delays can have a huge impact on your productivity. Learning the basic functions of Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator can be instrumental in making you stand out as an asset for your team. You don’t have to be an expert – I am talking the basics: re-sizing images, designing a banner or creating a flyer. If you can open an InDesign document and fix a typo, rather then putting the project back in the designer’s queue, you’ve just saved a day (or two) and made yourself noticeably valuable. There are great resources like that can walk you through how to get up to speed in these programs.

Microsoft Excel: This might seem a little old-school but I cannot stress the value of knowing how to use Excel, because you may be surprised at how often you use it every day. Most everyone can create a table and sort data in Excel, but the real game changer is in knowing how to use formulas to help make you more efficient. I am still reeling from the mind-blowing experience of using my first VLOOKUP formula, which literally saved me hours each week cleaning up data. Pivot tables  are another nice trick to have up your sleeve. Classes for learning the tips and tricks for optimizing your Excel skills can also be found at sites like or Guru99.

PPC/AdWords:  There is a reason Google is a multi-billion dollar company; everyone Googles.  And according to a recent Ad Age article, 70% of all demand generation will come from inbound marketing strategies in 2015. Learning the basics of search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click advertising (PPC) and getting your feet wet with Google’s AdWords advertising platform can help lay the foundation for understanding inbound marketing techniques. And the best part is you can use Google as your resource. If your company has an AdWords account, take advantage of all the resources Google offers to get up to speed.

HTML Coding:  Understanding HTML code can be one of the biggest catalysts towards making yourself an asset toCode your team. With different email service providers, browsers, and screen sizes all affecting how your marketing assets are rendered, knowing how to fix the coding can make you extremely valuable. There are plenty of different resources that can help you learn coding, such as Codecademy.  I highly recommend becoming more proficient in this skill.

Email and Marketing Technology:  This category can include all kinds of tools, but the two big ones are email service providers (ESP) and marketing automation, which is the sophisticated big brother to an ESP. Both manage those all-important email campaigns, and you absolutely need to get the basics of email marketing under your belt. If your company uses marketing automation, make sure you express an interest in learning the ins and outs of how the platform works. Having this experience will be a huge bonus in your next career move, and it gives you a better understanding of all the components of the new digital landscape of marketing, and how they work together. The era of Don Draper marketing is extinct. Creative and messaging is still important, but marketing is really data-driven now, and technology is how you drive the data. Make sure your skills evolve with the trend.

Discover Your Work Ethic

This isn’t about showing up and doing your job; that should be a given. It’s about taking the initiative to bring it to the next level. Positions within marketing departments constantly fluctuate to accommodate shifts in the industry, so you have to show you have the ability to pivot your focus and adapt. This plays into developing an appetite for knowledge, because you have to be hungry to take on new challenges.

Work EthicAnother factor that can impact your work ethic is the time you take to really learn your industry. This goes above and beyond learning the skills mentioned above, because it’s not so much about learning how to do something, but understanding why you should do it. Learning every skill available to you won’t make a difference if you cannot connect the dots as to how it fits into the larger picture.

Attitude matters as well. Be helpful, be friendly, and be optimistic. Marketing is very much a team sport, and you’ll stand out for having the skills and willingness to play any position on the team.

Sign up for industry newsletters like Act-On’s blog recap, MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute, or Target Marketing, so you have daily access to what marketers are talking about. And don’t stop there; attend webinars and virtual events too. It can be hard to make the time with so much going on, but most webinars are provided on-demand  after the live date, so you can watch them whenever is most convenient for you.

Ultimately your marketing career and your rate of advancement are in your hands, but that’s honestly the best part. You have the control to make your future better if you are willing to take the extra time to work for it. If you’re just out of college and this is your first stop in the real world, you’ll find the studying and homework never stop. But remember, it’s all worth it in the end when you work your way up to the position you’re truly passionate about, in the company you’re proud of.260x200-high-performance-thumb.png

To learn more about how marketing staffing and structure is changing, check out our eBook, “The High-Performance Marketing Department.” It’s a great resource for seeing how companies have begun staffing for maximum impact to support the shift towards technology-driven marketing and accountability.

In your own career, what’s been the one thing you did that helped you grow as a marketer, or helped you stand out to management? If you’re a VP or director, what’s the one piece of advice you’d give to the ambitious early-career marketer? Please let me know in the comments.