Last week, my cousin called me and said “you make six figures working in marketing and you don’t even have a marketing degree. Can you tell me what to do?”
Pursing a marketing career and landing a six figure job in San Francisco, CA was never my plan — it sort of happened by accident.
As a kid, I always wanted to be a pilot and pursed a mechanical engineering degree in college to possibly work on engines. Fast forward to graduation, and I’m accepting an offer as a Growth Marketing Manager at a marketing agency — and I’ve loved the journey ever since.
Most articles on the topic of “how to get into marketing” are vague and say things like “grow your professional network,” “have a great cover letter,” or “apply to as many jobs as possible.”
I’m going to show exactly how I started working my dream job as a digital marketer in San Francisco, CA, while making over $100k a year.
What’s special about my path is that I have no marketing or business degree, yet I was able to break into this industry and be in a top salary bracket for marketers. I hope this doesn’t sound like a brag. It’s more so to show you what’s possible if you decide to purse this as a career and get a job in marketing.
But first of all...
Is marketing a fun career?
If you believe you have both a creative and analytical mind, marketing will be a fun career. However, it does take a certain type of person to be fulfilled in the field of marketing.
I’ve met a lot of marketers, through different jobs I’ve had, and I’ve noticed one key thing between the ones that look like they’re having fun and the ones that are just there to pay the bills.
The marketers that have fun are naturally curious about consumer behavior and growing brands. The one’s who don’t have a lot of fun are in marketing because they (in my personal experience) pursed a marketing degree as an “easy” degree to get in college.
Let me explain.
Personality traits of a great marketer
There are some clear personality traits I’ve experienced between great marketers and, lack of a better word, not-so-great ones.
Some of these might sound cheesy, but hear me out.
A passion for entrepreneurship
Some of the best marketers I know wanted (and still want to) start their own business. Chances are, they’ve had a few ventures when they were young and found that the idea of growing a brand and trying to find users/customers appealed to them a lot.
After all, knowing how to help a business attract more customers is an extremely valuable skill set. And even if you launch a business, and it fails, you’re still 10 steps ahead of most marketers with traditional backgrounds. This is because you understand the struggles that come with marketing in the real world, and it makes it easier for you to relate to business owners.
Both creative and analytical
You can be a good marketer just by being creative. And on the same token, you can be a good marketer just by being analytical.
But when the two meet, that’s where greatness lies.
Let me give you an example. Say you need to help an ecommerce business run ads online to get more sales. This will take some creative smarts to know what type of ad will resonate with your target audience. The creative part of you will know exactly what ad will catch peoples’ attention.
Then, on the analytical side, you’ll know exactly how to run what type of ads and on what platforms. The analytical side will understand how ad platforms work and how to make sure you have the lowest CAC (customer acquisition cost) possible.
You need both to make the campaign work. Which is why many big companies have different marketers on their team for different tasks. That’s why you don’t really need to be able to do everything. But if you’re learning how to get into marketing, you’ll likely want an understanding of both creative and analytics — especially if you want to reach the VP of Marketing or CMO level one day.
An aptitude for learning
Okay, this is the cheesy one. But it’s true for almost any high-performing person — especially in marketing. If you’re not constantly learning about new strategies and new distribution channels, you’ll slowly start to lose your marketing genius.
It’s like the traditional marketers today that still believe knocking on people’s doors and sending direct mail campaigns are everything. Sure they can still work for some industries, but everything is digital these days — social media ads, SEO, etc.
Keeping up with online marketing trends is no easy feat. It’s why I created this website, Marketer Milk, to help keep marketers informed on everything happening in marketing today. If you’d like to keep up with marketing trends, I’d love if you subscribed to our newsletter.
Okay, now that we’ve gone over some of the characteristics of a great marketer, let’s go over exactly how I broke into this career path with no traditional experience.
How to get a marketing job with no experience
If you have no experience, getting into marketing will not happen overnight. But it can happen in as little as a few months if you really put your mind to it and follow some of the things we are about to go over.
Here’s how to break into marketing with no experience, in seven steps:
- Start a side project
- Find your marketing field
- Learn and gain knowledge
- Build up your resume
- Apply for an internship
- Apply at a marketing agency
- Apply for a job in-house
Let's go more in-depth in each one!
1. Start a side project
How many times have you looked at an entry-level job application and saw that they required 1-2 years of experience? It’s annoying.
But what do you do if you have no experience and no one will give you the time of day?
You unapologetically create your own experience.
If you want to start a career in marketing , without needed a marketing degree, starting a side project is the most valuable thing you can do for yourself.
Starting a side project will allow you to gain a wealth of experience that most marketing college grads do not have. Starting a side project in college is the exact reason why I was able to land a marketing internship at a startup (while I was an engineering student)!
I’ll be honest, I was a bit obsessed when it came to side projects. I launched over 10 different websites when I was in college — teaching myself everything from consuming YouTube videos, blogs, and marketing books.
But, while launching those projects, I never once thought to myself “what side project should I build?”
I simply started based on things I was curious about. Note, I didn’t say things I was passionate about. Passion comes after you start taking action. Curiosity is what leads to taking action.
At first, I launched a clothing brand. And taught myself how to grow Instagram accounts to get my first few sales.
See, the reason why starting a side project is valuable for marketers is because it forces you to learn the most important stuff. You don’t have to worry about the 5 Ps of marketing and all that traditional marketing stuff. You just need to learn how to get customers.
So, for the example of launching a clothing line — I just committed. I said to myself, “I’m going to create a clothing brand and people will buy my clothes.” That’s an extremely powerful statement to say to yourself.
Then, you take it a day at a time.
One day, you figure out how to buy a website domain. Then you figure out how to create an ecommerce website on Shopify, then you learn how to design cool graphics for shirts, then you learn how to get your designs printed on shirts, then you learn how to get customers, then you learn how to print out shipping labels and ship them to your customers at an affordable cost.
It’s all a process that slowly happens with time (if you’re committed). But, you’ll noticed I highlighted the part about getting customers. This is where you have to get creative and find an example of a company already getting customers and try to reverse engineer what they’re doing.
Are other clothing brands using influencers on Instagram? Are they running ads on Facebook? Are they creating content on TikTok? Are they growing meme accounts on social media?
I truly believe being a marketer simply means being observant of what successful marketers are doing and trying to copy them (with your own original twist). I credit 90% of my marketing success to just watching what other brands do.
You may strike gold and get customers on your first side project you launch. I didn’t. It took about three different projects until I launched something somewhat profitable.
The point was I kept trying. And even though I didn’t have much success at first, this experience made my resume look more appealing to companies looking to hire marketers.
This is why starting a side project is important. The experience of being an entrepreneur is highly underrated by society. But it’s highly valued by companies looking to hire people. Starting a project and failing looks better on a resume compared to never starting a project at all.
If you don’t know what to start, here are some ideas (based on what I did):
- Start an ecommerce website (maybe try dropshipping)
- Start your own blog and try to teach yourself SEO
- Try freelancing on Upwork to help people with setting up websites
- Learn a platform like Webflow and build a startup website (even if it’s fake)
2. Figure out what field you’re more curious about
As you get more into marketing, you’ll realize it’s a broad field. At the peak of my marketing career (so far), I was on a 30 person marketing team and each person did something different. So, you’re going to want to figure out what field of marketing you’re most passionate about.
Don’t worry about making this happen overnight. You just need to pick something and, overtime, course correct until you find something that makes you go “this is it.”
For me, that’s SEO. But it didn’t start like that.
I started with social media marketing — getting decently good at growing Instagram accounts. Then I got my first marketing internship at a small startup as a Content Marketing Manager. Then, I got really into paid ads and taught myself Facebook and native advertising (for my own projects).
Then, when I graduated, I worked as a Growth Marketing Manager and ran ads for clients at an agency. Then, after that, I became a Growth and Content Marketing Manager for a growing tech company in San Francisco, CA. And after a year, I got promoted to Organic Growth Marketing where I lead the entire SEO strategy for the company I worked for.
So, as you can see, I went from social media, to content marketing (doing all things from newsletters to blog posts), to growth marketing (running ads), and finally organic growth marketing (SEO).
All of this happened in a span of around three years.
The point is to be aware that marketing is broad. You don’t necessarily have to figure it all out in the beginning. But be aware from the start that you have the ability to explore. And if you stick with one field of marketing for a while you’ll likely become one of the best at it.
3. Take a course (marketing certifications optional)
Online courses are blowing up. It’s an extremely lucrative business. I know this because I launched a course once. But I stopped because I don’t think it’s truly the best way to help people.
You do not need to buy a course to get good at marketing. You should start your marketing career by starting a side project and trying to figure it out on your own first — learn to be resourceful.
Where I believe courses are a good option is when you already have momentum and you’re trying to learn something very specific about the field you’re in.
For example, when I started working in San Francisco, I was tasked with growing SEO traffic on our blog. I knew a lot about content marketing and SEO at this point. At least I believed I knew a lot. But I was wrong. This is why I mentioned earlier to always be learning.
I understood keyword research and how to structure SEO blog posts so they rank in Google. I even found a bunch of free resources online about content marketing strategy to help me craft an ideal approach.
The only problem was I was the only person doing all of this at my company, and I moved slower than I liked. I didn’t know how to create an organized system around all of this and I had no idea how to hire writers and editors and train them.
So I came across a course on content marketing. I looked at the syllabus and noticed 8 out of the 10 topics covered were things I already thought I knew — keyword research, writing, etc. But the last 2 modules were about scaling your writers and operationalizing everything.
So, I bought the course (with the company stipend I was given). Any manager or company worth their salt will be willing to buy you a course if you can prove to them it will help you in your job.
Fast forward a year later, and I grew a team of writers that scaled our blog from 25k visitors/month to 250k visitors/month.
So what’s the moral of this story?
Courses (at least paid ones) should be used to help you get to a new level of knowledge. If you have little to no knowledge on a topic, I would advise not to spend money on a course. There are plenty of free marketing resources online (like on this website) that will be more than enough to get the ball rolling.
The thing is, in the beginning, you don’t know what you don’t know.
Paid courses are powerful when you know there’s a gap in your knowledge and there’s a program that helps you fill in that gap.
If you have no knowledge, start with YouTube, blog posts, or Google’s free learning platform. I created a full list of marketing courses you can check out — a lot of them are free.
4. Build up your resume
This is a pretty obvious one. But it’s hard.
I used to get frustrated when I looked for entry-level jobs and they all wanted experience I didn’t have.
So I created my own experience through side projects. I said to myself, “if a company won’t hire me because I have no experience, I’ll great my own company and create my own experience. Then, I’ll have a better chance of getting an interview.”
And it was 100% true.
Start a few side projects and add them to your resume — even if they’re failures.
Showing companies that you’re a self starter and take responsibility for a goal is what employers want. You’d be surprised if you launch a failed project, but then take your experience and apply it to a real company. You could seriously help the company grow if they’ve already created a great product customers love.
5. Apply for an internship
If you’re young, this is a must. If you’re older and making a career switch, this is still a good route (even if your ego doesn’t think so).
I got my first job as an intern (with only one side project under my belt) — that’s all the “experience” I had. And the internship was non-paid at first. My family thought I was crazy for working for free.
But the experience was invaluable. I don’t think I would have ever made six figures as a marketer a few years later had I never worked this internship for free for a few months.
Having a marketing role as an intern will be your first taste of what it’s like to work in this space. You’ll see the struggles companies go through to get customers. And if you have a good manager, they’ll help you grow your marketing skills and boost your work experience.
I personally had an amazing manager that taught me SEO (search engine optimization) when I was an intern. Had he not done that, I wouldn’t have worked as an SEO for a tech company years later.
You can look for marketing internships on websites like Digital Marketing Jobs or LinkedIn.
6. Apply to a job at an agency
My least favorite marketing job, but also the one that set me up for massive success, was at a marketing agency.
When you work at a marketing agency, you’re forced to juggle a lot of different clients. Getting on kick-off calls, weekly update meetings, managing budgets, and executing on client work will speed up your learning curve — not just from a marketing perspective, but also from a professional managing perspective.
The stigma is that marketing agencies tend to pay you less, and require you to do more (compared to working in-house at a company). I can’t say this is 100% true for everyone, but it was for me.
However, the most valuable thing I got out of working for a marketing agency was the ability to know what marketing campaigns work for what types of industries and companies.
I managed up to 7 clients at a time, all from different industries.
It allowed me to understand what types of industries I liked working in and which ones I really didn’t like.
Working with a lot of clients also helps grow your network quickly. You’ll “expose” yourself to a lot of companies that will remember you as a marketer. And if you work hard to give your clients positive results, they may try to hire you.
I’ve seen a lot of marketers, at agencies, work with a specific client they love and eventually leave the agency to work for their client full-time.
Working at an agency was the reason why I landed my dream job working for a tech company in San Francisco. And the company I ended up working for in-house wasn’t even a client of the agency.
I was just referred to the founder by someone that worked at the agency. I reached out to the founder of this tech company and they really loved my agency experience, and even more, my side project experience.
They offered me double the salary and the opportunity to move to my dream city. You already know what I did next.
7. Apply to a job in-house
Working at an agency is a great way to build your network and broaden your marketing knowledge. But you become a high-value marketer when you dive deep into a specific area of marketing and become an expert in it.
I did this by working in-house for a tech company.
Working for one individual company is what will let you dive deep and truly master your craft. The problem with agency life is that, because you have so many clients, it’s hard to dive deep into each one and help them to the best of your abilities.
Your focus is scattered.
But when you work in-house for a company, all of your focus is just on one company. And ironically, you can get paid more while not having to work as much as you did at an agency.
So, I highly recommend applying to marketing jobs in-house. Specifically, apply to jobs in industries you like. Agency experience will help you make a decision on this.
For example, when I worked at an agency, I realized I loved working with B2B SaaS companies. And then I ended up working in-house for a B2B SaaS company.
Working in-house for one company is where everything finally clicked and I thanked myself for going through all of the experience I had gone through (side projects, internships, and agency life).
It expanded my network outside of just marketers too.
Depending on the company size, you’ll be exposed to working with engineering, sales, and other departments within a company.
It can be a great way to meet people and network with those outside of your marketing field.
This will give you a lot of defensibility in your career.
For example, you could become friends with an engineer at your company. Then when the engineer leaves to work for a new company, they might reach out to you and say that their company is hiring for a marketer and that you should join. Not saying you should do this, but it gives you options in your career — creating less fear around losing a job.
Also, if you still have an entrepreneurial spirit, you may even end up starting a company with previous co-workers. This is how a lot of co-founder relationships start.
If you want to find some cool companies to apply to check out Digital Marketing Jobs.
Okay, that’s it.
Do I need a marketing degree?
The short answer is no. You don’t need a degree, or bachelor’s, to have a successful marketing career. Some of the most successful marketing professionals I know never had any traditional marketing experience.
Marketing is one of those disciplines that does not require you to go to college (depending on the company you want to work for).
I can tell you with confidence, that every marketing job I worked at never cared about where I went to college, what my degree was, or what my GPA was. If you want to work for the Facebook and Apple’s of the world, they may require a college degree.
But for startups, and most companies, all they care about is your real-world experience. And, we already talked about how to create that for yourself in the previous sections of this article.
Also, many marketing positions are remote these days. My last job was remote and I traveled the world while working. So that may be another reason why you may want to learn how to get into marketing. It can be location-independent (depending on the company you work for).
If you love entrepreneurship and understanding how to grow brands, marketing will be a very fulfilling career path.
Getting into marketing (and becoming a true expert) will require that you:
- Create your experience through side projects
- Apply to marketing internships
- Work at a marketing agency
- Work in-house for a company
You’ll be equipped with so much experience and knowledge if you take this path. But, remember that this was just my path. And I’m fully aware that it’s not for everyone.
If I were to tell my younger self what to do, I would tell him everything I mentioned in this article.
Because, marketing is so valuable that you will always be able to find a new job if you’re good at it. Companies will always need help finding customers.
And if you decide to stop working for an employer, you can use a platform like Hello Bonsai to start freelance marketing or build your own company — you’ll have the skills (and network) to do so when the time comes.
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