We need your ideas and passion to keep our industry energized and growing. But judging by the many smart and capable students and grads we have been privileged to connect with over the years, your coursework has failed to adequately prepare you for the future you envision. And the industry is poorer for it.
Our educational institutions are starting to catch up with dedicated, digitally focused coursework and industry practitioners to help keep it real, but the ivory tower alone won’t sufficiently groom you for success. You will need to take your future into your own hands and look outside your required classes to set the stage for your professional trajectory.
In many ways, an entrepreneurial approach is excellent preparation for a digital career. Digital marketers are, of necessity, multi-faceted and in a constant state of change that favors the nimble and prepared. A solid set of core skills, a deep understanding of consumer behaviors online, demonstrated passion for this industry and the right attitude are infinitely more valuable than even specific experience that may soon be obsolete and can help prepare you to chart your own future and that of this industry.
In addition to learning the marketing basics be sure to come to your first job with the following hard, soft (and somewhere in-between) skill sets.
Data Acuity. The days of math-challenged or tech-avoidance students in marketing careers are long, long gone. As a start, get comfortable in spread sheets including more advanced skills like pivot tables and macros. Learn to read and manipulate data tables but use statistics and other analytics skills and programs to extract meaning that can be used for decision making. Know the difference between data and information.
Programming. You don’t need to be a professional coder but you do need to understand how bits and bytes work. Experiment with your own simple site to learn the basics of HTML.
Writing. Communicating in all channels and modes is a critical skill set for any professional and great communicators have a substantial advantage in any marketplace at any level. This extends to public speaking so work on your confident presentation by offering to deliver class projects or results in front of both small and larger audiences.
Broaden your horizons with disciplines that will give you insights into human behavior and psyche. Behavioral economics, psychology and literature, among other disciplines, will advance your understanding of human decision making and make you a stronger marketer.
Go global. Our world is shrinking so understanding how others view and interact with the world beyond documented, aggregated buying behaviors is a plus. If you have the opportunity to study or travel abroad don’t pass it up. Foreign language skills will also differentiate you.
It’s also important that you don’t believe that your current set of college age, college educated friends represents the totality of even the US population. Get out of your bubble and get to know the broader population through travel, hobbies, activism or other means.
Entrepreneurs seem to have the right DNA to succeed in the online marketing industry amid the demands of constant reinvention. Regardless of the type of business, show us that you have the desire and capacity to try to build something. Even better if you had to team with others as this will demonstrate your ability to collaborate and problem solve. If you have not built a business on any scale, show how you have responded quickly and successfully to changing circumstance.
For online marketing, learning is about participating — not just hearing or reading — so you need to be a student of the industry. Demonstrate your interest by finding industry internships, following industry publications and staying current with major news, trends and releases. Use your social channels, personal site or other online avenues to present your POV or participate in the industry discussion.
Jump at opportunities like the Google Online Marketing Challenge or other student competitions to get some hands on experience in building plans and launching, optimizing and measuring campaigns.
Ask for student discounted or even free admittance to industry events when they come to your town and use the time to steep yourself in the industry and also network for contacts. Local ad clubs or the like often have student memberships or events that provide access to local professionals for industry mentorship.
To succeed in a digital marketing career you need more than what your school offers and a fair amount of personal commitment. Layer academic theory with some practical exposure and the right combination of skills and attitude to become a sought-after addition to any online marketing team. And should you decide to take a different career track you will still be empowered with an impressive and marketable skill set that most any employer would covet. Good luck!