Tactics To Steal My Digital Marketing Job: College Edition

September 15, 2015

It’s that time of the year. Leaves are preparing to turn brown, pumpkin beer is back in style, and the cruel overlord known as “Pittsburgh Winter” is marching his army of ice demons towards our fair city as we speak.

But more importantly, school is back in session. As a recent college graduate, I know the conflict that accompanies a new year. You’re ecstatic to be reunited with all your friends, ready for academic enrichment and questionable decisions.

But you’re also another year closer to graduating, which studies have shown is positively correlated with instances of being asked, “So, what are you planning on doing?”

If you’re a typical college student, I’d be shocked if your answer included digital marketing paths like SEO or paid search, because these topics are rarely taught in universities.

Maybe you think that automatically excludes you from trying to start your career in this field.

But here’s the thing: most of us don’t have formal education in this stuff. Take a look at our about us page. We have degrees in journalism, fine arts, economics, and archaeology.

I studied anthropology and history, numbers 1 and 9 respectively on Forbes’ “Worst College Majors” list. Nobody knows how large post-graduation uncertainty can loom better than me.

So I’m here to help. To help you steal my digital marketing job, no matter what you’re studying. But remember, I’ve done these things and continue to improve, so in the words of our Vice President of Marketing Services, Andrew Garberson, “you might have to settle for working with me.”

Market Something

This might sound insultingly obvious, but it’s important. Start promoting something. Anything. Director of Enterprise Platforms Michael Bartholow started promoting independent films, which he continues to do for the Silk Screen Film Festival. Recent intern, Lilliana de Ciantis, did promotional work for concerts.

I started with nonprofits. See if your school has a chapter of Students Consulting for Nonprofit Organizations (SCNO). Apply to join. If not, there’s no harm in asking a nonprofit if you can do pro-bono marketing work for them.

Look at school sports teams, local bands, family friends. Start a company, start a blog, and then market it.

It’s important to build a foundation in marketing, which you can then transfer to the search realm. We can teach you how to check a robots.txt file, but it’s harder to build the promotional acumen and know-how that comes with executing marketing plans and achieving measurable goals.

A good place to wade into the digital sphere is social media, as there are far more internships and opportunities for college students than in SEO or paid search. Make sure you’re focusing on quantitative goals, like increasing followers or engagement. Saying you’re great at social media these days is like saying you’re proficient in Microsoft Word. Every applicant knows how to use these platforms.

Plan, execute, and measure. It’s what impresses us; it’s the core of marketing.

No Idea

Don’t be an incompetent social media intern and/or canine.

Look into the Google Online Marketing Challenge. Former intern Jonathon Stephens, who now interns at Google (!), did this to apply his traditional marketing coursework and gain some Google Ads chops. I can’t promise you’ll land a gig at Google, but you’ll definitely gain some great experience.

Learn to Write Good

As a liberal arts major, writing was my ace in the hole. And it’s vital you become a wordsmith too. That goes for everyone, whether you worship at the altar of Sartre or Sagan.

Write consistently for class? You’re not off the hook. I’ve met humanities majors who couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag. Put effort into refining your argument and crafting your style. Develop a voice by practicing with different approaches to writing.

The only letters you put on paper are part of a formula? Just do a little bit every day. It could be as simple as keeping a daily journal. You won’t turn into Bill Shakespeare anytime soon, but 5-10 minutes a day will help.

Why is writing important?

I wrote this article as part of my job.

If you came to this post through Google, you might have seen my handiwork there, in the form of a nice, descriptive ad for Bounteous.

My clients see my writing whenever I convince them to act on my recommendations.

I had to write a captivating cover letter to even have the privilege of doing any of that. Take a risk in your cover letter. Be professional, but bold. Let your style shine and tell a story.

It’s crucial to sell yourself through writing, especially since your web analytics or search marketing experience might be lacking. Once you secure the interview, then you can wow them with your personality and charm.

Up Your Technical Game

I’ll admit, this job isn’t always sunshine and flowery prose. You’ll often get down in the technical dirt.

This has been the steepest learning curve for me. Thankfully, there are a boatload of easy-to-use resources out there. Codecademy continues to serve me well. I recommend the HTML/CSS and JavaScript courses. If you’re feeling saucy, you can tackle jQuery too.

If you prefer videos, Lynda is also solid. Many universities, like my alma mater Pitt, have it for free. Take them up on that offer.

You don’t need to be a coding guru, but it will help you tremendously to understand how these elements craft your browsing experience. Even being able to roughly read the source code of a page (Ctrl + U) will be an asset.

If you have time, building a website is a great exercise. You can kill two birds with one stone by making the website for professional purposes, like Senior Consultant Sean McQuaide.

Sean McQuaide

Look at the Numbers

I recommend everyone take a basic statistics course in their life. While you probably won’t use p-values often (unless you’re measuring the results of your ad copy test), it’s important to be comfortable with interpreting data.

And get comfortable with Excel while you’re at it. Use it for everyday things if you don’t need it for class, like tracking your monthly spending. It will make working with large sets of data much easier. Trust me.

Get Certified

Study up and try your hand at the Google certifications in Google Ads and Analytics. They’re free to take and there is an abundance of preparation materials.

It doesn’t mean that you’re an expert, but it shows you care about learning. They also look pretty good on a LinkedIn profile. Which brings me to my last tip…

Network Your Butt Off

I know what you’re thinking. “DUH!”

I understand. I hated when advisors told me getting a job was simply a matter of networking. And I still cringe a bit when I hear someone say, “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”

But there’s a nugget of truth nestled in that quote.

Consider this: before my internship at Bounteous turned into a full-time gig, I applied to exactly 50 jobs over the course of 4 months. Not C-level positions, but entry-level ones I was qualified for. I wrote a customized cover letter for each and made sure I addressed it to the right person and company (please do this).

I received a response from 2, an interview with 1, and offers from 0. Even if you haven’t been brushing up on statistics like I suggested, you know that’s a response rate of 4%, an interview rate of 2%, and an offer rate of 0%. I might as well have shot my materials into a black hole.

The only reason you’re reading this now is because I attended a Google Analytics workshop at Pitt, which was hosted by a former Bounteous employeee.

I wanted to learn Analytics for a nonprofit project I was working on (does any of that sound familiar?), but I almost didn’t go. It started at 9:30 P.M., the temperature was in the single digits, and I had a paper due the next morning, staring me down like the Undertaker at WrestleMania.


Don’t worry, I hit that paper with a Pedigree finisher.

But I dragged myself there anyway. It was a great presentation and I was fascinated with the potential stories hidden in Analytics data.

So I decided to stick around and ask some questions. But I wasn’t the only one. I waited in line for 15 minutes until the club waiting to use the room next started demanding we take a hike, each request delivered in an increasingly passive-aggressive tone.

I stepped outside to wait for him to wrap it up with the others, standing patiently in solitude. The thought of leaving flashed through my mind a few times, but I decided to stick it out. He eventually emerged alone.

I went up and thanked him for the presentation, then asked for some advice on my project. After giving me some tips, he asked if I was interested in digital marketing. I said I was. He handed me a card, recommending that I apply to a Bounteous paid search internship. So I did.

And that’s why I’m here now.

If I didn’t go to that workshop and schmooze, I wouldn’t know the place I commute to every morning even exists. It sounds like the plot of a Back to the Future reboot (you’re welcome, Universal), but it’s true.

Get out there and start knowing some people.

The Next Step

So that’s it, class of 2000-whatever-it-is. You’re welcome.

If you’ve followed my advice and want a shot at the big leagues, apply to one of our internships or full-time jobs. We’d love to have you. And I need some competition.

Good luck!

This article was inspired by Andrew Garberson’s post, “Career Change Tactics to Steal My Digital Marketing Job.”