5 Ways You Can Prepare for a Digital Marketing Career as an Undergrad

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If you’re reading this, you’re probably an enthusiastic undergraduate student wondering how you can start your career in digital marketing right now. Well, you’ve come to the right place. Just a couple of months ago, I was right where you are, so I understand what you’re going through. 

For three semesters during my undergraduate years, I worked at my college’s career center. That job gave me, an English major without a plan, the confidence I needed to kickstart my career in content. The biggest lesson I learned from this job was that a career in digital marketing can start anywhere. It can be based on various skills you learn on the fly at other jobs, a mid-career transition into something new, or it can start in college as it did for me. 

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A week after graduation, I was hired into my dream job here at Go Fish Digital. Before that, however, I did everything I could to learn more about this dynamic field and ensure that my application stood out from the crowd. I’m going to share with you my 5 best tips that helped me get from an English degree to a job in digital marketing, where I focus on creating content from an SEO perspective.

1. Writing Experience is Your Friend

This may come as a surprise to you, but professional, concise writing is a highly desirable skill – especially in the digital space. That’s because conveying messages to others effectively can be difficult to do, and not everyone has the ability to do it. So, if you understand how to convey messages to different audiences, you’ll immediately have a leg up when you’re applying to digital marketing jobs. In fact, many of my interviewers mentioned to me that my writing experience is what got me through the door. The good news is that writing experience is very easy to get while in school.

A digital marketing mentor I had in undergrad told me that some of the most successful people who work on the web came from news-related, editorial backgrounds. This type of writing is clear-cut, facts-driven, and way more interesting than English papers. But, in order to learn how to write in this way, you’re going to have to do a little legwork.

Here is what I suggest:

  • Volunteer to write for your school newspaper or campus magazine. Any published work with your byline (your name attached to it) is a major plus.
  • Take a journalism class, and especially pay attention to the rules of AP Style.
  • Create a portfolio of 2-3 of your strongest pieces. Many jobs will ask for a writing sample. Make them diverse in topic, and update them often. Some portfolio websites I drew inspiration from were Gari Cruze and Tasha Meys.

2. Internship, Internship, Internship (and Don’t Discount Remote!)

Having an internship in digital marketing under your belt helps you prove to potential employers that you can do the work they need. Depending on what you’re interested in, look for positions that will require you to dive in and hone those skills – such as content, email, social media marketing, SEO, or PPC.

Most universities have a job board that companies who specifically want to hire undergraduate interns or part-time workers can request to post on. I highly recommend that you take advantage of that in combination with your own independent research. If your school is far from any company doing the work you want to do, seek out a remote internship. There are so many companies that have great opportunities available for undergrads.

This is how I found my first opportunity in SEO. My would-be boss posted an internship wherein he would train the hiree in keyword research, SEO tools, and web content writing in exchange for help in all three. And he was willing to work with remote candidates.

This man ended up being the mentor I mentioned earlier, and the internship was one of the best learning experiences of my undergraduate career.

Some tips:

  • Make sure the job posting is legit. Most have to go through a screening process to be posted on the university’s internal site, but if you have any questions, your career center can help you determine if it is a scam.
  • Even if you’re a remote intern, go out of your way to network with your company. Ask your boss to make email introductions with folks in other departments you’re interested in meeting, and set up phone calls with them to ask them about their career.

3. Why Not Try Freelancing?

Not all internships are paid, so if an unpaid internship is not financially feasible for you, there’s still an option for you to get hands-on digital marketing experience, and get paid: freelancing!

I don’t claim to be an expert on freelancing, but as I was trying to get more involved in digital marketing, I came across multiple copywriting experts in my research (such as Susan Greene and Neville Medhora) who recommended giving freelancing a try. It seemed like a great way to earn some extra money and get exposure to the work. Additionally, you can easily fit freelancing in to work around with your class schedule.

If this is an avenue you want to take so you can get more writing experience, I highly recommend that you give Upwork a try. Upwork is a great place to hone any skill, and a quick browse of the site will show you that the demand for digital marketers is high. Many companies need help writing web content or blog posts, or with basic keyword research, and they will be happy to pass the task off to you! Not only will you be compensated, but you’ll likely get a great portfolio piece out of it as well.

The scoop on freelancing:

  • You will get out of it what you put in. Don’t expect to make enough money to live off of, but the money you make from freelancing can certainly help you through.
  • Freelancing is time-consuming and can be really fun, so be sure to limit yourself, and remember to focus on schoolwork first!
  • If you’re interested in freelancing through Upwork, I recommend reading through Danny Marguiles’ blog Freelance to Win. It gives you helpful tips on how to get started on the platform and how to get the most bang for your buck.

4. Get Certified in Something

Another great thing about this field: since it’s so new, your degree doesn’t really matter. We have every major you can think of here at GFD. What matters is what you can learn to do, quickly and artfully.

A great way to show your ability to do this is to get certified in one of the many tools digital marketers use. These certifications help you stand out as both independently motivated and better technically prepared than your peers who don’t seek them out.

Tailor the courses you take toward your career interest, and where you could use the most help. But be wary – online courses take the same amount of dedication and studying as your college courses, so be sure not to overload yourself. Consider completing them during winter or summer breaks when you have more time.

Many companies will focus on hiring employees that have Google Analytics, Google Ads, and Hubspot certifications. Check out how to sign up for those courses below (they’re free!).

Certification sign ups: 

5.  Consume As Much Content As Possible

Again, in many cases, digital marketing is one of those fields that schools can’t exactly teach you. The good news is, it’s an area that really lends itself to knowledge sharing, and as we just discussed, there are plenty of opportunities for you to teach yourself.

Even if you don’t have time for a full certification course, many of the industry’s top thought leaders post their ideas regularly online for free. Use this to your benefit and read, listen, watch all you can about your field. Make sure you take notes so you can reference what you learned later.

It’s highly valuable to seek out and consume this content, both because it keeps you abreast of an ever-evolving industry, and because it gives you talking points with potential interviewers and colleagues. 

Additionally, if you find an author who regularly writes content you enjoy or is highly involved in your desired field, don’t forget to follow them on social media to engage with them further. It also helps to get your name out there!

Here are some of my favorite content hubs:

Wrap Up

By developing your skills in areas you’re probably not learning about in your courses, especially if you’re in the liberal arts, you’re doing yourself a great service. Even just adding a couple of these tips to your plan for the year could make a huge difference in your career.

As this school year kicks off, remember that experiential learning, whether it’s through a course you decide to take on your own, an internship, or a dive into doing real work for real companies via freelancing, is one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself as you prepare for the world post-graduation. 

Four words: you can do it!

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