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about 5 years ago by Ross Brander & David Love

How to land your first job in marketing

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Graduating soon? Get advice to help you stand out for your dream job from recruitment experts David Love at The Great & The Good and Ross Brander of Brandgaard Recruitment.

As we approach the summer holiday season, university students are completing exams and looking ahead at what to do next. For most final year students this inevitably involves entering the world of work. And it’s no surprise that at this time of year we recruiters are often contacted by recent graduates eager to take their first steps into a career in marketing.

Far too often, however, we see junior candidates falling into careers that neither match their expectations nor play to their strengths. Typically, this comes down to a lack of knowledge of the marketing world and the breadth of roles on offer.

Brandgaard and The Great & The Good recently teamed up with St Mary’s University in Twickenham to give students advice on how to break into (and build a career in) marketing. Joined by representatives from Virgin and Karmarama, we were able to bring real life examples of how people had launched themselves into the industry and built successful careers. What we found, however, was that much of the advice was equally relevant no matter what stage of your career you’re at:

1.         Know the market

Probably the biggest mistake we see is people who start out in the wrong role and then have difficulty changing at a later date. Are you better suited to in-house or agency roles (or in-house agencies)? Business to business (B2B) or business to consumer (B2C)? Campaign management or strategy? Creative or media? Adaptation or origination? Production or creation?

An understanding of the kind of work you want to be doing can help to make progression as smooth as possible.

Whilst no move is impossible, an understanding of the kind of work you want to be doing (and what a common career path looks like) can help to make progression as smooth as possible.

However, what was also clear from the panel was the sheer breadth of marketing careers. Whether it is in-house or in an agency, the variety of different roles available (often with similar titles) means that knowing which path would best suit you can be incredibly tricky. Adding in the constant addition of new skillsets plus the evolution of the client/agency relationship can lead to a nigh-on impossible task of judging what even the next five years looks like.

Get out there and experience life in a marketing role before you embark on a career.

The panel agreed, therefore, that the best way to get to know the industry is to work in it. For an audience of students, the overwhelming advice was to get out there and experience life in a marketing role before you embark on a career. Even a couple of weeks during university holidays or after exams have finished can give you exposure to the breadth of marketing roles and therefore the beginnings of an idea of what your ideal job may be. Just as importantly, this time can also show you the jobs you don’t want.

If you’ve already come to the end of your studies (or haven’t taken the university route), the next best alternative is to look for a generalist role as your first position. Whether this is a wide-reaching in-house role or a position in a new-breed agency with broad capabilities, this wide exposure should prevent too many doors from being harder to open further down the line.

2.    Your CV

Despite the rise of LinkedIn, at present your CV is typically still the first chance you have to advertise yourself to a recruiter, HR or a hiring manager. Not only do you have the chance to show off your experience but also to exhibit some of your personality.

For many roles (especially generalist positions at an entry level), literally hundreds of applications are typically received. Perhaps it is unsurprising therefore that research shows that the average time taken to read a CV is around six seconds.

The purpose of a CV is not to get you the job; just to get you to the next round of the application process.

In this (very short amount of) time, you need to ensure that the reader is interested enough to take your application to the next stage. The purpose of a CV is not to get you the job; just to get you to the next round of the application process.

It is crucial that you know what a typical CV looks like for the roles you are applying for. The whole question of CV length, photos, what information to include and so forth varies from industry to industry and even role to role. For example, compare the CVs of a creative from an agency with one from an in-house role.

What is consistent, however, is that your CV should be clear, concise and easy to understand. In those six seconds, you need to grab the reader’s attention for the right reasons and not because your CV is made up of long blocks of grey text with multiple typos.

3.    Social media

Whilst the CV has not yet been replaced by social media, digital channels have become an important way to both find new roles and to be found. Job applicants should therefore definitely have an online presence. A 2017 study of US HR professionals found that the biggest turnoff was not being able to find the candidate on social media, leaving them wondering if they’re hiding or just have nothing to say?

Just as bad, however, is being overly controversial or political. Whilst the level of professionalism varies between social media channels, perhaps keep the photos of your big nights out and your views on Brexit to private WhatsApp groups.

Using social media as a job hunting tool is increasingly popular – whether to find roles or to gain insights into the companies or brands that interest you. But don’t just follow the brands (and any key people within them) - engage with them as well.

When it comes to LinkedIn specifically, there are a few tips which anybody applying for a role should definitely follow:

  • Make sure your LinkedIn profile and CV match: This is one of hiring managers’ biggest bugbears.  At best, differing dates or job titles suggest a lack of attention to detail. However, they can also hint that the profile or CV has been doctored to hide something. Nobody wants their first impression to be that they are not being completely honest.

  • Use a professional-looking photo: No need for an expensive headshot but also not one of you doing shots.

  • Make sure you make it very clear that you are looking for a new role: Definitely activate the ‘open to opportunities’ functionality (it brings you higher up the rankings when recruiters are searching for candidates) but also change your LinkedIn headline (the bit that appears under your name) to show what you are looking for. It helps with keyword searches.

4.       Interviews

To let you into an unspoken secret, you probably won’t get the first job you interview for but practise does make you a lot better. Whilst the concept of interviews can be unnerving, the best are a relaxed conversation with both sides finding out more about the other. So how do you make sure you ace it?

Put simply, prepare, prepare and prepare some more. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed you’ll be and the more the conversation will flow.

Know your CV inside out and back to front then practise interviewing with somebody more experienced to identify trickier questions. Use social media to check out the company’s recent news but also have a look on Glassdoor as there are often interview pointers added by previous candidates. And make sure you have connected with the interviewer on social media so you know their career.

Remember, the interviewer wants to hire somebody just as much as you want the role.

Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions beforehand. A good recruiter should be able to tell you if the office is hard to find or the interviewer likes people to send a thank you email but it’s better to double check the dress code than it is to turn up over- or under-dressed.

Most importantly, remember the interviewer wants to hire somebody just as much as you want the role. What is it that appeals about the company and the job? What will you bring to the team that makes you stand out?

Armed with this advice, we hope that you’ll quickly get your feet on the marketing career ladder. It can be a tough process but always remember that there are lots of people who want to help you, everyone starts somewhere and with tenacity you will make it.

This article is adapted from