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How to Break into the Digital Marketing Industry

I was inspired to create this guide by Tom Wogan, creator of the SXU Career Pathfinder Series webinar. I found his webinar to be quite useful and informative, but felt that because of time constraints, it was unable to cover everything SXU students and alumni should know about getting into the marketing industry. I would like to use this article to fill in the gaps.

I graduated from Saint Xavier University with a degree in Finance and Management and started my marketing firm, Supero Media, in 2009. Our mission is to help small to mid-size companies drive leads and e-commerce revenue through search marketing campaigns. At this point, I have been on both the employee and employer sides and would like to share my perspective on how to break into the industry and be successful.

You earned your degree, but that is just the beginning. A degree is a ticket to the career game; now it’s show time.

Where You Fit in the Big Picture

When breaking into the industry, it is important that you understand your role and the expectations companies will have of you.

Companies generally use digital marketing for any or all of three main purposes:

  • Revenue generation
  • Lead generation
  • Branding

You will end up working on one of two sides:

  • Agency: As an agency marketer, you will be doing client work. Whether you are on sales side or in campaign management, you will spend time working for multiple companies.
  • In-House: As an in-house marketer, you will be marketing only the company you work for. You will work in the marketing department and manage the company’s search campaigns or work with vendors who are tasked with that responsibility.  

Types of Digital Marketing Career Opportunities

I see digital marketing career opportunities falling into three major buckets: Analytics, Sales, and Project Management. Let’s discuss each of them:

  • Analytics: If you are interested in doing analytical work, you will want to look for opportunities with titles such as: Marketing Analyst, PPC Analyst, Search Analyst or Digital Marketing Analyst. In these roles, your primary responsibility will be planning and executing digital marketing campaigns. Over time, you should become a subject-matter expert in one or more specific marketing channels.
  • Sales: If you are interested in sales, look for opportunities with titles such as Account Executive or Business Development Associate. Your primary responsibility will be to grow revenue by acquiring new accounts or increasing the size of existing accounts. You will also serve as the liaison between clients and the company’s internal team.
  • Project Management: If you are interested in participating in a variety of tasks within the digital marketing arena, look for opportunities with titles such as Marketing Associate, Marketing Coordinator, or Marketing Manager. In this role, you will not become a subject matter expert in one particular marketing channel; rather, you will become familiar with multiple facets of marketing. You will still be responsible for executing marketing plans, but in this type of position, you will be responsible for coordinating other team members or outside vendors to accomplish these goals.

Digital Marketing Career Starting Salaries

As you break into the digital marketing field, you can expect to start anywhere between $30,000 and $45,000 a year. Your salary will depend on several factors including the size and location of the company your work for, your responsibilities and your knowledge and experience. Subject matter specialists are generally paid more than generalists. The more complex the work, the more you can expect to be paid.

For example, a marketing analyst who manages multiple paid search campaigns is likely to be paid more than a social media community manager. Later in your career, your income will vary according to a mixture of experience and results. In the marketing field, your work speaks a lot about you.

Character Traits that Lead to Success

In every line of work, there are personal traits and actions that can lead to professional success. Below, I have listed the traits that I have observed in highly successful marketers. I recommend that you study the following tips, understand them and prepare to include them as part of your professional make-up.

  • Become a specialist. Learn one particular area (e.g. Paid Search, SEO, Web Analytics) very well.
  • Learn to execute. Don’t limit yourself to just being an idea person. Ideas are worthless unless you can figure out a way to put them into action. Your manager cares about results. Your clients care about results. Your results will be dependent on your ability to execute.
  • Figure out an objective first. It’s not about working hard; it’s about working smart and hard. No amount of hard work will count if you work on the wrong objective or don’t know what the objective itself is.
  • Become an analyst. Learn to analyze and make sense of data and trends. Find out what the story behind the numbers or trends is. Understand how this impacts you and your company and determine what steps you need to take to react to this trend.
  • Learn how to problem solve. Good problem solving is a skill. It is about defining the problem, generating alternatives, evaluating and selecting alternatives, and implementing solutions.
  • Be accountable. Think before you speak and don’t promise things that you cannot deliver. Remember that both your manager and the client will hold you accountable. You can lose your reputation quickly if you fail to meet your promised goals.
  • Don’t waste time. Plan your time well and update your team on changes to your schedule. Be a team player. Avoid wasting your team’s time.
  • Pay attention to details. Your work is your responsibility. Always double-check it before you submit it. Don’t wait for your manager or client to point out your mistakes. You can lose your credibility quickly by providing error-filled deliverables.
  • Take ownership of your career. Instead of waiting for your manager to tell you what to do, how to fix your mistakes or how to move ahead in the company, invest time in understanding yourself, your work, and your career objectives.
  • Get the word “strategy” out of your head. It is a corporate buzz-word that has been overused in recent years and is starting to lose its meaning. Real strategy development is not usually relevant at your level. It happens at the executive level and requires years of experience. Learn to become good at tactics instead.

A Day in the Life of a Digital Marketer

As with many jobs, every day is different. You should always be ready to solve new and unexpected challenges. Here is an example of what a typical day at Supero Media looks like.

  • 8:30 am - Start the day. Make a cup of coffee. Answer emails, review assignments in Basecamp (our online project-management tool), and prioritize the work to be done.
  • 9:00 am - Review performance of campaigns for the day and prioritize the action items.
  • 9:30 am - Review keywords, search term reports, and perform location analysis. Update bids. Exclude irrelevant keywords. Add newly captured keywords. Analyze locations that trigger the ads.  
  • 11:00 am - Problem solve one campaign with dropped performance.
  • 12:00 pm - Eat lunch and watch YouTube videos.
  • 12:30 pm - Make more coffee, respond to emails and read a blog about marketing.
  • 1:00 pm - Review A/B split test ads. Rewrite underperforming ads and start a new test.
  • 3:00 pm - Call Google about a client trademark issue. Solve the issue on our end.
  • 3:30 pm - Review the newly written landing pages for clients websites and provide feedback to the writers.
  • 4:00 pm - Develop requirements for keyword analysis for a new prospective client.
  • 5:00 pm - Respond to client emails and ensure that the day’s plan in Basecamp has been fully executed.
  • 6:30 pm - Meet with another marketing colleague for drinks and talk shop.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door

If you are new to the digital marketing industry, you may find it difficult to get started. I will share a few tips from an employer’s perspective.

Step 1: Know What You Want

Decide what area of digital marketing you want to work in so that you can direct your efforts properly and start out on the right career track. Employers value candidates who know what they want. Just taking the time to do the research about marketing careers and deciding what you want to do to shows employers that you are a self-starter who takes ownership of your career.

Step 2: Do Your Due Diligence

Don’t approach potential employers as someone who is unfamiliar with the digital marketing industry; do your due diligence. By researching the industry, companies, and various career opportunities, you will know what to expect. Be sure that you understand:

  • The industry: Know how it works, how it is segmented, and who the employers are.
  • The companies: Understand the various services they provide, where you fit in, and where you can add value.
  • Yourself: Based on the above, evaluate areas in which you need to improve to get into the industry. Start by identifying industry publications, thought leaders, and companies that are relevant to your career goals. Subscribe to and read marketing blogs, publications, and career sites.

Here is an initial reading list to get you started:



Content Marketing



Step 3: Get Relevant Experience

Call it unfair, but to acquire marketing positions, experience is almost always desired or required. To increase your chances of success you should get some experience. You can do this in a few ways:

  • Internship: Even if your internship requires you to work for free, as long as it is in related field, it will be very valuable. It will provide you with experience, a network of contacts, and maybe even a job offer after the internship is over.
  • Independent project: Offer someone your help for free or start a project on your own. Both will give you valuable experience as you enter the workforce. Check out how marketer Charlie Hoehn started his career by working for free:
  • Certification: The marketing industry has tools that every employer wants their employees to know how to use. Certified knowledge of these tools can be your foot in the door. Earning your certification will give you the necessary basic knowledge as well as hands-on experience using these tools.

Step 4: Read Job Descriptions Carefully

It may sound obvious, but it is important to realize that posted job descriptions can be both helpful and tricky. Let me explain:

  • Helpful Side: The job description will give you an idea of what qualifications you need. As an example, the following words are taken from a job description posted by my company. For the purposes of this article, I have underlined important keywords and provided commentary in italics:
  • Experience with Google AdWords and Bing Ads (AdWords / Bing Ads Certification is a plus) - We really want you to have certification. If you don’t have it yet, get it. Your chance of being hired will increase significantly over other candidates who do not have certification.
  • Excellent writing, communication, and presentation skills – Don’t just say you have the skills, prove it by sending a nicely organized resume and a cover letter that clearly states why you are the best candidate.
  • Strong MS Excel skills – When applying for the position, explain what makes your skills strong. If you need to brush up your skills, then do it. There are plenty of courses available to facilitate getting it done.
  • Tricky side: The job description may test you for skills the employer is looking for. For example, one of the things we test is attention to detail. Since we manage accounts with high-dollar advertising spending, we want to be certain that our employees possess high attention to detail. Our job descriptions typically include one sentence in a visible area explaining what candidates need to do to apply. Those who don’t follow the instructions fail the attention to detail test and their application is automatically rejected.

When responding to job posts, be sure you know how to sell yourself. One question we ask of every applicant is, “What are the two reasons why you are the best candidate for this position?” You are going into marketing and will be marketing for others. How can you do this if you cannot adequately sell yourself?

How do you determine what puts you above the other candidates? I suggest that you use this formula. I call it the “Value Add Formula”.

  • (How your experience and education compliment the job responsibilities and company goals)) = (Your Value Add to the Company)

Step 5: Become Familiar with Advertising Platforms

Before going for a job interview, find out which advertising platforms the company is using and familiarize yourself with them. You will want to understand how each platform works and what impact it brings.

Some commonly used marketing platforms include:

Paid Search

Display / Social

Remarketing / Retargeting

Step 6: Get Certified or Accredited

Certification of a widely known platform adds huge value. Three of the most sought-after accreditations are Google Adwords, Bing Ads, and Google Analytics certifications. You can find certification portals for each of these platforms and steps to get certifications below.

Google Adwords Certification

Bingads Certification

Google Analytics IQ Certification

Step 7: Apply for Digital Marketing Jobs

This is the final step. Find the right job and apply for it. You can do this by reviewing job listing sites or by working with a recruiter. To increase your chances, I recommend that you take both approaches at the same time.

Following are the lists of websites you can use to help you find a suitable position within the digital marketing field.

Job Listing Websites

Recruiter Websites


I hope this guide helps you successfully begin your career in digital marketing. I would love to hear what worked for you. Share your success stories and new ideas in the comments below.

Author: Tom Bukevicius, President of SCUBE Marketing

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