Unfortunately, featuring your fancy new diploma with the words "B.S. in Marketing" does more for fantastic graduation photos than it does for fantastic post-grad jobs. The sad truth is that most marketing students aren't adequately prepared for the real world.
To all you current and future marketing students, here's a list of 20 things, under the umbrella of five key categories, of what you actually need to know before entering the professional marketing world. The list is a collection of advice from current members of the HubSpot marketing team -- including full-time marketing professionals who have graduated in years past as well as marketing interns who are graduating this year or in the future.
1. Don't be afraid of numbers.
I can't tell you how many students I've come across who tell me they avoid taking any classes that involve quantitative analysis or statistics. News flash: marketers need statistics. You need to be prepared to analyze everything you do. Don't use the excuse that you plan on being a "social media marketer." I'm on the HubSpot social media team, and I spend every single day looking at and interpreting charts and graphs. You need to be able to look at a spreadsheet of numbers, make the proper calculations, and analyze what they mean. Otherwise, you're wasting a whole lot of time making decisions without proof that they work and/or benefit your business in some way. So pay attention in stats.
2. It's not all about the Four P's and C's of Marketing.
Whether your marketing classes preach the P's or C's of Marketing, it doesn't matter. While they can help introduce you to the core concepts of marketing, the chances of you dealing with a real-world marketing situation by brainstorming how you meet price, product, place, and promotion is unrealistic. You need to be thinking about much more, which will come in later parts of this list.
3. Your classroom doesn't teach you to think on your feet.
Simulate "real-life" scenarios as much as you want, but you won't actually learn to make important decisions in tight time frames until you're managing real dollars, working to uphold a real company's reputation, and investing your energy in real projects. You can't practice it either. You have to be there and do it a few times, and then you'll learn. Use internships as an opportunity to do this, which takes us to our next section.
4. Having an internship on your resume isn't "impressive."
You had a summer internship at a marketing agency last summer? Great! So did everybody else. The fact that you had an internship is not impressive, it's what you did while you were there that is (or isn't). Students have accepted this false notion that even if you're just answering phones, the fact that you had some big company's name on your resume will get you a job. It might get you in the door for an interview, but if you can't share the benefit you provided to the company, you won't be seen as a valuable resource.
5. Prove your value and capability.
On the topic of using internships to think on your feet, don't be afraid to take initiative either at your first job or internship. Don't just let your boss tell you what to do. I once had a professor ask my class, "How many of you would dare say something against your boss?" I was the only student to raise my hand. If you think your boss is wrong, there's nothing wrong with speaking up -- so long as you do so respectfully and with sound reasoning to back yourself up. You're never going to learn if you just take what people tell you for granted. The same goes for professors. I once started a "marketing war" with one my professors by debating his suggestions. Which one of us was right, no one can say, but the value we both got from discussing our opinions was much greater than knowing who was right.
6. Make the most of your internships.
Okay, so we've already established that it's not just about having an internship; it's what you do there. A subcomponent of having great internship experiences is trying different things. If you're interested in marketing, don't just apply to internships at marketing agencies every summer. Switch it up and test your skills in different marketing environments, such as at a company that executes its marketing in-house. That way, you're staying true to your ultimate goal while also using your talents in different types of environments. Another great thing about this is, you'll learn which type of marketing job you're best suited for.
7. Your laundry list of extracurricular activities doesn't make you an expert.
I get it -- you love being involved in every organization you can possibly be a part of. You think putting it all on your resume will show your great versatility and extensive experience. But all it really does is confuse recruiters. I've heard employers say they get turned off by students who seem too involved because they don't show any one true strength they can bring to the table. Instead of being an expert in one area, they just have their toes dipped in a bunch. Employers are looking for something unique that you can do, not that you have tried everything -- that's what marketing teams are for. If you've participated in a lot of different activities in college, narrow down the few that you can actually say you've learned from, excelled at, and helped you grow.
8. Don't make your skills sound more impressive than they are.
Don't set yourself up for failure. If you make your accomplishments sound better than they actually are, you're setting up high expectations for yourself. And if you fail to meet those expectations, the trust an employer has in you will fade away instantly. You may even get fired, and that's probably worse to explain in future interviews than having no prior job at all.
9. Marketing moves fast.
Chances are, whatever your professor taught you your freshman year of college no longer applies. Need an answer to a pressing marketing problem? You won't find it in that years-old textbook. Effective marketing isn't about looking up the answer, it's about creating the answer. For example, social media wasn't taught in a classroom until recently, yet it's been around for years. Nobody taught professional marketers already in the business how to "do social media"; they had to figure it out on their own. That's your future: figuring out marketing. Forever.
10. Marketing isn't about pretty pictures and viral videos.
Effective marketing campaigns focus on creating content that benefits your audience. You can't spend your marketing career creating humorous videos for the sake of bringing attention to your brand. You need to be prepared to think critically and analyze the needs of your target audience. What do they want? What are they confused about? How can you best serve them while serving your business? Answer one of these questions correctly, and your content will naturally become viral.
11. Marketing is not just about branding or awareness -- it's about making money.
Gone are the days of going to the marketing department for happy messages and to Sales for revenue -- today, the two must work together. We keep talking about how everything you do should benefit your company, but haven't said what that benefit is. The benefit is simple: revenue. What is the return on investment of that email send? That tweet? That press release? Each of these efforts should be positioned to represent your company culture, but they need to fit into the sales cycle. They need to have a monetary value.
12. Marketing doesn't have to be evil.
The negative connotation surrounding "marketer," "public relations professional," etc. is pretty pervasive. But that doesn't mean it's okay to live up to those standards. Don't lose your morals and ethics when you graduate -- they need to be omnipresent in your marketing career. And yes, it is possible to create marketing that people actually like.
13. There's more to marketing than big brands and agencies.
Yes, you can work at a marketing agency. And yes, you could work for a big brand like Nissan or Pepsi. But there are SO many more options. What about working in-house at technology company? A small business? A hospital? Just because your professors only talk about the campaigns big brands have executed, doesn't mean those are the only marketing jobs out there.
14. Don't be afraid to be wrong.
How many times have you said, "I thought that but didn't say anything." Well, if you ever get to that point, it's too late. If you have an idea or opinion on something being discussed, speak up! Experience helps create proper judgment, not ideas. Anyone is capable of thinking of the next big thing; it's just a matter of not being afraid to share it.
15. You are your own best case study.
Prove your skills by marketing yourself. Don't wait for someone else to give you the opportunity. Start a blog about marketing (or something else you're passionate about) and demonstrate your knowledge of the industry, your writing ability, as well as your ability to build an audience online. Invest time in building your social media reach, and leverage LinkedIn to connect with other marketing professionals. Demonstrate your passion for marketing by properly marketing yourself. If you can't market yourself, how will you market for others?
16. Grow thicker skin.
As a marketer, you'll have to deal with complaining customers, social media bashers, unresponsive sales reps, frustrating clients. The list goes on and on... and through it all, you have to bite your tongue and let them feel like they are always right. If you get too emotional over how people treat you, you won't last in the business. Take all negative feedback as constructive criticism, and spin it into something positive.
17. Never burn bridges.
That annoying teacher's pet who never stops talking in class next to you? She may end up being your manager one day. Or your co-worker. Or the woman who gets to decide if a company hires you. You never know where people end up.
18. Network like crazy with everyone.
Yes, you've heard this before. But the important part of networking is doing it with everyone. If you decide you want to work at XX company, don't only find ways to talk to people from XX company. Maybe that random stranger in the corner from Y company will one day be an employee at XX company, and then you'll be bummed you missed the opportunity to tell that person why you rock. Point is, you never know who could end up helping you out the future. Get to know as many people as you can.
19. Get Familiar With HTML/CSS
You don't need to be a webmaster, but you do need to understand the basics. What happens when your web designer goes on vacation? What happens when you need to make a quick fix on your website? Or even just need to talk to your web designer? You don't want to sound like a complete doh-doh head. Understand how coding works and be prepared to make little tweaks.
20. Understand the difference between B2B and B2C.
I'm surprised I was never exposed to such basic acronyms at school, but most businesses are classified this way. B2B = business-to-business. B2C = business-to-consumer. Look up the difference; it'll teach you a lot about different forms of marketing, and possibly where you want to work one day.
From the marketing team at HubSpot, we hope you found this list beneficial in planning your marketing career. Cheers to you!
Have any additional tips for 2012's marketing graduates ... and beyond? Is there anything else you wish you'd known before graduating?