Lucy Smith is the founder of Digital Marketing for Graduates, who provide online training courses to help graduates get the best roles in digital marketing. After leaving her role as Marketing Director at a tech start-up in London, Lucy launched Digital Marketing for Graduates – the perfect platform to illustrate her 13 years (and more) of experience within the industry. We spoke to Lucy to find out how she got started, what she learnt, and what she can share with graduates seeking a career in digital marketing.
If you’re still unsure about the differences between digital, online and offline marketing – stay tuned for another blog post coming soon as part of our sector series!
Take us back to when you graduated and what your graduate job plans were
I graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a 2:1 in Media Studies. That was a fair few years ago now, but when I graduated, I knew that I wanted to work for a fashion magazine because I was good at writing and my degree was in Media, a perfect fit you might say. I also fancied working in marketing, not editorial, which was the route that many of my friends sought. My cousin’s wife, who was 5 years my senior, worked in marketing; she was someone I looked up to, she earned well, and she always talked highly of her job – that’s when I knew I wanted the same.
What was your first graduate job in marketing?
My first job was a PR and marketing assistant for the hair salon chain, Sanrizz. My mum came home from work one day and said that her hairdresser was looking for a junior to help with marketing - bingo! It was my job to get customers on seats in the salons. I would call the fashion magazines (the one’s I’d originally wanted to work for) and get them to say nice things about Sanrizz. I’d make leaflets for the stylists to hand out on the street at quiet times, and I created promotional boards that stood outside the salons with new customer discounts. I even organised some tube advertising at Covent Garden underground station and helped produce their first website (that shows my age!). All this activity was to find new customers and drive them into the salons. It wasn’t my job to take the money and get the sale, but it was my job to find the customers.
When you first pursued a career in marketing – what did you learn?
After 6 long months of tirelessly sending off applications - not just to publishers - but to any job that had marketing in the job title, I finally had a shot. The moral of this story is not that it’s all about who you know, although clearly in some cases it helps, but rather that I was going about my job hunt all wrong. I naively thought that because I had a degree I would get snapped up and thought it was unfair to be expected to work for free for a long time (which I couldn’t afford to do anyway). I had student debt coming out of my ears and I thought the world owed me something. Because of this I wasn’t being very smart in my job hunt.
To be honest, I had no idea what marketing was. I’d done a Media degree, where the word “marketing” was thrown around a lot, but still, if you’d asked me to define it I would have struggled big time. It wasn’t until I had worked for the hair salon chain for at least three months that I started to understand marketing.
Marketing graduates will certainly have more of an idea than I did then. And those of you who are prolific on social media will certainly ‘get it’ to some extent. But, (and this is a big but) you won’t know it all. You couldn’t possibly. Even those of us who’ve been in the digital marketing trenches for some time don’t know it all.
What advice would you give to graduates starting out the search for a graduate marketing job?
One of the most valuable lessons I think you can learn is that right now, having just graduated from university, you are not even aware of what you don’t know. This has a name in the business world; it’s called 'unconscious incompetence’, and it’s one of the main reasons people are let go from their jobs. I’m not saying this to scare, but to just be aware having a lot to learn and starting off at the bottom is no bad thing.
If graduates want to work in digital marketing - great. But ask yourself: do you know how to optimise a web page so that it appears on page one of Google? Do you know how to create a Facebook ad campaign targeting affluent men in the North of England? Do you know how to craft an HTML email that would get a click through rate of over 20%? This type of practical knowledge is why so many employers demand that you have some experience - you don’t learn this stuff at university, so it seems a little unfair I know. Employers ideally would like you to at least understand what digital marketing is and what you would be responsible for when you start the job.
How can a graduate show a potential employer that they know what marketing is?
The very best way (bar none) a graduate can show a potential employer that marketing is on their radar, is to market yourself effectively when applying for a job. Don’t do what I did and apply for every role that sort of sounded about right, relying on your degree to get you through. It won’t. Start with a plan, one that looks something like this:
What natural skills do you have that lend themselves to digital marketing? Are you commercially minded, have you ever sold anything? Are you creative? Are you good at copywriting? Are you analytical? The trick here is to go through the job description with a highlighter pen and highlight the skills they list and then think of an example of a time when you displayed that skill.
Practical experience seems to be the holy grail. Every employer wants experience yet, how are you supposed to get experience if no-one will give you that first chance? If you have some relevant experience then great, if you don’t have any relevant experience, there are several ways to get some without having to work for free for months e.g. creating a blog, networking and creating an online CV.
Once you have some relevant skills and relevant experience the next trick is to make them shine on your CV. Don’t bury the relevant information in amongst the other stuff you’ve done. Simply omit the other stuff if it’s not relevant. Put all the relevant stuff at the top on the first page, as that’s the bit of the CV that is read.
Marketing is all about story telling. Can you tell a compelling story? Try writing some creative copy that explains why you should get the role. The letter doesn’t need to be formal, neither should it be boring. You are going for a marketing role so your job is to explain to the recruiter what they get when they hire you. Sell yourself. Think about what’s in it for them.
Usually, the most common reason for people feeling nervous is a lack of knowledge of their subject matter. Even if you have some experience, you may not feel as if you can speak confidently about the topic of digital marketing. This is where learning comes in. Why not try out a digital marketing training course? Some aren’t as expensive as you may think. Or read industry blogs and follow industry leaders.
A little preparation and planning goes a long way when applying for your first graduate digital marketing job. As Lucy puts it “imagine that you are the product that you are selling to a company, and be sure to demonstrate the value you offer and sell the benefit the company receives when they employ you.
Find more advice and training courses on the Digital Marketing for Graduates website.