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Why your college major doesn’t make or break your marketing career

Posted by Sarah Davis on September 13, 2016

people-woman-girl-writing.jpgDo you have friends with a job that doesn’t match up with their college major? You probably do given that around 31% of graduates don’t end up in the field they major in, according to a study by CareerBuilder. With digital marketers, not all of them studied marketing in college since most digital skills are learned outside of school. I’m here to tell you my digital marketing career story as someone who didn’t major in marketing and picked up digital skills through work experience.

When you first started college did you have any idea what you wanted your career path to look like? If “no”, then you’re just like me. I sort of fell into digital marketing, but I didn’t start by majoring in marketing - I studied Communication.

By “fell” into marketing, I mean I didn’t exactly search for a marketing career. I picked up transferable skills in college through my Communication major, such as writing and videography, then seized several internship opportunities. After applying randomly to internships toward the end of my junior year and receiving several offers, I jumped into 3 at the same time. As a result I discovered my passion for content marketing. When graduation came along, I had a clear vision and the skills necessary to land a full-time digital marketing job.


Here’ my take on why you don’t necessarily have to major in marketing or study it in a formal setting to have a successful career in the field.

As we’re always hearing, the field of digital marketing is constantly evolving as new technologies, tactics, and strategies emerge. Some of the top marketers today didn’t study marketing. In my experience and with friends who are in the field, the best way to acquire digital skills is through doing - through  real world work experience. You can even learn most digital marketing skills on your own or through working internships.

Examples of Apprentices

I’m a digital marketing apprentice embarking on a 12-month journey to even further boost my digital marketing skills. Here’s 3 other apprentices who, like me, didn’t study marketing and have recently broken into the field.

  • Reese Garcia, SEM Manager and PPC Expert
    • Studied English and landed a copywriting job right out of college. After deciding he wanted to do more, he taught himself AdWords and is now a PPC expert and emerging thought leader in this field. Here’s his full story.
  • AJ Ellis, Digital Analyst
    • He also studied English and fell into the role of analyst and eventually digital strategy. He taught himself Google Analytics and AdWords.
  • Carla Sinfon, Marketing Campaigns Specialist
    • She studied Communication and through internships learned marketing automation, design and copywriting.
Campus Involvement

Working with other students through campus organizations is the best starting point for building up your digital skills. I took on a leadership role in a student volunteer organization that taught me all about project management and communication best practices. I also wrote for the school newspaper that gave me writing samples. I thought videography would be fun so I volunteered at the campus TV station and learned best practices for shooting and editing videos. After all these things I had a portfolio of writing and video skills along with experience in project management that helped me nab a few internships.

What are other actionable ways to build skills through a student organization? Check out this post  on how to develop awesome marketing skills by getting involved on campus.

Land Internships

Learning through doing is the most effective way to master a skill. Internships often provide huge growth opportunities for students. As discussed above, you have to pick up a few transferable skills before you find the perfect internship, then you can further dig into new skills.

If possible, take on multiple internships throughout your college career. I had 3 awesome internships and they all taught me several new skills about what I wanted in a career. Here’s a breakdown of each and what it taught me.

  • Editorial Intern at a local magazine
    • Print and online writing samples
    • Learned how to write concisely
    • Developed ability to tailor messaging for a niche audience
  • Marketing Intern at a small publisher
    • Perfected the art of the press release
    • Completed several videography projects
    • Gained insight into email newsletters
  • Content Marketing Intern at a small startup company (Digital Creative Institute)
    • Social media management
    • Blog writing
    • Unpaid promotion strategies
    • Web design and WordPress

All of these opportunities taught me not only new skills, but what type of marketing career I wanted. I knew from the small publisher that I didn’t want to work in traditional marketing. The local magazine gave me great writing samples and showed me that I didn’t want to be a writer full-time. At the startup company, I realized I love the fast-paced environment and doing several different tasks.

students-collaboratingTry to intern at several places to build a variety of skills and get a feel for different work environments and organization types. How do you pursue an internship? Meet with career services at your school or ask a peer for some guidance. Meet with business owners or marketing department heads through social media, events, or friends and family and offer to intern for them. Most internships are created by developing a relationship with someone who believes in your potential and will allow you to join their team to learn from them. Be confident in the skills you’re building both inside and outside the classroom to demonstrate to an employer why you’re a perfect fit for an internship.

Make the most of your degree

Whatever your major may be, make the most of it. Don’t shy away from the fact that you studied Economics, Psychology or Sociology when applying for jobs. Emphasize that your major allows you to bring unique experience to the marketing field. Take what you learned in the classroom and build it into your portfolio. As this WikiHow explains, demonstrate your research skills. Although my degree, Communication, was more relevant to marketing than other degrees such as Finance or Biology, I still had to push through the barrier of not taking certain marketing courses.

Here’s helpful post on actionable ways to break into digital marketing after graduation.

Your future and career path are up to you. Don’t let your college major dictate your entire career. The best way to land a full-time job is to have experience and be able to demonstrate your skills. Even if your resume doesn’t say “marketing degree from such and such school”, employers will still take a look at you if you have the right skill set.

Where am I now? I’m working full time as a Content Marketing Specialist at the same place I interned for all of my senior year of college, Digital Creative Institute. I’m also a digital marketing apprentice continuing to further my digital skills and accelerate my career.

Have questions on how to set yourself up for marketing success? Feel free to shoot me an email at - I love to connect and share stories.

Whatever your major may be, there’s always a way to break into digital marketing. What’s the kickoff point to launching your career? Find out in the free eBook “Breaking Into Digital Marketing”.

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Topics: For Recent Grads