You might be one of the lucky ones who knew from pre-school that they wanted to be in marketing. (“Miss Jenny’s class is better because she serves graham crackers.”) Or you might have taken a course freshman year that – eureka! – decided you on your marketing path. Or it just might be that you majored in communications, marketing sounds interesting, and you have to do something. In any case, you’re interested in a career in marketing. Marketing, of course, encompasses a broad range of activities and functions – pretty much anything on the continuum between selling and engineering/building has been done under the marketing banner. But, with more than a few years of marketing under my belt, I’ve found that there are three essential ingredients that you need to have for marketing success - and one more attribute that matters.
What hiring managers look for:
Communications Skills: The essence of marketing is communicating. Whether you’re communicating market information, corporate strategy, new product ideas, features, benefits, or just plain where to buy it and what it costs, you should be able to clearly, fluently articulate your ideas – both verbally and in writing. Verbal ability will come across in an interview – someone who’s tongue-tied is not likely to be offered a position that will at some point involve standing up in front of an audience and talking.
And then there’s the written word. Everyone in marketing is not a great writer, and there are plenty of jobs in marketing to be had, even if you’re not the next James Joyce.* But in marketing, you will need to be able to communicate your ideas in writing, in a clear fashion. You don’t have to be all that clever or compelling. The folks who can do clever and compelling go in to advertising, PR, marcomm. But your writing needs to be clear and interesting enough to keep an audience reading.
Passion: Yes, it is entirely possible to have a reasonable marketing career without it, but having a passion for what you’re marketing (or for your company, or for your customers, or for marketing in general) sure helps. So, if you can at all avoid it, don’t take a position in marketing that involves a company/product/audience that you really don’t like and cannot, at some level, believe in. If you are a violent anti-smoker, you might not want to take that enticing job with “Big Tobacco”. A vegan should avoid a job with Hormel marketing Spam. A Luddite might want to stay away from high-tech.
Which is not to say that, just because you don’t love something going in, that you won’t develop affection for it after awhile. As long if a product or company doesn’t absolutely go against your values, or represents something you absolutely loathe, you can give it a whirl. It’s certainly possible that someone who never gave cemetery headstones a thought would find that marketing them is just fine, and that providing bereaved families with a measure of comfort is, in fact, a noble undertaking. Think of it as an arranged marriage – you might not know your partner going in, but over time you just might find yourself falling in love. But for starters, if at all possible, look for jobs in areas that really interest you. Your passion will shine through. There’s nothing worse than a marketing or sales person who does not believe in their product.
Curiosity: The more you know about your company, your product, your market, your customers, your competition, the stronger you’ll be as a marketer. If you are generally lacking in curiosity about how things work, what exactly is the secret ingredient, what makes a shopper pick one brand off the shelf over another, you will not be an effective marketer. Which is not to say that you have to be an expert in every bit of minutiae about your product and its market – you don’t ever want to get bogged down in the details and lose sight of the real story. It’s just that, the more you know about the ins-and-outs, the better your understanding about your product will be. And the first three commandments of marketing are: Know thy Product. Know thy Market. And Know thy Customer.
I’m sure that other old hands at marketing have their own ideas about what you need to be a great marketer – confidence, drive, energy – but, in my book, communications skills, passion, and curiosity are the biggies.
Embrace the New: There is fourth attribute, however, that’s increasingly important, and that’s a combination of tech savvy and willingness to embrace new ways of thinking. Ten years ago, no one had heard of a webinar or search engine optimization. There were no blogs, no viral marketing, no pop-up ads, no pdf’s. For marketing, the Internet hasn’t changed everything - communications skills, passion, and curiosity still matter – but it has both augmented and replaced traditional ways of marketing.
*Actually, Joyce is a bad example: while he was undeniably brilliant, by the time you get to Finnegan’s Wake, no one can argue that he’s communicating all that clearly.