Are you feeling a little stuck in your marketing career? We’ve all been there. It can be hard to know when it’s time to take the next step. Then, sometimes it’s hard to even know what that next step is.
Even though the marketing career path isn’t a straight one, there are a few steps you can take to advance your career.
1. Decide if you are ready for your next position
It’s not always easy to know when you are ‘finished’ with a current role. Marketing jobs are dynamic, and you may never feel like you’ve completed everything on your long ‘to-do’ list. It’s rare to feel like you’ve done all that you can do in your current position, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not time to move on.
An easy way to tell if you’re ready for a new position is to pay attention to how you feel about your current work. Do you feel challenged or do you feel bored? Are you excited about or dreading upcoming projects? If your work is not energizing you like it used to, you’ve likely outgrown it.
Another way to know if you’re ready to advance in your career path is by reading your original job description. Are you still working on the same primary tasks and projects? Or, have you moved on to more advanced work? If your role has already moved beyond what it was, you are likely due for a new position.
2. Set intentional career goals
It’s tempting to obsess over advancing to a new title—a little signifier of success that you can show off on LinkedIn. Stop to consider what exactly this advancement would mean. Have you mastered everything in your current role? Would a new title provide new opportunities? How would you use those opportunities to grow?
Make a list of your career goals outside of a certain job title or salary bracket. These goals shouldn’t be beholden to marketing career path titles, salaries and structures. Often, these are arbitrary and differ from company to company.
Here are questions to ask when thinking about your next marketing career goals.
Do I want to:
- Pursue a marketing specialty? (more on this below)
- Work in a certain industry?
- Be part of a large or a small team?
- Be on a founding team?
- Manage a large or small budget?
- Work with people I can learn from? If so, in what areas?
- Work remotely?
Not every position will meet all your goals. But it’s still helpful to have this list when you’re considering opportunities and planning career moves.
3. Determine an internal or external move
Oftentimes, this decision is made for you. Is there an open position at your company, or does your company have a dedicated career advancement path? In that case, pursuing your next move at your current company is often your best option. You get the benefit of learning and growing without the learning curve of a new industry, new co-workers, and a new office (or Zoom meeting code).
But, you may decide that you’re ready to move to another company. Or, as is often the case, your company may not have a clear next step for you. This is typical at startup companies or companies with small marketing teams. So you may have only one choice: spend more time in your current position or leave to pursue something new.
How do you know if you’re ready to move to a new company?
Learn a new skill
In my first marketing job out of college, I was a writer and content manager. I loved this work, but I felt like I had only seen one corner of the digital marketing career. It was important to me to gain more visibility and experience into other facets of marketing in my next job.
Try a new industry
One reason that I love being a marketer is because I not only learn a lot about the marketing world, but I also learn so much about every industry that I market to. If you’ve spent a few years marketing to healthcare, for example, you might want to try your hand at marketing to software developers. If you’ve spent your career in B2B, you may also want to try B2C, or vice versa.
Meet new people
We learn so much from every co-worker and manager. Advancing your career can sometimes mean shaking up your work environment. When you move to a new company, you can guarantee that you’ll grow by learning how to work with new and different people.
4. Understand your next step
Especially in the startup world, hiring for marketing can be fragmented. Some companies have a CMO or a VP of Marketing as one of their first five hires. Some companies wait until they have an entire sales division before they hire a marketer.
The typical marketing job titles hierarchy at a tech or software startup might look something like this:
Though it may seem like the hierarchy is well-established, it can vary. Each company is on its own marketing journey. They will make different hires at different times. Responsibilities and seniority can fluctuate from one company to another.
Because of this, your next title may be lateral, or sometimes a step back. In this case, it’s important to return to your career path intentions. If the position allows you to grow, it is a step forward regardless of the title.
Salary grade is often tied to job title. This also varies depending on exact job responsibilities, industry and geographic location.
Based on US national averages data from April 2021, Salary.com reports that average marketing salaries can range from around $38,000 to $297,000. Salary ranges vary based on industry, location, experience level, education, and other factors.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average raise for performance-based promotion is 3 percent. So, if you’re a junior-level marketer making $56,999 and get promoted to a marketing manager role, it’s unlikely you’ll make that big jump to six figures. This is a crucial decision when deciding whether to take a promotion at your current company, or fill a role at a new company.
5. Consider generalized and specific marketing paths
Marketers love to say that they wear many hats. One day they might be a designer, one day a journalist, and one day an analyst. When companies are beginning to invest in marketing, they are often looking for the type of marketer that can do it all, or a generalist.
Yet, at some point, too many generalists feels like too many cooks. When they start to grow, companies see the value of having a dedicated graphic designer, a content manager, a marketing analyst, a campaign manager, and/or social media manager, to name a few.
A full-stack marketing team might consist of 10+ specialists with concentrated experience. Marketing specialties include digital marketing, content, search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click management, graphic design, public relations, brand management, product marketing, analytics, campaign management, marketing operations, events, customer engagement programs, and sales enablement. In some industries, there may be even more.
Most marketers spend some time as a generalist, and some time as a specialist. Often, generalist skills apply if you’re managing a team or heading up a department. Otherwise, special skills can take marketers far.
If you’ve spent some time as a generalist, consider a role that will allow you to focus on a specialty. If you’ve been in a specialty for a long time, consider expanding your skill set by spending some time as a generalist. This will provide you with an opportunity to grow and become a more well-rounded marketer.
6. Decide on whether you want to work at an agency or in-house
Marketers typically work in one of two environments. Agency marketers are contracted consultants who work with different clients to achieve specific goals. In-house marketers are hired by a company to run marketing programs full-time.
Agency marketers and in-house marketers often call upon the same marketing management knowledge. Yet, each environment requires different soft skills to succeed.
If you work in an agency, you’ll find yourself interfacing with clients. You’ll become a pro at communicating your process and results. Oftentimes, these jobs are less flexible because you’re working on your client’s schedule. Ensuring client happiness is just as important as marketing your product.
If you’re a marketer working in-house, you have more flexibility. You have the ability to work on your own schedule to make sure your goals are met. You have the luxury of long-term thinking and making investments for the company’s future. Yet, in-house marketing also requires interfacing with your company’s senior leadership. It’s important to effectively communicate how your programs impact the bottom line.
Most marketers have a personality for either agency or in-house. It’s worth it to try both and see which is a better fit for you.
7. Identify your gaps in knowledge or experience
Some missing skills are deal-breakers. If you’ve never run a marketing campaign, you may not get a job as a marketing campaign manager.
But, many listed skills are nice-to-have. Depending on the company, they may be willing to teach and train you on some of the less-crucial items. This is especially true for junior-level positions.
To learn more about which skills are deal-breakers and which skills are nice-to-have, consider interviewing some people who are in similar roles. You can learn a lot from speaking to other people about their journey and the skills that they have found most crucial to do their jobs well.
Remember that skill gaps are typical. No marketer can do it all.
8. Consider options for filling a skills gap
If you’ve noticed that one of your skill gaps is something that you want to fill, you have a few options.
Do a project
Let’s say your company has never had a social media marketing presence, but you’re looking at jobs that require at least two years of social media marketing management. How can you simulate the lessons that other marketers would have learned over two years?
Consider an independent project that allows you to test this skill. Design a social media marketing campaign that you can execute from beginning to end. Take on all responsibilities that a social media manager would. This includes copywriting, design, scheduling, engagement, and measurement.
Doing an independent project has a slew of benefits. You’ll learn the ins and outs of the skill you’re trying to master. You’ll show a level of initiative and an ability to learn on your feet, which are great skills for marketers to have. Additionally, you may be able to show your passion for something you’re interested in outside of work. This can give the company a little insight into your personality and passions.
Take a class
For some skills, you may need more of a broad understanding rather than a specific experience. Let’s say you’re applying for a product marketing job that works with a product management team. The job may require some experience working with a product management team. This would be challenging to simulate with a project.
Consider taking a course in product management. Sites like Coursera, edX, LinkedIn Learning, and a number of universities offer free courses at varying levels. These courses will give you exposure to the basics of product management. They may give you the opportunity to test some basic product management skills. Though this does not represent a replacement of the work experience, it will give you a foundational knowledge. It also shows an initiative for learning another part of the business.
9. Use your network and build a new one
The marketing career path isn’t always a straight line, and neither is the marketing job application process. It’s rare to get a job going through the typical pipeline of sending a resume, getting an interview, and then getting a yes-or-no to the job. Because marketers are usually so embedded in their industry, there is an element of ‘who you know.’
Focus on connecting with other marketers. With the advent of remote work, we are lucky that many marketing networking groups have moved online to Slack, LinkedIn, or Facebook. This makes the process of networking a little less time-consuming and a lot less awkward.
Here are a few networking groups to meet others in the industry:
BigSEO – for search engine optimization
MKTG WMN – for women in marketing
Online Geniuses – for tech marketing
Product Marketing Alliance – for product marketing
Vidico – for video marketing
Content Marketing Institute – for content writers and managers
Join your college/university alumni networks and regional groups. Find mentors you can learn from, who can also help you make career decisions and introduce you to people in their networks.
10. Set up informational interviews
You can be the greatest marketer in the world, but if you don’t know anything about the product that you are marketing, you’re in big trouble. It’s even worse if you don’t know the industry or how your product fits into the market. Marketers need to invest time into learning about industries, products, and customers.
Before pursuing a job at a certain company, reach out to some people that already work there. They can be part of marketing management, but you can learn a lot by talking to sales, engineering, or product teams as well. These conversations are easier than ever with the wide adoption of Zoom. Your interviewee can give you insight into how the company operates. They can also give insider information before you enter a formal interview process.
11. Consider leaving your current position
Whenever I was unhappy with a position, my parents used to tell me “it’s easier to find a job when you have a job.”
This isn’t always true.
In my experience, finding a new full-time marketing job can be a full-time job of its own. Having networking conversations, doing research, scheduling interviews and doing sample projects are challenging and exhausting. Doing all this while you’re supposed to be committed to another job is doing everyone a disservice.
The benefits of leaving your current job to focus on finding a new job include:
- Avoiding burnout
- Getting recommendations and referrals from your most recent position
- Spending some time focusing on your mental health and career goals
An extra benefit is that your schedule may open you up to contract, freelance, or volunteer work that can enhance your resume for your next position.
It’s a financially privileged position to be able to leave a job to focus full-time on your job search and career planning, but I recommend it to those who can make it work. For me, there have been times when it was feasible and times when it was not. Review your financial situation carefully before making a decision to quit. You don’t want to feel the financial stress while looking for a new job.
12. Try something outside of the traditional career path
I am envious of the marketers who went from a coordinator to manager to director, and ultimately to a VP or CMO role. The linear career path always seemed like the best way to advance through an organization and career. You learn a little more each year, keep getting promoted, and grow confidence in your work.
Yet, that wasn’t the path for me. My career took twists and turns. This led me to learn more about myself, my interests, and what I wanted my journey to look like. As I met more and more marketers, I learned that the straight-and-narrow progression wasn’t for everyone.
Some of the strongest marketers I’ve met had spent time outside of marketing. They’ve taken hiatuses to work in sales, product, customer success, or even outside of corporate business altogether. By incorporating these experiences into their work, they were able to develop more nuanced perspectives on marketing. As sales and marketing continue to align, we are certain to see more overlap between the sales and marketing career paths.
If you’re feeling like your career has stagnated, it may be worth taking a leap into a different kind of role. It doesn’t mean the end of your career as a marketer. Instead, it might make you a better marketer and provide you with more diverse experiences and opportunities to meet people and discover new interests.
13. Make the move when it feels right
There’s no need to keep to a certain schedule of promotions, advancements, and raises. For one person, a single position could be dynamic and challenging enough to keep them interested for many years. For others, a few months in a position may be enough to know it is not the right fit.
I’ve felt a lot of competition from my peers in marketing for the ‘best’ title or the most money. In the face of this pressure, it is crucial to remember each of us is on our own journey. All companies are different and all jobs are different. The best way to be sure that I’m growing is by returning and reflecting on my own career goals.
Pursuing a marketing career is a rewarding and challenging journey. As you chart your marketing adventure, consider both following the established trails and finding a way to forge your own path.
What to Expect from an Average Promotion Raise. Indeed.com. February 22, 2021.
Salaries for Marketing Jobs. Salary.com
The 25 Best Marketing Job Titles [Ranked by Search Volume]. Rob Kelly. Ongig.com. January 24, 2020.