Content Therapy is Managing Editor’s twice-monthly advice column, where Paul Chaney responds to your questions about the messy dilemmas content marketers face in their work. We are (obviously) not licensed therapists. Send us your questions!

Help! I’m Looking to Get Into Marketing, But I Don’t Have an Internship!

Dear Content Therapist: I’m graduating college this month with a marketing degree and a lot of work experience through internships and summer jobs. But one big worry I have is that I didn’t have an internship in a marketing department. How much is this going to hold me back in the job market? I’m applying for work and, so far, no luck, but I’m not sure whether that’s just a reflection of a tough job market or whether I’m being judged for lacking qualifications. And if an internship is important, what can I do to overcome this deficiency? How else can I show that I’d be a good early-career hire for a marketing job? — SOON-TO=BE GRAD

Paul Chaney: There’s no doubt that an internship is helpful. Internships provide practical experience crucial for understanding the marketing industry. They also offer professional networking opportunities where you can learn industry-specific skills and get a better feel for the workplace. Plus, having an internship under your belt enhances your resume, making you a more attractive candidate to prospective employers.

But don’t let that hold you back. According to LinkedIn survey data, most marketing professionals don’t have internship experience. And the lack of an internship isn’t the only mitigating factor: The job market isn’t favorable to new college graduates right now. The unemployment rate for recent grads is higher than before the pandemic says the Washington Post. 

So, where does that leave you? 

Instead of living with regret, shift your mindset away from marketing (or any other field, for a moment) to sales. By that, I mean think of yourself as a salesperson. That’s necessary because it’s precisely what you are — you’re selling yourself. 

Here is some guidance you may want to follow: 

‘We Don’t Have X, But We Do Have Y’

I worked in retail years ago in a men’s clothing store. When a customer asked for a product we didn’t have, I would redirect them to one we did. I would say something like, “We don’t have that particular product, but we do have this product.” 

The beauty of marketing is that it is closely tied to life experience (i.e., we sell products and services that connect with consumers’ lifestyles and experiences). Even though you don’t have a marketing internship, you do have internship and summer job experience. Turn that into a benefit by explaining to prospective employers why both can be an asset. 

Leverage Your Degree

You also have a marketing degree. That can certainly work to your advantage, as most marketing professionals don’t. That’s true of me; I’ve been in this field for over 25 years. It’s also true of most of my colleagues. 

We had to learn marketing “the hard way.” Your degree gives you a leg up. It has equipped you with a foundational understanding of marketing principles and skills. If nothing else, encourage yourself that you have knowledge many people in the field don’t. 

Network, Network, Network

Take charge of your career by auditing your personal and professional networks — family, friends, university alums, LinkedIn connections — and reach out to those who can help you find a job. Attend industry networking events and workshops to meet prospective employers and learn about job openings.

Continue Developing Your Skills

Marketing is a fast-moving profession, so you must continue developing your skill set. Certainly, learning how to use generative AI is a given these days. Also, find a specific area of interest, such as digital marketing, analytics or content creation, and focus on that. Research in-demand marketing vocations and take certification courses to hone your skills in one or more areas. 

Build Your Personal Brand

Build a solid personal brand by maintaining a professional online presence, especially on platforms like LinkedIn. Share your knowledge there, or start a blog. Participate in discussion groups and showcase your relevant projects or coursework. 

Take a Job Outside of Marketing

Consider taking a job in a related field that might not require extensive marketing experience but could provide valuable exposure and opportunities to transition into marketing roles. As I said earlier, marketing is closely related to life, so the more experience you gain, the better off you are. 

Apply for Jobs Directly

I have applied for many jobs over the years via LinkedIn and other third-party platforms with little success. It’s better to apply to job listings directly on employer websites (or in person). Tailor your resume and cover letter to highlight relevant coursework, projects and transferable skills that compensate for the lack of an internship. 

Thoroughly Prepare for Interviews

Prepare for interviews by researching the company and relevant industry trends. Be ready to discuss how your background, skills and education make you an ideal candidate. 

Learn From Each Experience

Stay positive. Don’t take rejection personally; it’s part of the process. Instead, use each experience as a learning opportunity and continue refining your approach. 

Don’t Accept ‘No’ for an Answer

Sales is a numbers game that requires patience, persistence and determination. If you get 10 rejection letters, go to the 11th interview — and the 12th, 13th or whatever number it takes until you find a job.

How Can I Set Up Career-Changing Marketers for Success?

Dear Content Therapist: I’ve hired many people over the years, but most of them have been entry-level or had lots of relevant content marketing experience. But recently, we’ve been interviewing candidates looking to make a career switch to brand marketing. They have a variety of experience and lots of adjacent skills (industry expertise, good communication skills, etc.), but this would be their first job focused on content marketing. Given the pace of change in everything marketing these days, I’m concerned about how to properly onboard such candidates without overwhelming them — and whether they can keep up. When hiring people changing careers to marketing, how can I make sure they onboard successfully? — RECRUITING CAREER-SWITCHERS

Paul Chaney: When onboarding career switchers into content marketing roles, structure and support are the name of the game. 

Structure enables you to build a replicable, defined process. Support ensures the employee has the resources and guidance needed throughout onboarding. That’s true of any employee, but especially with career switchers. 

Here’s an outline to consider: 

Pre-Onboarding and Week 1: Orientation and Introduction

You know how airline gate agents provide information before boarding passengers while flight attendants demonstrate safety procedures before takeoff? You should offer “preboarding” to inform, educate and inspire new hires before their official start. That includes activities like sending company swag, introducing them to the team virtually and giving them an overview of their first week.

Introduce them to the company’s culture, core values and policies on their first day. Arrange meet-and-greet sessions with team members across different departments. Provide resources on marketing fundamentals, including brand guidelines and customer profiles. Take care of administrative tasks promptly, preferably electronically, to focus on learning.

Weeks 2-4: Training, Shadowing and Initial Assignments

Train on key marketing tools and software, such as content management systems and analytics platforms. Have the new hire shadow different marketing functions, from content creation to campaign management. Assign low-risk projects to apply their learning practically, like creating content for internal communications. Provide immediate feedback and check for understanding. 

Another helpful step is to pair the new hire with an experienced colleague who can guide them through the steps and answer questions for smoother integration. 

Month 2: Integration and Project Involvement

Establish weekly one-on-one meetings to discuss progress, address concerns and provide feedback. Gradually involve them in larger projects, allowing the new hire to contribute ideas and take on more responsibility. Remember: encourage and compliment publicly, but correct privately. 

Continue with workshops covering advanced marketing topics like SEO and paid advertising, tailored to their background and experience level.

Month 3 and Beyond: Evaluation, Mentorship and Continued Growth

Conduct a formal review of their progress, setting future goals and discussing areas for improvement. Pair them with a mentor for ongoing guidance and support.

Continue promoting education and engagement with workshops, webinars and online courses to keep them updated with industry trends. Encourage them to apply their unique skills and experiences to marketing tasks.

Ongoing Support

Foster a welcoming environment where they feel comfortable asking questions and expressing concerns. Invite them to contribute ideas for new projects, validating their fresh perspectives. Highlight the importance of adaptability in marketing and equip them with the skills to explore new tools and processes.

Follow this structured, supportive onboarding process and you will help career switchers successfully transition into their new marketing roles, leveraging their unique backgrounds to add value and diversity to your team. 

One more piece of advice: As with the tortoise and the hare (turtle and rabbit), slow and steady wins the race. Be patient with these career switchers. It may take them longer to adapt to new procedures and learn new skills, but given time, they will. 

Disclaimer: The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. It is not intended to substitute for advice from a licensed mental health provider, health care provider or legal professional.