“How important is a degree to become a marketer?”
This question was asked on Inbound.org a while back and the responses, all of which were from experienced marketers, were very interesting.
The short answer? No you don’t need a college degree to be a marketer.
As you probably know, I’m a college dropout and I’m the Director of Marketing at a startup. I’ve have worked with dozens of other clients over the last few years and have turned away a number of good job offers.
The interesting thing is that almost nobody who matters has ever asked me about my degree status. They’re too interested in whether I can help them grow their business to care whether I have a formal credential. I always suspected this would be the case but it took experiencing it in the real world a number of times to realize just how little professionals actually care about your credentials.
In fact, when I tell people I don’t have a degree, I often experience the opposite of what you might think. People are interested and want to know more, and it helps for me to be able to say that at 23 years old I’ve got almost 4 years of experience selling products and building businesses.
While people I know who were studying advertising and marketing in class by reading outdated articles and doing “mock campaigns,” I was learning and applying what I learned in the real world. I actually have a track record of doing marketing.
There were mistakes made along the way but I was able to build a portfolio of work I’d done and a network of clients I’d helped.
In the end, that speaks far more loudly than any degree I could have gotten. So do you need a degree? I didn’t.
I’m not alone in thinking this.
7 marketers on whether you need a college degree to do marketing
I’ve copied seven of the responses from the Inbound.org post.
They aren’t written by your teachers, your peers, school administrators, or your parents, none of whom likely have experience doing marketing in the real world.
They’re all from people who actually work in marketing and they confirm what I’ve heard hundreds of times in conversation now: you do not need a college degree to become a marketer.
Pay attention to what they have to say — it might just give you four years of your life back.
Ed Fry, Growth at Hull.io
True marketing talent doesn’t come from study, or something you’re “born with”, but from doing it. Practicing something, noticing patterns in what works (and what doesn’t), using that learnt intuition to try new things – and round the cycle goes.
To do that though takes initiative – some sort of self-starting in you.
“You need a degree” or “you’re not born with it” sound like excuses. Poor excuses at that.
Studying for a degree can nurture that self-starting ‘taking the initiative’ in people, but it’s by no means the only way.
As I said in this thread, one of the most important things to crack besides this is building a network of friends and peers. Opportunities (jobs, clients etc.) are attached to people. Assuming you’re already a self-starter, that’s the most important game to play.
Charlotte McMurray, Digital Performance Director at Silverbean
Personally I recruit for drive, and part of the measurement for this is evidence of the candidate applying themselves in a productive way to achieve their goals. They might demonstrate this by studying for qualifications, or by gaining relevant work experience, or by carrying out their own projects, it doesn’t matter.
However, a degree usually doesn’t usually signify this to me. It’s the “default option” to push young people into university, so for many it’s the path of least resistance. This means a lot of people with marketing degrees have simply shown up and done what they were told, and while that might get them a decent job somewhere, it’s not what I’m looking for.
Martin Harris, Head of Digital at Tank
A university degree in the UK for me just proves you are semi literate. I couldn’t care less if someone had a number of accreditations. It’s about experience and cultural fit.I’ve said to a friend recently (that has zero accreditations and experience.) To read as much about SEO as possible to the point where he understands nearly every facet of the industry, buy a domain and try and get it to rank for a semi competitive term.If he comes with that experience, I’d hire him as a entry level SEO over a graduate any day of the week.
Amal Rafeeq, Digital Marketing Manager at WowMakers
A degree could help, maybe. But it’s not at all important.
I’m the Head of Digital Marketing where I work. I get paid pretty much and there are like 15 people working under me. My job’s fun, life’s good.
I’m 19 and a college dropout. I studied psychology for two years and I knew it wasn’t getting me anywhere I wanted to be at.
Experimenting, self learning and efforts are what helped me. Not a degree.
Kashif Malim, Freelance Marketer
Look at it this way: You can read a book and learn how an automobile engine is made, but you can’t really make a nice Hemi V8 until you get your hands dirty and put in the time. You might know what something looks like, how it is supposed to work, but the intricacies and fine details, you can’t figure those out till you work on them.
You can talk about marketing all you want, but you won’t know how to market a product to a certain audience effectively and efficiently until you’ve actually put in the time and can read the larger audience.
Jeff White, Principal at Kula Partners
I’ve hired several dozen marketers, designers and developers since starting Kula many years ago.
We don’t care what school they went to, or if they even did. It’s not listed in our job requirements, and we don’t talk about education in our interviews. Ever. We also don’t even really care about experience in the field. What I want to see is enthusiasm, desire to learn and an understanding of how to thrive in a results-driven environment.
Rafi Pryntz-Nadworny, Inbound Marketing at Jorsek LLC
I think one of the critical things for getting in and staying marketing is proving ROI. Degrees and certifications are just methods of demonstrating capabilities. There’s many other ways like project reports, live examples, or best practices, that you can use to demonstrate ROI more effectively (and cheaper) than a test score or a badge.
What you need instead of a degree
“I agree with you. I’m going to skip college and read a bunch of marketing books!”
Don’t do that. While it’s valuable to read and study marketing, you aren’t going to build a career that way. Nobody is going to hire you because you read a bunch of books.
You need work experience at a company or as a freelancer and you need documented history of creating value. An employer would much rather hear you say “I built a marketing funnel with MailChimp that generated $5,000 in new sales” than “I studied a bunch of marketing books on my own.”
How do I get work if I don’t have a degree?
I would find a small business in your area or a small business online and figure out something valuable you can do for them for free.
Learn their website in and out, buy their products so you can experience their sales funnel, check out their blog content, review their social media channels, and follow their offline marketing efforts. Then develop a value proposition for them and send send it to them.
Here’s a good example of one.
I’ve worked with dozens of people who have done exactly this and have been able to get great opportunities despite having little experience and no formal credential.
You’ll use the initial work you get as a way to learn on the job and see how marketing actually works at a business. That’s how you learn to be a good marketer.
Documenting your work
Throughout this process you should be documenting about what you’re working on, the company you’re working with, and the things you’re learning.
YouTube, Quora, and a personal blog are all great channels on which to do this. I even recall seeing a marketing position listing once call for links to all of these platforms as evidence for your marketing work.
When I search you on Google, I should be able to find quickly that you’re a marketer working with X companies. Buy a url matching your name and set up a basic site. You can use my website as a template (I set this up in a few hours).
Your degree status won’t hold any weight next to a digital paper trail that screams “I’m a competent marketer.”
Rather than hitting on points I’ve already covered on this blog, here are some articles I’ve written that will give you a deeper look at what to do. I would read these and put them into practice as soon as possible.
Getting a job in marketing is not that hard.