It must be that time of year, but there seems to be a more solid flow of personal requests for career advice when it comes to Marketing.
Instead of limiting the communication of these questions and answers to email (which don't allow the tribal knowledge of content to be shared), and in the interest of having smart people like you (yes, you, the person reading this) add additional perspective and insights, let's look at some of the most common questions from individuals looking to start a career in Marketing...
Would you advise someone to study Marketing or just do it?
I dropped out of University after a semester (I was majoring in Philosophy... don't ask). The reason I dropped out was because I was always highly entrepreneurial. While getting into university, I had already begun publishing magazines. The workload of publishing got to the point where I had to make a choice. I chose the business with the full knowledge that if it didn't pan out, I would go back and get some sort of degree. I would highly recommend studying Marketing at university. Having a degree still matters, and it still adds layers of credibility to a company that is looking for an entry-level candidate. If you're not going to get that Marketing degree, make sure your time is spent proving that you understand and can execute marketing initiatives flawlessly. You have to over-deliver on the work side to compensate for the lack of a degree, which is still seen by many as an important first step.
Where should I begin if I wanted to get a proper foundation and build a professional portfolio?
A hybrid of a good university (that has great professors and courses in Marketing), real-life work experience (yes, volunteering or doing a stage) and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding will create the proper foundation. If this is what you really want to do, take the time to figure out the best courses to take, the places where you can demonstrate some great work and immerse yourself in Blogs, magazines, articles and more about the industry.
Should I do a full degree or just get certifications?
That all depends on what you would, ultimately, like your discipline within Marketing to be. There are many different corridors and professions within the industry. If you're looking to one day hold a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) position, I would strongly advise getting a full-on degree (maybe even consider a MBA or a law degree) and as much certification (dependant on your areas of interest) that you can handle. What am I really trying to say? You can never learn enough and you should never stop learning.
What professional organizations should I look to be involved with?
Most professional organizations would love to have active and younger members. The big ones are both the Canadian Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association. I'm a huge fan of the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and I have a soft spot for the National Advertising Benevolent Society. You can also drill down into the niches and check out organizations like the Web Analytics Association, Shop.org and more.
What experience should I try to get to build a strong portfolio?
Figure out the balance between strategy and creative. Define the type of final brand, products and services that you would like to market and be open to the fact that you can learn as much about marketing pet insurance as you can when you're marketing an iPhone. Brilliant creative and building a strong portfolio (in your early days) will be about exposing yourself to as many different products and services as possible and using as many different media as possible to get that message across. Be open to experiment, push new ideas and think creatively about everything. One of the more powerful ways to build your experience is also to Blog. Sharing your thoughts will not only help you better crystallize your thinking, it will also help you build an audience. Having a Blog is also a great way to show industry professionals how you think, who you are and how your thinking has evolved. A Blog is the ultimate living portfolio.
Do you have any good sources of information for someone starting out in Marketing?
If you're simply looking for the basics, the Dummies Guide book series always offers up the perfect 101 and basic info you'll need to understand the channel and the terminology. Beyond that, you have to put yourself in the game by religiously following all of the trade publications (Advertising Age, AdWeek, Marketing Magazine, Strategy Magazine, etc...), reading the top Blogs (the Ad Age Power 150 is a good place to start) and don't forget about following some of the key marketing people on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Each city also usually holds different types of Marketing events. Beyond just participating and become a known "face" in the crowd, why not call up the organizers and offer up your time as a volunteer. You may just meet some key industry players while becoming known as a leader in your city.
Now, it's your turn. What advice would you offer up to a Marketing n00b?