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How to Become a Marketing Manager With Authentic Advice From People Who Have Actually Done It

Published June 16, 2023
/ Updated February 2, 2024

Good news: becoming a marketing manager is way easier today than it was 10+ years ago. You don’t need a bachelor’s degree or certificates from fancy schools anymore.

In most cases, all you need is a laptop. With salaries, on average, around $60,000 in the U.S., it’s no wonder that the marketing manager role still ranks in the Top 100 jobs, according to the U.S. News and World Report’s list.

This sounds easy as cake, right? Sure, but how do you get started if you have no prior experience as a marketer? How do you move up if you are a junior in the field? Just like every career choice, your journey will consist of a combination of studying, networking, and portfolio building.

Don’t just take my word for it. In this blog post, I have interviewed a few experts from the field of marketing. How did they make it? What was their recipe for success? They all had some excellent tips to share; ones that go beyond the usual advice you’d read everywhere else.

A career change could lead you to be happier at work. What can you lose?

We can start with advice from Justin, who is a Global Content Strategy Manager at TechSmith:

Realize you, and you alone, own your career path. The best thing you can do is stay curious and keep learning every day. I single-handedly changed my career by being curious and simply “Google-ing” stuff. If you’re stuck in a job you hate or just want to learn something new, the answer is easy: Just Google it! The internet has completely leveled the playing field, if you’re willing to put the time and effort in to learn.

What Does a Marketing Manager Do?

Type A: The “Generalist”

Hint: you’ll do more than just post pics on Instagram. A marketing manager wears many hats; you need to have a good understanding of all areas of your campaigns. The “Generalist” is the most common type of manager you will see in this role.

Anatomy of a hybrid marketing manager

This means having a working knowledge of basically all of the following marketing areas:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
  • PPC (Pay Per Click, e.g. Google AdWords or Facebook Ads)
  • Social media
  • Video editing
  • Graphic design
  • Mobile experience
  • Content writing
  • Analytics and data science
  • Basic level HTML/CSS/JavaScript
  • Offline marketing, such as flyers, billboards, posters, etc. (dependent on the company’s needs)

“That’s a lot!” you might say. “Do I actually need to know all this?” Yes. Here’s why: in most cases, you are also responsible for budgeting and expenses, and you cannot do that without knowing all the best practices.

The best way to excel in this role is by always monitoring the performance of your team’s projects and improving upon them whenever possible. What gets measured, gets managed, right?

Mile Živković, Marketing Manager from Chanty, agrees:

My best tip for becoming a marketing manager is to try your best to be a generalist. What you need to do is learn a little bit of everything, so that you can do everyone’s job well but not be an expert. When you know how to do lots of things in digital marketing, you’re well suited to be a manager because you’ll know how to determine what success means for employees that work for you.

Type B: The “Specialist”

If you feel that being a generalist is too big of a bite for you, you’re not alone. Many professionals prefer to specialize in just one to three areas from the list above.

Don’t worry; you can find an abundance of jobs like this, such as Social Media Marketing Manager, SEO Manager, PPC Manager, Content Manager, etc.


  • Dive into the specialty you enjoy the most.
  • Build a strong portfolio.
  • Responsibility for a smaller portion of the budget.


  • You need to adapt to other managers during the execution of integrated campaigns. For example, an SEO Manager would need to learn to collaborate with the Content Manager.
  • Limited say in the running of other marketing arms.

Where to Learn the Basics to Become a Marketing Manager

Get ready to immerse yourself in the fascinating world of marketing!

As I stated at the start of this blog post, you don’t need to enroll in a brand name school to learn about digital marketing.

Jesse Wisnewski, Marketing Director at Tithe.ly, speaks about the importance of being well-rounded in all things marketing.

There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Learn behavioral psychology and storytelling. Get experience in business development and social media. Figure out content marketing and conversion rate optimization. You don’t have to be an expert in every area, but you should focus on obtaining a breadth of knowledge and experience you can pull from to create, implement, and analyze an integrated marketing plan.

To become a marketing manager, you do need to find your style of learning and make it your own.

Where to start?

Here is a list of free resources to get you started:

t shaped marketing graph by exposure ninja

There are also a lot of reputable websites that offer high-quality courses on different marketing topics, such as Coursera, Digital Marketing Institute, or LinkedIn.

One of the top advantages of these paid courses is that you get a clear curriculum right at the start. This means that you don’t need to spend time trying to figure out what to learn next — a real life-saver for those starting from scratch. You also get a pro-teacher and a virtual classroom setting.

The fee is usually a fraction of a full-blown certificate, so I think they are definitely worth it.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Marketing Manager?

You don’t necessarily need a college degree to pursue a career as a marketing manager. But it helps. A majority of marketing managers have a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, Advertising, Communications, Public Relations, Business, as well as other related fields.

In addition to a degree, employers look for relevant experience and marketing manager certifications.

To become a marketing manager, you need to find your learning style and make it your own.

How to Gain Experience in Digital Marketing

Next, work on adding some hands-on experience to your resumé… but who is hiring complete newbies? Well, nobody, so how do you get your experience?

The answer is: free work.

Hang in there; hear me out.

Gaining experience is your top priority, if you’re not in a junior marketing position already. The only way you’ll find a job in marketing is by showing off some impressive stats from actual campaigns you ran.

Whatever you do, manage up by showing how your work produces tangible results for your business or organization. Running a new social media advertising campaign? Great; but how much are you paying per lead or customer and how many leads or customers did this produce? Did you whip up a bunch of new content for your blog or podcast? Sweet; but how did this influence traffic or sign-ups?

You shouldn’t shy away from showing off your work when you have the opportunity.

Many business owners or organizations are happy to take on beginners for a little marketing boost. They don’t have to pay, and you earn some practical experience with real-world companies.

Pro tip: Don’t work entirely for free. Make it a condition to receive a testimonial from the client upon completing your internship/free help. You can ask them to give you a recommendation on LinkedIn, or just send it over email — which you can display on your website, resumé, or elsewhere.

Justin Simon, Global Content Strategy Manager at TechSmith:

In the early stages of your career, it is better to go after experience, good mentors, and exposure rather than money. Pick your mentors. A passionate mentor or teammates will bring out the best in you and your work.

Where to Find Free Work

It should be fairly easy to find a company or individual who’ll take you up on your free digital marketing services offer.

Nick, Content Manager at Better Proposals:

Volunteering in non-profit organizations can give you your first opportunity. Even running your own project — such as a website, blog, or social media account in a topic closely related to the industry you are looking to get hired — can demonstrate your experience there.

You can try your friends and family, local businesses, non-profits, entrepreneurs, or look in Facebook/LinkedIn/Slack groups.

Treat these free clients the way you’d treat a paying client. Once they see your work quality and your results, your free gig can easily turn into a paid one. Even if they’re not open to this option, their testimonial or network of other businesses can also lead to paid work.

Software and Tools to Learn and Skills to Gain

Digital marketing is an industry with an abundance of tools at your disposal. Knowing which marketing tools to use is a must.

forms of digital marketing by category

View these Digital Marketing examples here.

You can look at a few marketing manager job opportunities in your preferred industry and see what type of tools they require. You will likely see some tools repeated or represented more than others.

These are the ones in which you need a head start (also included: soft skills).

Tools for marketing management


SEO tools are pretty cool. You can do a lot with them and get rich insights on how users perceive your website. First and foremost, you should learn your way around Google’s tools, then move onto more heavyweight platforms.

  • Google Search Console
  • Google Ads keyword planner
  • Ahrefs
  • MOZ
  • SEMrush
  • Majestic
  • Screaming Frog

Social Media Marketing

Being “always on” in social media is a must these days. Scheduling carefully crafted posts ahead of time has grown into a tactic on its own. Long gone are the days when asking your nephew to “do your Facebook” was enough. With these tools, you’ll get valuable insights into the performance of your campaigns.

  • CoSchedule
  • Buffer
  • Hootsuite
  • ContentStudio
  • Mention
  • Advertising platforms for Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn

Email Marketing

Email marketing is still one of the most effective channels for marketers. The stat goes: If you put $1 into email marketing, you get $40 back in revenue. Emails are an intimate way to reach your audience… and their wallets.

  • MailChimp
  • Constant Contact
  • Sendgrid
  • HubSpot
  • Aweber
  • Campaign Monitor
  • Moosend (check out their newsletter templates)

Content Marketing

Content marketing has evolved a lot in the past decade. A more sophisticated and personalized experience prevails today, which brought on a variety of tools, too. From topic discovery to publishing to grammar review, you need a lot more than just jotting down words into a document.

  • WordPress
  • CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer Studio
  • Medium
  • BuzzSumo
  • ConvertKit
  • Grammarly
  • Canva
  • Instasize


If you are thinking about tapping into the online retail market, you’ll need to learn one or more eCommerce platforms. Generally, once you learn one, you can easily transfer that knowledge into the other tools.

  • Shopify
  • WooCommerce
  • BigCommerce
  • Magento
  • PrestaShop
  • OpenCart


Analyzing your results is fun. You get to be a detective looking for clues and setting up hypotheses. For example, is the bounce rate high on the landing page because the CTA is not working? Is it because it’s the first and last step for your users’ journey?

Don’t worry, all of this jargon will make sense after you’ve completed a couple of analytics courses!

  • Google Analytics
  • Google Data Studio
  • Tableau
  • Kissmetrics
  • Mention
  • Optimizely
  • Marketo
  • Adobe Analytics
  • Even more choices in big data analytics software

Soft Skills

Let’s not forget about must-have soft skills. If you feel that you check off most of these skills in the list, you’ll likely thrive in a marketing manager position.

  • Problem-solving
  • Multitasking
  • Adaptability
  • Collaborative
  • Ownership mentality

How to Build an Online Presence

Now that you have dipped your toe in the waters of digital marketing, you can start setting your presence, too. If you’re thinking about creating something that will be “good enough,” then think again.

More often than not, hiring managers will look up potential candidates. What they find about you can strengthen or weaken your overall portfolio. Tell your story and be compelling. Pictured below is an example of how you can create an eye-catching narrative through a visual medium.

Share your journey to tell your story

You can view this story here.

It’s important not to overshare.

Personal branding to build a marketing strategy

Jonas, SEO Manager at Terakeet:

It’s not a good look if a hiring manager searches your name, and the results don’t tell the same story as your application. Recruiters will question your ability to manage a marketing department for a large company, if you can’t even manage your personal brand online.

Joshua Barney, from Einstein Marketer:

A decent-sized, engaged following on social proves that you’re active, that you create content that people like and have an understanding about the value of an asset, like a social media audience.

Here’s a list of things you’ll need:

  • Website (think WordPress or similar)
  • Facebook profile
  • Facebook page
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest

If You’re Already in a Junior Marketing Role…

Then this is your most important step. Creating your online brand or even a side-project can give you essential experience that you wouldn’t otherwise gain at work.

Jesse Wisnewski, from Tithely:

If you don’t have an opportunity to deliver marketing results, start a side hustle where you can get experience doing just that. No need to wait for permission; do your own thing and show people you can do the work. There are a ton of people who cut their teeth in marketing this way.

Plus, you get to oversee all levels of a campaign (think ideation, creation, setup, monitoring, analytics, and more).

Who Do You Want to Be Managing?

The marketing manager role can be used in almost any industry.

A non-profit needs a marketing manager just as much as a big consumer brand, a hardware company, or a local mom-and-pop. Which direction would you prefer going?

For example, if you’re looking to move to the marketing function of your existing company, you can be on the lookout for internal opportunities.

Jesse Wisnewski adds to this:

If something comes up, take the initiative to experiment or take on new work. Don’t wait for someone else’s blessing. Show your work, make your case, and put yourself out there.

On the other hand, if you’re applying externally, simply look up ads for this position and see which companies stand out for you. You can also check their social media presence to see their general brand voice, if they have any. Picture yourself doing day-to-day work for these companies for years.

Abby Nieten, Manager of Content Strategy at Formstack:

Understand the company or brand you want to represent. Follow their social accounts. Sign up for their email newsletter. Learn what they are about.

How to Start Networking for a Job

Networking is one of the most important parts of any job search. 85% of all jobs are filled via networking.

Emilia, Marketing Manager at Userpilot:

In 2016, I decided to start offering copywriting and got hooked at SEO. I was showing up in startup groups, and my first clients came from recommendations. I landed my first full-time marketing manager position by simply offering an SaaS startup to work for commission. A crucial element in kick-starting my career was going to marketing and SaaS conferences and networking there. Altogether, good copywriting, SEO strategy skills, management experience, networking at relevant events, and showing up in relevant Facebook groups opened more opportunities for me.

Alyssa Greve, Director of Content Marketing at Cambria:

Network, gain constructive feedback, and build relationships with others — if the opportunity isn’t there, create it!

As Alyssa said, if an opportunity hasn’t yet presented itself from your free work in the earlier step, then it’s time to get more direct. Send an email to your friends/family/professional acquaintances and ask if they know of any jobs.

Quote about the importance of networking

During COVID-19, of course, a lot of these interactions can happen on LinkedIn. There are a few, creative ways people use LinkedIn for job search these days.

  • Use your headline to make your preferred role clear (use keywords).
  • Add the tagline “openforwork” to your LinkedIn profile photo.
  • While you’re there, make sure your profile photo is professional-looking (not a selfie, not from Facebook, etc.).
  • Make your profile discoverable by recruiters.
  • Publish a post to LinkedIn feed to let your connections know that you’re available for work.
  • Apply for jobs.

How to Ace a Marketing Manager Interview

You’re almost there!

You studied, you hustled, and your interview day is here! One of the best ways to sell yourself at an interview is by mentioning stats from your portfolio.

Build a portfolio to share stats on a resume

Check out some ideas on this page.

As a marketing manager, your hard-earned statistics are your blood and lifeline.

Think about it this way. If you tell someone that you increased the conversion rate of your website,  it sounds great. However, if you tell them that you increased conversion rates by 56%, that sounds fantastic and more believable!

Pro tip: Even if all of your examples are “clients” from your free work, they still count!

Alex Atkins, Head of Marketing at CXL:

Throughout the interview process, I focus on listing my accomplishments, not my responsibilities. The key here is to ensure that you provide quantitative measures to objectively display wins. If your resumé states that you were responsible for managing organic social media, you’re not going to impress anyone. If your resumé explains that you increased unique monthly website visits via organic social media by 65%, that will raise some eyebrows.

Dean Froslie, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Western State Bank:

Maybe you don’t have a manager title, but you’ve led projects, project teams, social channels, or related areas. Those are all excellent springboards to manager roles, and think about how you can discuss them through a leadership lens.

Kelsey Reaves, Director of Content Marketing from Organic Growth Marketing:

To work your way up to a Marketing Manager role, I’d recommend you start writing about what you’ve learned from marketing experiments you’ve run. It can simply be about a new subject line you tested that increased response rates by x%. Being able to point to these studies and experiments during an interview will help you stand out, not to mention build up your credibility as a marketer.

Final Tip: Don’t Stop When You Get the Job

Digital marketing is one of those industries that constantly innovates.

Don’t picture drastic changes, but rather subtle shifts in trends and best practices. You need to always keep learning and keep up to date with the industry, even after getting a marketing manager job.

Snowanna, Content Manager at Better Proposals:

The best way to get on the path of becoming a marketing manager is to never stop learning. Social media and Google algorithms change every month, and it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest developments in marketing and SEO. You can do this by reading the best industry blogs, but it’s even better to be involved and do the actual work.

Are you ready to become a marketing manager? Do you think you want to be a “Generalist” or a “Specialist”? There is only one way to find out: get started today!