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Switching into a Marketing Career: What You Need to Know

New to marketing? Learn how to use your time in business school to launch your next career

By Kara Sherrer

So you think that you might like to start a new career in marketing, but you aren’t sure how to go about it, or what you should know. You’re not alone: many MBA candidates (and some Master of Marketing students) with unrelated work experience leverage their new degree to successfully nab a competitive marketing job or internship.

Amanda Fend

Amanda Fend, Senior Associate Director of the CMC

We talked to Amanda Fend, Senior Associate Director and Coach at the Career Management Center, to find out everything you need to learn before you switching into a marketing career. Here are her nine must-know facts:

You get to make an impact early.

Marketing or brand managers often say that their work feels like “being the CEO” of their assigned products or accounts. Rather than waiting for a promotion to gain influence, you start making an impact on your brand or account right away, which many people find appealing.

Brand and product management are very popular.

Many companies have solid MBA recruiting pipelines for brand manager and product manager positions. Brand managers usually work for consumer-packaged goods (CPG) companies and ensure that the brand(s) under their control are well-marketed and selling well. Product managers work at tech companies and oversee the development and evolution of hardware and and/or software products, figuring out customer needs and communicating them to engineering teams.

There are lots of job opportunities.

While the MBA recruiting pipelines are most standardized for brand management and product management roles, you can get a marketing job at pretty much any company or industry. Leadership development programs (LDP) for marketing may also be an option. However, outside of the brand and product management tracks, recruiting processes and job functions might vary from position to position. For example, a marketing role at an airline may focus more on pricing and forecasting strategies, while a position at an entertainment company may involve more social media campaigns. “You can go do marketing for financial services (for example), but you have to figure out what that looks like for an MBA,” Fend said.

The work isn’t always as creative as you might think.

Vanderbilt launches new Master of Marketing degree programMany students, especially those without a business background, are drawn to marketing because of its reputation for creative and innovative work. That can be true, but MBA-level marketing roles also depend on data analysis and other quantitative skills. You might manage a creative agency, but you probably won’t be doing creative work directly or making ads yourself. “No one is going to make a decision about where to spend money without looking at data… If you don’t want to do finance, don’t go into marketing,” Fend said.

You do a lot more than just “pure” marketing.

Marketing managers have to connect with all the teams that touch a product or service, which can include sales, finance, operations, R&D, and any outside agencies. You’ll be working with cross-functional teams, so there’s always a lot of variety in the work. “You’re going to be doing a little bit of everything, and also working with everybody in the company…it’s a support function,” Fend said. “It’s very much general management.”

You should get experience from the start.

Many MBA candidates recruit for marketing jobs, so it’s really important to show that you are passionate and knowledgeable about the field. Participate in case competitions and take on project work for actual companies so you have something to put on your resumé. Follow marketing trends and specific companies in your desired industry so you’ll have a bank of examples to pull from during interviews — you’ll definitely be asked to discuss a well- or poorly-marketed product. “You have to signal to recruiters that you care (about marketing),” Fend said.

You should know why you want to go into marketing.

Having specific reasons why you want to get a career in marketing will help set you apart from the crowd. A lot of candidates only offer vague reasons for wanting to go into marketing, or can’t articulate their motivations at all; this is sure to get your resumé put in the reject pile. “One of the best things (career switchers) can do is figure out why they want to do marketing and articulate it,” Fend said.

National career fairs can help kickstart the internship search.

National career fairs are an effective way to get exposure to multiple companies and connect with numerous recruiters over the course of a couple days. The National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) Conference & Exposition attracts a lot of consumer-packaged goods companies, as well as others looking for marketing candidates. There are also many MBA conferences for particular groups, such as the MBA Veterans Career Conference for military veterans and the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) Conference for LGBTQ students.

People successfully switch into marketing careers all the time.

If you’re feeling discouraged about switching into a career in marketing, don’t be — students from all kinds of backgrounds successfully switch into marketing every single year. Fend can easily name the most unique work backgrounds of students who have switched into marketing:  frozen yogurt store owner, golf pro teacher, wealth manager, aerospace and manufacturing analyst, construction manager. “They all have good jobs now,” she said.

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