how to gain experience in digital marketing as a student or recent graduate

How to Gain Experience in Digital Marketing as a Student or Recent Graduate

We’ve all heard it said before, and it remains as relevant as ever. It’s the ultimate struggle faced by almost every student or graduate out there:

You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.

Unfortunately landing a job in some industries, such as marketing and digital marketing, are so dependent on having experience and the ability to demonstrate your skills and abilities – yet not every university offers sandwich courses or degrees with placement opportunities incorporated into them – leaving the graduate in a difficult position when it comes to finding employment. 

Often there is a huge gap between education and industry when it comes to digital marketing, but a great way to start bridging this gap and setting your expectations for the workplace is to seek out and find opportunities to gain experience on your own. This puts you in the best position to build a portfolio that impresses employers and will help you find work when the time comes. 

Here’s our 7 top tips for gaining experience in digital marketing as a student or recent graduate.

1. Educate Yourself and Hone your Skills

educate yourself and hone your skills

There are plenty of free, online, self paced learning resources available that can help you to learn additional skills or refresh your knowledge on old university modules you perhaps haven’t visited for some time. Check out sources such as Hubspot academy, Google Digital Garage, Semrush Academy, LinkedIn Learning, and edX to advance your knowledge on topics such as SEO, content marketing, social media, ecommerce, analytics and more. To find out more about each of these learning resources check out our other blog, Top 5 best free online digital marketing learning resources from a recent graduate.

Digital 24 also run regular online webinars in collaboration with the council and leading organisations in Northern Ireland that are free to attend and fully interactive. Learn about things such as: 

  • Video marketing
  • Optimising your ecommerce platforms 
  • Social media marketing 
  • SEO
  • Google My Business
  • And so much more!

Keep an eye on our LinkedIn and Instagram accounts for upcoming free webinars that you can sign up for and start advancing your skills and knowledge

You can also join our closed Facebook group Digital 24 Academy – This group is meant for anyone who has attended a Digital Twenty Four training session or conference and wants to avail of getting access to the presentation slides or additional support. It is also a hub for people who want to learn digital marketing so ask questions, network and share relevant industry content as you wish.

As well as this, you should consider familiarising yourself with creative tools such as Canva, which is free to use and a crucial tool in digital marketing for quick and effective content creation. You’ll also want to get some practice with platforms like WordPress, Shopify, and make sure you can confidently use social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Youtube and Pinterest

2. Write Your Own Blogs

write your own blogs

Writing skills are a crucial part of digital marketing – whether it’s writing ad copy, a catchy social media post or a client blog to boost SEO, this is something you’ll want to get plenty of practice with and include in your portfolio. 

A great way to get practice with your writing skills, and familiarise yourself with tools such as WordPress and Shopify (as mentioned in point one) is to start writing your own blog. By writing your own blog you can hone your writing skills, work on improving your SEO and learning best practices for when it comes to professional writing, and start creating real work, with real results, that can be showcased in a portfolio of work. 

Write about current social media or digital marketing trends you’re noticing, write features about your favourite social media influencers, create informative or educational blog posts about something you’re skilled at, or review a product or event you’ve been involved with recently. 

Practice your keyword research and incorporate keywords into the text in a natural and conversational way. 

3. Set up a Digital Marketing Social Media Account

set up a digital marketing social media account

Often a large part of working in digital marketing is creating content for and managing organic social media accounts for your business or clients. Many of us have personal social media accounts but have no idea what it takes to build a large, engaged following that consistently delivers positive results. 

instagram example 1

A great way to practice this is by setting up your own digital marketing social media accounts with the intention of growing them organically through regular, consistent and engaging posts. Many graduates and digital marketers will do this to become involved in a community of like minded peers to network, support and learn from each other. 

It’s a great way to practice hashtags, community management (by engaging with your followers and other accounts) and learn what does and doesn’t work for growing organic social accounts.

instagram example 2

Not only will this help you build confidence in creating content and growing a social media account, but it will also allow you to learn from your peers and make new friends, building your network of marketers or those in the digital industry. 

Through these networks you will find really valuable information, shared resources and other helpful tools that will help you to develop skills that you can transfer into the workplace once you do find employment. 

4. Create Your Own Content 

create your own content

Again, learning how to make good content is crucial for working in digital marketing. Even if you don’t have a live campaign to work on, make one up! Find an existing company that you like and mock up organic social media posts or ad creatives for them.

It’s important to focus on branding – so matching the colours, fonts and styles of existing content. It’s easy to overlook this, but so important if you’re taking over an existing social media account that already has a particular grid layout or specific aesthetic. When you work in marketing, larger brands will have clear, set guidelines for their branding that must be followed exactly, so learning how to do this early on will be beneficial. 

There is no shortage in blogs and video tutorials you can use to advance your skills in programmes such as Canva, so work on creating really engaging content that aligns with the brand’s style and you’re one step closer to your dream job. 

5. Look for Local Placement Opportunities 

look for local placement opportunities

While they can be difficult to come across, it’s not impossible to find genuine placement opportunities after university through employers who are willing to train and educate you while you temporarily work for them. 

Always keep an eye on job search websites such as Indeed or LinkedIn for these opportunities, but remember how competitive they will be and make sure you’re equipped with a strong CV and portfolio to make yourself stand out. 

Get proactive and reach out to local digital marketing agencies, let them know you’re open to work and willing to learn more about the industry. If they have the time and resources to support you, often they will be open to mentoring you, giving insight into their jobs, the journey they took to get where they are, and potentially provide placement opportunities. 

Don’t be afraid to take a step backwards either – sometimes local colleges will run free short courses with placement opportunities that could be the foot in the door of a company who could decide to keep you on afterwards. Keep an eye out for programmes such as SKILL UP or your local equivalent, offering fully funded, accredited courses through local colleges with placement opportunities included, with the intention of retraining or re skilling individuals as the economy recovers from the Covid 19 pandemic. 

Also look out for organisations such as Young Enterprise or your local equivalent, who recently began a ‘step into marketing’ programme to support young people with an interest in starting a career in marketing through mentorship and placement opportunities. 

6. Network 

network

The internet is a fantastic source of information and opens the lines of communication with people we may not otherwise have the opportunity to meet and work or collaborate with. 

As well as finding a community of graduates and digital marketers on social media such as Instagram (mentioned in point 3), if you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile – What are you waiting for?! LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network on the internet with millions of users, locally and globally. With niche industry groups you can join for specific content, job and placement opportunities regularly advertised, and an abundance of learning resources – it’s exactly where you need to be. 

By building a strong profile of your qualifications and professional achievements to date, you’re effectively marketing yourself to potential employers who may be looking to hire. It’s not uncommon to be headhunted on LinkedIn by employers, so work on building a strong profile and keep it up to date as you gain more certifications and experiences under your belt. 

The great thing about networking on a platform specific to professionals and getting involved in communities specific to your industry, is that you will have access to people of all levels of experience who you can learn from. Once you have a profile built and begin to grow your network, consider posting to let everyone know your skills, strengths, and that you’re open to work, and you’ll be surprised at how supportive the community can be – signposting you to resources, sharing your post to their extended network, or even offering you some 1-1 mentoring. 

Another great way to find opportunities for experience is by joining digital marketing or business Facebook groups where people may post seeking digital support. It’s important however to bear in mind that these people may be small, independent businesses with little to no budget – so in the early days of your career you must be willing to work for almost nothing in order to build your portfolio and skills. 

If you’re local to Northern Ireland, you should also check out Women in Business, NI’s leading support network for women. WIB is made up of a diverse network of women united in a common drive to build relationships, develop professional skills and ultimately, achieve success.

7. Volunteer for Local Businesses or Non-profits

volunteer for local businesses

Every day there are new companies or small businesses set up by individuals with an effective business idea, but who are not digitally savvy. Have you ever seen your local chippy posting terrible images, posts with spelling errors and poor quality social media content? Why not reach out to them and offer to give them a hand for free. The worst they can say is no, and there are limitlessly more people you can reach out to if that’s the case. 

Consider there are also a lot of charities or non profit organisations who may not have the money to invest in marketing but who would substantially benefit from the digital support. Showing that you are willing to work for free to support a local charity or non profit organisation will look fantastic on your CV or LinkedIn profile and gives you real life experience in dealing with and working for a client that you can refer to in an interview with a potential employee. 

Often students and graduates will start out this way and develop such a good relationship with the company that with genuinely good results and built trust, may start paying you for the services you provide them, recommend you to their fellow business owners and provide a strong reference when the time comes. 

If you take on board any of these 7 tips, make sure you take your best work and compile it into an online portfolio, using WordPress or Wix that can be easily shared and viewed by potential employers. 

Hannah Millar
Social & Content Coordinator