how to become a digital marketer illustration

Become a digital marketer in no time (even without experience)


In hindsight, my path to becoming a digital marketer has been ridiculous.

You see, I got seduced by the bold promises found in the wild world of the internet claiming to “make $10,000/month online while only working a few hours per day!”

Like you, I figured it was a scam, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would require to make just a fraction of that online.

It led me down the rabbit hole of learning how to run direct response ads — those mystical ads that aim to drive a certain trackable result, like an app install or the sale of a product. I felt like a modern Don Draper being able to sell sand in the Sahara.

I used my hard-earned savings to fund these experiments and it was nerve-wracking to put my own money on the line. I had no clue what I was doing and being a poor student I didn’t have much money either.

While it wasn’t the smartest move in terms of becoming a digital marketer, it taught me the power of having skin in the game. I spent countless hours analyzing the data I bought with my blood, sweat, and cash, eventually mastering the art of dissecting campaign performance and the mysteries of what went wrong.

In the grand scheme of things this skill has served me well, but it took me far too long to learn. I had to take on many side gigs just to scrape together enough cash to pay for those ads. It was a constant dance between earning money to feed the ads and practicing the art of running them.

In hindsight, a wiser choice given my situation would’ve been to learn how to attract free organic traffic through writing a blog, building an Instagram account, or a YouTube channel.

Pursuing ads first is smarter as an employee at a company where we can learn on their dime with small campaigns supervised by more experienced colleagues.

This guide is intended as a follow-up if you’ve decided that digital marketing is a good career for you and are looking for the next steps to make your move.

I’ll cover how best to get a foot in the door at your dream company while figuring out what you need to learn to do a good job there, without having to spend years getting a digital marketing degree.

Let’s first look at the most common path before comparing it with a better alternative.

The most common path to get into digital marketing

Let’s tackle the toughest question right off the bat: When do you know you’re ready to make the switch to a career in digital marketing?

Is it when you land your first job as a digital marketer? When you complete a degree or certification in the field? Or perhaps after finishing an internship?

In more traditional fields, it’s often tied to obtaining a specific degree or certification. However, the landscape of digital marketing is a bit murkier. Practical experience and tangible results tend to hold more weight than a degree in the eyes of modern employers.

There’s no definitive answer here, but many of us believe that the turning point comes when you secure that first job in the field.

Now, the typical roadmap to land a job in digital marketing usually follows a straightforward progression:

  1. Get a bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) 
  2. Pursue additional certifications 
  3. Complete internships to gain a foothold 
  4. Land a job

This journey often starts with a three-year bachelor’s degree, and some even opt for a master’s degree. Many enter the job market here, but when they can’t land a job they tend to get more certifications.

Afterward, it’s common to embark on 3-6 month-long internships to explore different areas of digital marketing and determine where to specialize. 

This specialization is the essence of becoming a “T-shaped marketer,” where you focus on one specific area of digital marketing while maintaining a surface-level understanding of other related domains. For example, you might specialize in running performance ads on Facebook and Google while having a basic understanding of SEO, email marketing, and social media.

Alternatively, there’s a growing trend of completing more affordable online courses that offer certifications and sometimes even job placements. These classes provide more flexibility, especially for career switchers, as they can be completed faster than a traditional degree.

They are more affordable and regularly updated to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the industry. They’re a nice alternative to the standard degree path, and if you’re ambitious, you could potentially switch careers within just one year, rather than spending 3-5 years in a university setting.

Now, here’s a little secret from my ten years of experience in digital marketing: Neither my marketing degree nor my certifications have ever been the reason I was hired, nor have I made decisions to hire other digital marketers based on those credentials.

It’s challenging for employers to keep up with which certifications and degrees hold value, and even if they do, it doesn’t guarantee that a candidate will apply that knowledge effectively in the real world.

That’s why I’ve come to believe that unless you’re aiming for a government or bureaucratic institution, traditional credentials are not necessary in the world of digital marketing.

Instead, I’ve discovered a more effective way to become a digital marketer—one that requires extra effort on your part but allows you to stand out from the crowd.

Become a digital marketer in half the time by going off the beaten path

Certifications and degrees try to sell us a dream of becoming a digital marketer, but they tend to be proxies that don’t display how hard the employee works, just the theory they have learned.

That’s where internships come in.

The grand solution to bridge the theory-practicality gap.. But as someone who has done several in the field over the years, I can only recommend against it.

Internships are like a test drive for employers to evaluate if you’re worth hiring full-time. But more often than not, you’ll find yourself stuck with mind-numbing tasks like data entry or reporting. Let’s face it, you can’t learn much in such a short stint, especially when they know you might leave at the end anyway.

Another alternative is to come in as a solo digital marketing intern at a company without any digital marketing. That presents a different problem as you have no one to learn from. In my experience, you’re better off playing around with a hobby project for yourself when it comes down to brass tacks.

There’s a whole different game being played by the select few who go beyond the theoretical realm of digital marketing before landing a job. They start by envisioning their ultimate goal and reverse-engineer their path from there.

Instead of playing the guessing game, here’s a smarter move: reach out to your dream employers and ask about their digital marketing pain points before you even start learning the ropes.

For example, say, travel and learning foreign languages is your thing. During your research, you might discover that these businesses rarely have large marketing teams, but rather a few digital marketers that can do most things without being super specialized in one channel. You might find that one of their biggest challenges is driving eyeballs to their content from social media.

When I first did this, I was surprised to discover just how willing people were to share insights as long as they knew I came from a place of curiosity and weren’t secretly trying to sell them something.

Here’s an example of an email script to get you started:

“Hey NAME,

I’ve been following BRAND for a while and I dream of switching from EXISTING FIELD to digital marketing.

I’m reaching out because I’d like to make an impact as part of the team one day, but for now, I’m looking to understand what kind of goals I’d be working towards so I can practice the relevant skills.

To get there, I’m hoping you’d be able to help me answer one quick question: what are the most important problems a digital marketer can help solve at your company?

I don’t have anything to sell–I’m just looking to learn before I apply for jobs in the field.

I look forward to hearing from you.



I’ve found it best to avoid fixating on just one brand and reach out to several that are similar. Once those responses start trickling in, you’ll notice patterns emerging, which will shape the ultimate goals you’ll be striving for in your future digital marketing role.

You can explore companies on LinkedIn and find the right person to reach out to there as well (it’ll usually be the head of digital marketing, digital marketing director, or digital marketing manager). You’ll often be able to find their email at,, or simply by making an educated guess.

This task is your first taste of the digital marketing world. It’s similar to what you’ll be doing on the job: understanding what your potential customers crave and bridging the gap between the product and their desires.

Once you’ve grasped which problems hold the most weight for your dream company, the next step is figuring out how you’re going to conquer those challenges and become a digital marketing rockstar faster than those who take the beaten path.

Fast-track your start in digital marketing with this roadmap

Contrary to what many institutions seem to suggest, digital marketing isn’t just about acquiring a laundry list of hard skills. It’s about combining those skills with initiative and a willingness to figure out solutions on the fly. 

You’ve already shown that trait by reaching out to companies to understand their digital marketing challenges.

Now, let’s talk about building your own sandbox to play in and gain confidence. While freelancing without experience can be tough, there’s a fantastic alternative: creating a passion project that serves as a testing ground for your skills.

That could be building a social media account from scratch to 5,000 followers, helping a friend’s business improve email open rates, or starting a YouTube channel to practice video SEO. These projects allow you to learn and experiment with real-world scenarios at your own pace.

Classic search engine optimization (SEO) for Google may not be the best option if you’re looking to switch careers quickly as it often takes a long time to see results. Similarly, running ads requires a significant budget that you may not be willing to invest without guaranteed returns.

Instead, focus on a project that excites you and is aligned with your interests and the industry you’d like to work in. 

This way, you’ll showcase your results, creativity, and proactivity to future employers. When hiring digital marketers, I’ve always found practical projects more attractive than degrees or certificates from random schools. They demonstrate that you’ve applied your skills instead of just grasping the theory.

But how do you know when your project is ready to impress potential employers?

There’s no magical number of followers or emails sent that determines it. It’s about having something meaningful to offer in solving your future employer’s biggest problems.

Imagine talking to the digital marketing director at your dream company and showing them your Instagram account with thousands of engaged followers. If you think they’ll be genuinely impressed, it’s time to start looking for job opportunities.

Once you’ve landed a job, you’ll not only get paid to solve similar problems for your employer, but you’ll also continue to improve your skills. You might choose to stay in the job for a few years while simultaneously working on your passion project. 

Eventually, it may grow enough to sustain you full-time, if you aspire to go down that path.

Alternatively, you can follow a similar procedure within your existing company. Approach the digital marketing department and express your interest in the field. Let them know you’re taking a class and are curious about the challenges they face. 

Transitioning to a different field within the same company can often be easier than starting fresh elsewhere as you likely have some built-up goodwill.

To illustrate this roadmap, we can break it down as follows.

the fast track roadmap to become a digital marketer

The idea is to avoid overwhelming yourself by attempting to learn everything at once. There’s an abundance of information out there, and trying to stay on top of it all will lead to burnout. I’ve been there, done that.

The secret lies in narrowing down what you need to learn and gaining confidence in solving those specific problems, so you have something valuable to offer before expanding your knowledge further on the job.

As a general rule of thumb, it takes a few years to become a skilled digital marketing specialist in a specific sub-area but it’s possible to land a job well before that by putting in hard work.

There are no guarantees or fixed timelines as the outcome depends on factors like your dedication and the competitiveness of your industry. But taking digital marketing seriously could potentially lead to a job switch within 3-12 months by honing in on what matters.

Keep in mind that this field is constantly evolving, and even if you have extensive knowledge, there will always be new challenges to tackle as tools and strategies develop.

Ultimately, when applying for a job, someone who has created something tangible in the real world, even if it’s not a massive success, will be more attractive than someone with ‘just’ a degree. It demonstrates their adaptability and problem-solving abilities.

Next, let’s look at how you can get a foot in the door at your dream company.

How to become a digital marketer (even if you’re up against more experienced candidates)

Alright, so you’ve put in the effort and created a small Instagram account. Now it’s time to tackle the next challenge: landing that dream digital marketing job.

How on earth do you compete with those marketers who seem to have resumes bursting with accolades and years of experience?

It can feel like bringing a rubber duck to a shark tank.

In my experience, the secret to success lies in not going head-to-head with them. Instead, we need to take a different approach—a more creative one.

Remember those companies you reached out to earlier? 

It’s time to give them a friendly nudge and show them what you’ve accomplished since then. I bet they’ll be impressed and want to have a chat with you. It’s like showing up to a party with a cool magic trick up your sleeve.

That could be an email like this:


Thanks again for the insights you shared with me. 

I’ve been building an Instagram account and got 5,524 followers by sharing language learning tips with popular hashtags, and partnering with other similar accounts (I’ve attached a screenshot example of the account for your convenience).

I’m looking to move from EXISTING FIELD into digital marketing. Out of curiosity, are you guys hiring at the moment or do you know anyone else who is?



Use the ‘reply’ function on your previous email conversation in case they have been busy and need a reminder about who you are (it’s more convenient for them to scroll up within the same email conversation rather than search through their inbox to find it).

This is powerful because you’re showing them how you’re putting your skills into practice instead of just listing all the skills you’ve learned and letting them connect the dots.

Another option is a creative job application for open jobs you’re interested in. Here’s an example of one I created to land an internship as a display ads manager once.

I apologize the screenshot is a bit blurry.

The company’s website looked different back then, but here’s a recent example to compare against (I made sure to find a page that was text-heavy so I would have fewer design tweaks to make).

I simply saved the company website (right click + save as) and learned basic HTML and CSS to copy in my application text and photo. It was easier than you’d expect as everything as googlable.

I then went on to spend less than $1 on LinkedIn ads (yes, you read that right!) targeting the employees at that company, while linking back to the landing page (I got the cheapest hosting I could find to set the landing page live).

You can put together something like that in a weekend, even without knowing the skills well in advance. That’s what I did.

Another alternative is to write a short email or fill in the job application, outlining ideas for what you’d do to help solve their most pressing problems since they are likely similar to those you’ve previously discovered. The key is to be highly specific to each brand instead of something a generic mass-message.

For example, let’s imagine that you previously learned that similar businesses in the language-learning industry had these three focus areas:

  1. Get more learners into their online course
  2. Get the attention of more learners on social media (which could trickle into more sales and branding)
  3. Get more email sign-ups for the newsletter

You might write something like this:

“Hey NAME,

I noticed your job ad for a digital marketing specialist. It sounds like getting more learners to sign up for your course, and getting more attention from potential learners on social media, is especially important for you.

I’ve recently been practicing my digital marketing skills by creating an Instagram account from scratch around learning German, and I’ve managed to build it up to 5,524 followers!

If I join the team, I can help grow your existing Instagram account and improve the flow from Instagram back to the website or sales page to drive more sales.

I bet you’re busy, so I don’t want to take up too much of your time with a long essay. I’d like to better understand if I’m on the right track or if other goals are more important for this role.

Would you be available for a quick call to talk more about the role this week?



This is a great way to stand out, spike their curiosity, and get your foot in the door. 

Next, I’d prepare a few ideas before the call on how you can help the business–even if the ideas are wrong I’ve found it highly effective because it show initiative.

If you’re up for going the extra mile, you might build, say, a mockup landing page for their course using free no-code tools like landing page builders (assuming that it’s relevant to driving Instagram followers to their website).

I know this may seem hard to believe at first when everyone else is so caught up in their CVs and portfolios.

The whole point of this is to showcase your proactiveness, problem-solving skills, and creativity instead of relying on a dusty old portfolio. Having done this many times for both freelance work and jobs, I’ve found that it tends to blow away the competition and impress the hiring manager (provided they are on the marketing team and not HR).

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