What to learn, how to get, and the skills you need for a Digital Marketing Internship

A Digital Marketing Internship is a part-time way to acquire the full-time skills and real world experience necessary to succeed in the modern marketing department.

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Your biggest concern, after acquiring a digital marketing internship, is how to become an ideal candidate to hire after graduation. But, how do you become an ideal candidate to land that internship to begin with? That is the question I hope to help you answer.

Marketing strategies and tactics all come down to one thing: gaining traction. Traction can help you grow a customer base. Traction can build demand. Traction can, and often times, will, allow you to be successful. As Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares state in their book, Traction, "Talk is cheap, but traction is hard evidence that you're on the right path."

The traction channels they discuss in the book align with all of the job types found in digital marketing. This includes Public Relations, Social Media Marketing, Search Engine Optimization, Community Building, Paid Search (SEM), Email Marketing, and more. Digital Marketing intern jobs will (generally) align with one or more of these channels. It is in your best interest to do research up front to learn about which of the channels interest you most. Plus, the upfront research should help with the interview process.

Entry level Digital Marketing Job Types and Titles

Before I dive into what skills are necessary, what tools marketers use, what digital marketers do, and how to succeed in your internship, I want to give a brief overview of the industry role types. The easiest thing to do for your resume is add the correct title and append the word "intern". Then, describe in a few bullet points what you did, how you helped your hiring manager drive traffic, or build a community, etc.

Just don't use Influencer in your title. I mean, they are a thing, but it also makes me a bit ill to consider. Good for you if that's how you make your money, but no thanks. Same goes for SEO Ninja, Web Design Rockstar, Email Guru, and any use of the fictional character class Jedi.

What does a digital marketing intern typically do?

There is no exact match job description. And though a company may label your position as a digital marketing summer intern, your role will be (mostly) what you make of it. The expectations of a summer intern might be wholly different than the expectations of a year-round coop opportunity. Also, remember to keep in mind the breadth of the company's clientele, as there is a big difference between a New York Public Relations Firm and your hometown Graphic Design Shop.

Marketing campaigns and initiatives will vary greatly based on company size, location, clientele, and other factors. What will not be vastly different are the underlying marketing principles that will serve as the foundation of your learning. As Nat Eliason says, you need something to work on. You need something tangible to apply your skill to. The point of being a communications intern is to get your hands dirty communicating.

How do you answer the question, why should we hire you in an interview? Well, it's a lot easier when you can point to a keywords you've ranked in the SERPs or the traffic reports of something you've created. It will give you a lot more to discuss in that interview than what school is "teaching" way.

In you're reading this and looking for an internship, you're mostly likely comfortable with social media platforms. So, being a social media intern is a great entry point into the field. And, social media marketing intern will look good on the resume when applying to jobs. The downside is that you are not stretching your capabilities if you aren't learning something new, so the value of an internship may be low, especially if it's an unpaid internship.

If that's the case, do something else. Teach yourself how to code a website. Start a blog. Use the generous free initial credit allotment to push out some paid Google ads via adwords. Create a podcast and learn how to build an audience. All of these marketing initiatives will help build your own brand, creating a more attractive candidate to hiring managers.

What traits make up a good marketing intern?

The same things that make other good interns, only in marketing. Hustle. Desire to learn new skills. A willingness to roll up your sleeves. Basically, all of the attributes you will repeat to recruiters, team members, and hiring managers ad nauseam when you are applying for marketing jobs after graduation.

Why not skip the job offer line, excel at your internship, and get the coveted pre-graduation offer instead? This would save you countless hours scouring job postings on Indeed. And, it would let HR off the hook, as they no longer have to pretend that they actually read your application. It's a win-win for all.

How long does an internship last?

Forever, if you work for the government. Oh, that's rich!

Jokes aside, they typically last for the duration of your college's summer break. Some allow you the ability to return during winter break as well. If you're fortunate, and as your class schedule allows, you may be able to carry one for credit during the semester.

Returning to a full-service marketing agency each summer has benefits, as you could DIY your own rotational program. You could move across the digital landscape, spending time in organic search in year one, then paid search in year two, before running social ads and campaigns in year three. This would make you a far more ideal candidate to land a digital gig than your friend who spend every summer lifeguarding at the town docks.

How much do marketing interns get paid?

Though a lot of companies are moving away from unpaid internships, they still exist. There could be significant benefit to taking an unpaid internship. The company's mission may align with your beliefs. It might be the right mix of culture for you. The work that they do might just be the most rewarding. An unpaid internship that greatly challenges you might create a stronger career foundation and jump-off point, with the initial loss of wages being overcome rapidly due to career growth.

As for paid internships, who can realistically turn down cash in hand? Especially during the Coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic. Many companies pay interns at or just below entry level hourly employees. It depends on what state you work in, but a typical paid digital marketing internship will most likely net you $15-25/hr. Should you be among the hyper talented, or just amazingly fortunate, "FANG" companies (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Alphabet/Google) dole out generous amounts of cash for interns. This is usually for Product Managment and Engineering roles, so best to temper your expectations.

Where can you find digital marketing internships?

For the most part you find them online. So, Google searches, Job boards, Social Media, etc. You can go directly to the company if you know where or for whom you'd like to work. Or, try striking up a conversation on Twitter with an employee. Taking a real interest in someone's work or accomplishments is a good ice breaker, but don't overdo it.

For Google searches, insert modifiers and variants to the digital marketing internship keyword/term, like, "Digital Marketing Internship Near Me", or, "Marketing Internships in New York". The city modifier helps start the filtration process, especially where huge markets like San Francisco and Washington, DC are concerned. Even "Digital Marketing Internship Billings, MT" got 643,000 results on Google.

Often these searches will pull up the big job boards like Indeed, Glassdoor, Ziprecruiter, and the like. Another place to search for marketing internships are smaller, more focused job boards, like We Work Remotely, or tool/skill-based boards like Dribbble and CSS Tricks (for you designers and coders out there).

Is it normal to do nothing at an an internship?

If you find yourself doing nothing for an extended period of time, you must take action. While doing nothing sounds great on paper, it's not. I can assure you, through experience, that sweeping the same garage day after day got old, especially when no one used it in-between cleanings. Sure, it put the company's name on my resume, but I had nothing to talk about with the first round of post graduation recruiters.

Here are some ideas on what to do if you find yourself doing nothing at an internship.

Approach your supervisor/manager

Managers are busy people, including those that manage interns. It is possible that their schedule is so booked up that they forgot to assign you responsibilities. After all, they are employees too. Don't be afraid to approach your supervisor to ask for a refreshed list of skill-building tasks that you can knock out.

Better yet, bring ideas to your manager. If you notice a way to make the company earn some additional profit or look good, share them. Doubly so if it involves making your manager look good. Trust us on that one.

Volunteer to help co-workers

The idea here is three-fold. One, you want to be a team player. Two, someone on the team is always looking for help. Three, relationship building is one of the fastest ways to grow a network. Job opportunities, where previously none existed, appear out of thin air for this sort of hustle. If you end up applying for a role at the company you interned for, the people you help will talk.

Build your communication skills (aka practice!)

Many enterprise organizations and marketing agencies have access to online courses and training. If for some reason they don't, watch educational Youtube videos, comb through marketing related hashtags in Twitter, and read marketing blogs. A simple Google search with one or two modifiers attached to a marketing channel or tool should help narrow the search.

Go off-team

Somewhat of a dicey approach, so be careful. But, if no one on the digital marketing team seems to really care, approach other departments. Talk with the folks in business development. Reach out to the e-Commerce engineers and ask them how they work with the SEO team. Doing this will be the real world experience you signed up for, because if you land a gig at a company like Wayfair, you better believe their SEO and Engineering team talk about their faceted navigation often.

What are the skills and/or certifications are necessary for digital marketing?

You need to know how to write. That is core skill #1. Your grammar doesn't need to be perfect, as evidenced by this article. But, you do know how to write The Wordz. You also need to know how to use The Google. And, just like Coach Belichick, you should probably have a working knowledge of how Bookchat and Snapface work.

Apart from that, skill development will, and should, align with the responsibilities of your role. Reviving the prior concept of traction, the "work" that you will be doing will depend on the channel you belong to. There will be overlap.

For example, SEM and SEO overlap in keyword research, collaborating (in theory) on determining the best keywords to pay for on Adwords and passing along the easiest to rank for to Content Marketing.

Your internship is the time to learn about not only what you are passionate about, but where you can be successful.

What tools do digital marketers use?

Everyone has preferences. Just as every tool has a price. The research for this article was done using a combination of Ahrefs and Clearscope. People say the best tool for the job is the one that works for you, but I'm here to tell you, Intern, the best tools are the ones you can afford. The list below is just a small sample.

Let's not forget the social platforms themselves, like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, and Twitter.

Digital Marketing Resources for interns & entry level professionals

Once again, a short list to get you primed and whet your appetite. You will consume far more on your journey.

Frequently Asked Questions about Digital Marketing Internships (FAQs)

Do I need to be pursuing a bachelor's degree in marketing to get a digital marketing internship?

No, you do not. But, it would (probably) help your chances. Art students, Journalism majors, and a host of other education tracks that focus on having a balance of analytical and creative skills will also do.

What skills could I learn with a digital marketing internship?

Written communication skills, social media advertising skills, graphic design skills, etc. - what you learn is really dependent on the type of digital marketing role you acquire and the work you are asked to perform.

Should I apply to a Startup, go In-House, or join an Agency?

This is all about preference. It could be interesting to do a different one each summer.

Do digital marketers need to know how code?

No, digital marketers do not need to know how to code. Does it help? Yes. Required? No.

Does SEO require coding?

No. Does it help? Of course. If you're interested, start with HTML. A bit of CSS and Javascript couldn't hurt. Python if you're real serious.

Is Learning SEO difficult?

It depends. Learning how to do basic keyword research and using that as the basis for an article is fairly straightforward. Using python to find content gaps is not, if you're at the intern level.

Is there future in digital marketing? Is it a good career in 2020?

Just worry about the internship and never forget marketing principles. New tools will come out in 2024 that will automate what is manually done today. In that light, Digital Marketing then will be no different than it is today.

What should I wear to a digital marketing interview?

It depends on the company. You may not need to go full business professional, but it doesn't give you license to dip below business casual. Startups and small design studios offer some leeway.

Any digital marketing internship tips?

Learn as much as you can. Be polite. Write down who you worked with, as the world is a lot smaller now. Get to work. Stay humble. Say thank you.

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