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Marketing Careers at HBS

Not sure if a career in marketing is in the cards for you? Well, here’s my Top 10 list of “How to tell if you’re right for a Marketing Career”

10. You love brands! (and free products!)-Come on admit it. We saw you at Battle of the Brands. You did the Coke/Pepsi taste test. You weren’t afraid of shaving that balloon to win yourself a cool MACH 3 razor. You stood there for 5 minutes trying to answer those ridiculous trivia questions to win yourself a free copy of Intuit/Microsoft Money software. This one’s a no brainer.

9. You want ownership-O.k., if you were at all like me, you started right out of undergrad as a Consultant/I-banker. While those great hotel bathrobes, 2 hour airport delays and 80 hour work weeks made for great cocktail hour discussions, something seemed disturbingly missing from your job. And while you can’t beat those frequent flier miles and yummy airline meals, you are seeking something more rewarding in a career. Uh, could that be real project ownership and responsibility? Well in Marketing, you do have ownership over the brand or product for which you’re responsible. Often, this ownership translates into direct Profit and Loss responsibility. You are responsible for the success or failure of that product or brand.

8. You aspire to be a general manager-A career in brand management/product management is arguably the closest thing to general management that you can find right out of business school. In Marketing or Brand management, you run the show. As is often cited, the marketing role is often thought of as a hub of a wheel with many functional areas connecting to it – finance, R&D, sales, legal, packaging graphics, manufacturing. Another way to think about it – you are the conductor orchestrating a grand symphony. It is your ability to use your influence, leadership skills, vision and passion to enlist the cooperation and efforts of others.

7. You seek lifestyle-O.k., you’ve had enough of those 80 hour work weeks. You’ve promised yourself that you’ll never work those crazy hours again unless it’s your company and you’re running the show. After all, you had the money, but never the opportunity to enjoy any of it. And those hours in the office/traveling weren’t great for dating either. Looking in the future, you see a family and better lifestyle in your cards. Well, if you ask me, you can’t beat a career in Marketing in terms of work/life balance while still making a true impact on the job.

6. You love the customer-Whether your customer is a business or a consumer, you are interested in serving them. Whether it’s as radical as fundamentally changing the way they live/work/play or as basic as clothing/feeding them, you have a desire to understand their needs and bring products/services to life to meet those needs.

5. You seek creativity-You may be one of those folks who is always thinking of doing things better. You may love TV ads. You may love drumming up new business or product ideas. If this characterizes you in any way, then marketing may be for you!

4. You seek variety-I found the variety of my experiences this summer in brand management to be quite rewarding – focus groups, ad shoots, plant visits, sales calls. Some of the work was strategic in nature (e.g. – recommending a winter product line strategy), some of it analytical (e.g. – presenting to Wal-Mart a recommendation to eliminate their private label line), some of it tactical (e.g. – redesigning a package, introducing a new product into a new distribution channel). In fact, the only thing I could expect this summer was to expect the unexpected.

3. You are results-oriented -Results-orientation characterizes the best marketers/brand or product managers. In fact, this trait is a must. Because you own the brand or product and have P&L responsibility, you are responsible for its success. Don’t be afraid to take risks, champion ideas, develop a strategic direction, mobilize others into action, and achieve the results or goals you set out from the beginning. The buck stops with you. You can’t be afraid of rolling up your sleeves and doing whatever it takes to get the job done!

2. You love to have fun-This one’s a no-brainer as well. Why take a job if you’re not having fun? And believe me, a Marketing Career is fun! I worked with a bunch of fun-loving folks this summer who loved their jobs and had fun each and every day. You definitely knew that people loved their jobs. As for me, I definitely had a ton of fun this summer – working with an advertising agency in creating clever ads, attending an ad shoot in L.A., observing focus groups of consumers describing their love/hate relationship with my brand, observing how consumers shopped the aisles at local retail stores. Is this really supposed to be work? Well then, sign me up!

1. You have passion-You have to have a passion to truly enjoy a career in Marketing. Enough said!

Now, that you know you want a career in marketing – or at least are intrigued enough to want to explore it as a possible summer career, here are a few tips to find that perfect Marketing job. You can even land that perfect Marketing job without having any experience in Marketing prior to HBS. Keep in mind that the more committed you are, the more work you put in to it, the more rewarding it will be for you at the end, and the easier it will be for you to land that perfect job!

Do your research
Finding a Marketing job, any job really, involves doing your homework. First, ask yourself if a career in Marketing is right for you. Start from the list above – did you answer “yes” to 8 of the 10 criteria listed? Have you spent some time reflecting on your strengths/weaknesses, what you like/don’t like, your career objectives in 5/10/20 years? Have you talked with a career services counselor, your friends, family, classmates, professors, other HBS alumni? These folks should provide you a wealth of information on “you” and share with you insights on whether a career in Marketing may be right for you. Don’t forget to utilize the resources that this fabulous institution offers – career services counseling sessions, exec ed mentoring, alumni advisor database, club career help. So go ahead, make that appointment, pick up the phone and schedule that informational interview. It’ll pay off in the end.Show companies you’re really interested – The key to getting a Marketing job is commitment. Attend those company briefings, attend the club fairs on campus, write your name down on the sign-up lists, talk to the recruiters, schedule informational interviews with HBS alumni from those companies, attend those recruiting dinners, send in that cover letter early. Believe me, it really makes a difference. Companies know the students who have attended these sessions and who have tried to get to know them. So even if you have no prior experience in Marketing, recruiters know that many students are here at HBS to switch their careers, and the more interest you show in them, the more interest they will have in you.

Get involved with the Marketing Club
Ok, here’s my pitch for what I believe is one of the best clubs on campus (unbiased, of course!). The Marketing Club has numerous career, academic, and social activities throughout the year. As far as career-related help, we will be hosting numerous career sessions including resume review edition sessions, advertising workshops, interview prep workshops, mock interview sessions, small group industry/career discussions, Marketing Career Fair, Marketing Conference. Rather than just attending these sessions (and picking up free company products!), get involved! Ask one of the officers how you can play a role in the numerous events the Club has planned – hosting a company during the Career Fair, organizing a panel during the Marketing Conference, bringing speakers on to campus to speak, helping to put together one of the career workshops. The more you become involved, the more you’ll get out of it-developing a better unde
rstanding of Marketing, meeting 2nd years who have been through the process before and can help you with your job search, providing fodder material for you to discuss on your resume or during your interview. Getting involved is an easy and fun way to show companies that you are committed to getting that full-time job or summer internship.

Be proactive
Particularly if you’re looking for a summer internship, your job is made tougher because there are fewer summer internship slots available than there are full-time positions. This is not meant to scare you, it is just to make you aware that you need to be very proactive in your summer job search. Rather than just sending in your resume, pick up the phone and confirm that your resume has been received. While you’re on the phone, talk to the recruiter who will be reviewing your resume. Show a genuine interest in their company. If you didn’t get selected for a 1st round interview, call the recruiter. Express your disappointment at not being placed on their closed list, confirm your interest in the company, and ask to be placed on their interview list if they can accommodate you. It really works! 9 times out of 10, they can and will place you on the interview list (even if they have to squeeze you in during lunch or after the scheduled interview time slots end). Remember, companies want to interview students who are genuinely interested in them.

Be a consumer
Now that you’re on numerous interview schedules, it’s time to impress the interviewer with your Marketing savvy. However, you’ll need to do a few things to prepare for those interviews. First, be a consumer! Next time you’re shopping at Star Market, be aware of your surroundings. What products are on display/feature? What creative techniques do they employ to involve the consumer in the purchase decision? Do they have floor advertising, instant coupon readers? Do they have the pasta, sauce, parmesan cheese, spices, meat products in separate aisles or are all these products grouped together in the Italian Dinner aisle? And don’t just pick up that box of cereal and place it in your cart, involve yourself in the purchase decision. How is the packaging? What promotions are offered? Ask yourself what consumer need is the brand meeting? Are they fortifying the cereal with calcium or other nutrients? Do they offer single serve packages or family size packages? Take a look at what the competition is offering that’s different than the Kellogg brand you have in your hand. What is private label offering? What else can you observe in the store? What new products? What effective advertising/promotion techniques? You’ll be asked these questions during your interviews, so come prepared. And what easier way to prepare than to be a regular consumer – albeit, a very observant and informed one!

Practice, practice, practice
The moment of truth will arrive where a lot of your fate will be determined on your ability to impress your interviewer with your charm, wit, accomplishments, and incredible marketing acumen in a _ hour interview session. As unfair as it seems, all the efforts you’ve put in may be for naught if you cannot sincerely communicate your marketing interest to your interviewer. The best advice I can give you is to prepare yourself through practice, practice, practice. Pick up an interview guide (the Marketing Club puts out a “red book” listing typical interview questions), think through your answers, recite them aloud, and better yet, practice with a Career Services counselor and with friends. It’ll take you a few sessions until you feel completely comfortable with your responses so it’s better if you work out your kinks in a simulated, non-threatening interview environment than during the real deal. Be prepared for the typical leadership/analytical/creativity/teamwork/results-orientation questions such as “Tell me about a project that challenged your fill in the blank skills.” Also, expect the typical Marketing questions such as “What is your favorite/least favorite commercial and why?” and “How would you grow market share of Cheerios?”

Persistence is key
For 1st years, because the number of internship slots at these companies are limited, you may want to broaden your summer job search. Interview for as many marketing positions as you can as long as you’re interested in those companies. Be prepared to do a network/off-campus job search. There are numerous marketing positions at great companies that do not come on to campus. Some of the best jobs may not present themselves until later – long after your consulting/banking friends have accepted their offers. You can and will find a marketing internship/job as long as you are persistent, thorough in your research/preparation, and diligent in your search for that perfect Marketing opportunity.

This advice should hold true regardless of whether you are looking for a career in brand management, advertising, marketing consulting, industrial marketing or even high-tech marketing. My last piece of wisdom is not to worry too much about the job search. Things will work itself out in the end. It always does. Keep the job hunt in perspective. Remember, it’s a career decision, not a life decision. (The majority of us switch jobs within 2 years of graduating from HBS anyway!) So have fun, and remember show recruiters that PASSION – it will serve you extremely well in your marketing job search. Good luck!

December 3, 2001
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