In this guide we’ll cover the following:
- Why you should consider a career in content marketing.
- The skills required to become a content marketer.
- Where to find a content marketing job.
- How to get hired for your first job in content marketing.
- How to advance to more senior level positions.
- Stories from successful marketers on their career journeys.
I never set out to become a content marketer.
In fact, I didn’t even know content marketing was a thing until about four years ago.
At the time, I was working as a reporter for a local news outlet—a job I had held since graduating from college with a degree in journalism.
Then one day, I received a LinkedIn message from a recruiter at Google. Yes, Google. I was just as surprised as you probably are reading this. The recruiter told me Google was trying to build an in-house content team to help write copy for various Google products. The only catch was the job would be as a contractor—not a full-time Googler.
Still, I leapt at the opportunity to work for one of the most innovative companies in the world (the nice salary bump didn’t hurt either).
In two-and-a-half years at Google, I learned the ins-and-outs of content marketing, content strategy, copywriting, UX writing, product marketing, and data analytics from some of the smartest marketers working today. I parlayed that experience into a content marketing job at a mid-sized FinTech startup. There I built upon my skill set by learning about SEO, video marketing, and graphic design.
Today I head up content strategy at Knotch—managing everything from our broader content strategy to the actual creation of content.
I’m telling you all of this to show you what a content marketing career path might look like. Of course, no two journeys are the same. I stumbled into a career in content marketing (and I’m happy I did), but there are lots of other ways to jumpstart your content marketing career—and I’m going to show you how.
Why Choose a Career in Content Marketing?
Content marketing is one of those jobs that you’ll probably have to explain to your parents every time you see them. And it’s a job title that’s not nearly as prominent as, say, a copywriter or journalist. So why would anybody want this gig?
Well, there are actually a lot of good reasons:
Recession aside, the long-term prospects for content marketing are bright. The industry has been growing at a 16% compound annual growth rate since 2016. As recently as last year, the content marketing industry was expected to be worth roughly $412 billion by 2021.
And jobs have been plentiful. A recent survey of B2B marketers found that 69% had documented content marketing strategies for 2020—up from 62% in 2018. This growth has translated into a lot of hiring. Between 2017 and 2018 alone, there was a 33% increase in content marketing jobs, and Google searches for the term “content marketing jobs” have been steadily increasing.
Why the growth?
Because content marketing works! According to HubSpot, content marketing is 13x more likely to generate a positive ROI than other marketing tactics. So it only stands to reason that businesses are going to want to gobble up as many content marketers as they can.
Before content marketing, the career options for those who loved to write were a bit limited. The two most appealing choices for me were journalist and novelist—and fresh out of college I didn’t have an idea for a novel in mind (maybe someday!). So I chose to be a journalist, which would be seen as a safe and secure option—20 years ago.
A variety of factors have combined in recent years to make a career in journalism less tenable. According to Business Insider, there were 7,800 layoffs in the media industry in 2019 alone—and that was before we were hit with a worldwide recession.
The job security offered by content marketing—jobs that are commonly based at tech companies flush with venture capital—was one of the main motivating factors for me when I decided to work at a tech startup after leaving Google, rather than return to media (we’ll talk about the prevalence of content marketing in tech later).
My take is that, if you want to make a career out of writing, and you don’t want to do it with a sword constantly hanging over your head, you could do a lot worse than content marketing (That’s not to discourage anyone from becoming a journalist. It’s just not what I personally wanted out of my career).
We all gotta eat, right? Well, a job in content marketing allows you to eat pretty well. A 2020 survey of 1,100 content marketers found that the median salary was roughly $79,657. Compare that to the average journalist’s salary of $40,747, or the national median salary of $31,099.
What makes content marketing such a lucrative career path? It’s simple economics. Content marketing can generate a lot of revenue for a company. Therefore, businesses are willing to shell out a hefty sum to get people in the door who can create great content.
Note that salaries are generally higher at large companies rather than small ones. Your salary will also differ based on the market you work in. San Francisco and New York City offer bigger salaries than say, Austin or Denver because the cost of living is higher.
It also helps that a lot of the businesses hiring for content marketing roles are in the tech space—an industry that represents 12% of the United States’ GDP.
Money and job security weren’t the only reason I chose to work in content marketing. I also have an interest in business, and working as a content marketer offers you a lot of exposure into how businesses operate.
In my current role I’m collaborating on a daily basis with salespeople, business development reps, designers, engineers, and other marketers. This has afforded me ample opportunity to learn about all facets of business, which I know will serve me later on in my career.
What’s more, writing good content requires educating yourself on topics you might not be familiar with. Just in the past year I’ve gained a deeper understanding of payment processing, ecommerce, social media marketing, human resources, video production, data analysis, and a lot more.
If you believe education doesn’t end after college, content marketing is a great industry for you.
Content Marketing Career Skills Required
Wanting to become a content marketer doesn’t get you a job. Even those fresh out of college need to come in with some skills. The exact skills you’ll need will vary from job to job, but there are a handful that are table stakes at this point:
- Writing ability: I mean, duh! 90% of content marketing, at least initially, is writing content. If you don’t know how to write legible copy that engages your reader, you’re going to have a hard time landing a content marketing job (most of which require you to submit a writing sample). So the first thing you need to do is get some samples together. It could be stuff you wrote for your college newspaper, or an article on your personal blog—anything that showcases your ability to write. But even then, there are some specific writing skills you should build up. Here are a few I think all content marketers should have in their writing toolbox:
- A basic understanding of grammar rules.
- The ability to write persuasively.
- The ability to formulate a unique voice representative of your brand.
- The ability to put themselves in their reader’s shoes (a must for any type of writing).
- The ability to explain the benefits of their company’s products or services in a way that’s creative and serves the reader’s interests.
- Understanding of SEO: In order to create great content, you need to have a grasp of basic search engine optimization principles. SEO is a series of best practices and protocols around the structure and creation of web pages to increase the likelihood they’ll rank in search engine results pages. Since content marketing is primarily a lead generation tactic, knowing how to create SEO content is essential to ensure your content will be seen by your target audience. It can also help you discover new topics that may appeal to your audience. The good news is most SEO best practices can be learned on the job, although some businesses will require a background in SEO as a job requirement (these roles are typically more senior level).
- Research ability: A lot of content marketing is based around distilling complex topics in such a way that they’re understandable for your reader. In order to do that, you need to have a strong grasp of the topic yourself. This requires research. I personally read at least 5-10 articles on a subject I’m writing about before I even put pen to paper. I also make it a best practice to reach out to experts on the topic in order to get unique insights—an old habit I picked up as a journalist. Research also helps you develop your expertise in the industry you work in, which will help you be seen as a thought leader.
- Data-driven: The impact of content marketing can be difficult to quantify. There’s pageviews, impressions, backlinks, time on page, click-through-rate, content quality, and a whole slew of other metrics that will help you gauge the success of a piece of content. That’s why content marketers need to be data-oriented. Tracking these metrics, and determining which ones roll up into your broader goals (i.e. generating leads and revenue) will inform you of what’s working, what’s not working, and where you need to focus your efforts. Fortunately, the Knotch Content Intelligence platform can make it a lot easier to quantify your content marketing ROI.
- Can edit their own work: There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. That’s why it’s so important to be able to edit your own work for readability, style, brand alignment, and SEO. I have my own editor, and I still make sure to edit my work at least once before passing it on to them. This way I make both our lives easier: They don’t have to spend a long time editing my work, and I don’t have to go back and fix my errors after submitting my draft.
- Visual thinker: Visual search is exploding in popularity. There are over 600 million visual searches conducted on Pintrest every month, and 62% of millennials say they prefer visual search to other technologies. Therefore, it’s important for the modern content marketer to think visually and have the ability to create visual assets like infographics and videos. These are skills that I myself have picked up over the past two years.
- Can distribute content: Promoting your content is almost as important as creating it in the first place. That’s why companies want people who understand how to leverage all the different channels available to them to get eyeballs on their content. This includes social media marketing, email marketing, and influencer marketing. A good content creator also knows how to get the most content out of a single asset. This means updating old content so that it’s relevant and fresh, and repurposing content into new formats, like videos.
In my opinion, those are the most important skills you need to enter the realm of content marketing. However, there are a variety of additional skills that can help grow in your content marketing career (or any career, for that matter).
Here are a few that I think matter most:
- Works well with others.
- Can handle criticism (something that not all writers do well!).
- Can conduct interviews.
- Extremely organized.
- Not afraid to network.
- Has public relations experience.
- Can learn how to use MarTech (Pardot, WordPress, SEMrush, social media tools, etc.).
- Can work independently
- A creative thinker
And remember what I said about continuous education. You should always be looking to add more skills to your content marketing toolkit. Ideally you want to become a T-shaped marketer: Someone who specializes in the creation of content, while also being competent in other aspects of marketing.
If I was to pick out the skills in my toolkit, I’d say the following:
- Video production
- Email marketing
- Social media marketing
And of course, I’m always looking to build upon this skill set. In the past year I’ve taken classes in advanced SEO, video editing, film production, and B2B blogging.
(Speaking of, Ahrefs’ “Blogging for Business” course is a great class for anyone looking to understand the basics of content marketing, content distribution, and SEO).
Where to Find a Content Marketing Job
Before we talk about the stages of a content marketing career, let’s first figure out where you can find a job. In terms of physical location, data from LinkedIn revealed that five cities hold the majority of content marketing jobs in the United States: New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
Unsurprisingly, these are five of the largest cities in the country, and cities with large tech communities.
Why does the tech sector offer so many opportunities for content marketers? Simple: they need help getting customers to understand the value proposition of their product or service.
Things like cloud-based computing or data-analytics software aren’t easily understood. Through the creation of informational content, consumers are better able to understand the importance of these services, become more educated on the topic, and see how your company can help them.
Another reason tech companies love content is because it’s an inexpensive way to gain exposure. Research indicates that consumers don’t really pay attention to traditional ads. But they still go to Google to help them find answers to questions. By creating SEO content that answers their question, you can foster trust and affinity with consumers and make them feel you have their best interests at heart. Great content can also rank highly in Google search engine results pages, which maximizes brand visibility and increases lead generation.
Outside of startups, agencies also hire content marketers and assign them to customers who have content creation needs.
In terms of where to apply, there are a ton of websites that startups and agencies use to advertise jobs. You could start your search by checking LinkedIn (my favorite), Indeed, ZipRecruiter, and Monster.
But to find the best jobs, I recommend using the following websites that specifically advertise for jobs in tech:
Stages of a Content Marketing Career
We’ve talked about the benefits of a content marketing career and the skills needed to succeed. Now let’s talk about getting your content marketing career off the ground.
Stage 1: Getting Hired
Companies hiring for content marketing jobs care about one skill more than anything—and it’s not marketing experience.
It’s writing ability.
You’d be surprised by how much demand there is for competent writers. According to The Edvocate, writing ability among college students has declined in recent years, thanks in part to less writing instruction in middle school and high school.
While that’s disappointing, it’s also a great opportunity for those that know how to craft a decent sentence. If that’s you, and if you have a few good writing samples (i.e. articles, ad copy, brochures), a content marketing job is attainable. All the marketing skills can be learned on the job.
The job application process varies from company to company, but most require a cover letter, resume, and writing sample when you apply. The interview process usually consists of 1-2 phone interviews, 1-2 on-site interviews, and a writing assignment (again, this is just an example—every company is different).
In your interviews, be prepared to explain your interest in content marketing, how you approach writing an article, your understanding of SEO, and what you think you can offer the company. It’s also likely that you’ll be asked to provide specific examples of how you approach problems, overcome challenges, and handle adversity.
Also keep in mind that your first job could be an internship. While I believe that it’s possible to land a full-time job right out of school, the reality is a decent amount of inexperienced content marketers end up in internship roles, according to data collected by Contently.
Stage 2: Your First Job
Once you’re hired, you should expect to pump out a lot of content. And I mean a lot of content. In my first job I typically put out 4+ pieces of longform (2,000 words+) SEO content each week. You might also be asked to write copy for landing pages, ads, sell sheets and more.
Enjoy it! This is the work that will build up your writing skills and industry knowledge. I recommend trying to gain exposure to as many different types of content work as possible. And also be sure to network. You never know who might come back around later in your career.
Here are a few things to pay attention to in your first job that will be valuable to you later on in your career:
- How are article topics selected?
- How does the brand market itself to consumers?
- What metrics do they care about when measuring their content performance?
You also need to develop good time management habits. At most startups, there will be multiple projects vying for your attention. You need to be a master prioritizer, keep an open line of communication with your manager, and not take on more work than you can handle.
Good content can’t be created if you’re only writing in 10-15 minute increments. So make sure you arrange to have uninterrupted writing time each and every day.
An entry level salary usually falls in the range of $40,000-$60,000, depending on the company.
Stage 3: Starting to See the Bigger Picture
Career advancement in the content marketing industry can be fast for someone who is highly capable. I’ve met Heads of Content in their mid-to-late 20s. So once you’ve gotten 2-3 years of content marketing experience under your belt, I suggest looking for more senior-level positions.
Job titles you might consider include Content Specialist, Content Editor, or Content Marketing Manager. The difference between these roles and an entry-level content marketing role is that you’re expected to be able to plan and execute on content marketing campaigns.
This means being able to think strategically and understand how content can serve your organization’s broader business goals. Some things you’ll want to start looking at include how your content is ranking from an SEO perspective, leads generated from content, the influence of content on your sale’s pipeline, and what metrics are most indicative of success.
An understanding of MarTech software becomes more important here. You should be able to perform keyword research, use data analytics platforms, as well as a CRM system like Salesforce. You also need to be able track Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) and KPIs, and responsibly allocate your marketing resources.
You should also become familiar with content distribution tactics, such as email marketing, social media marketing, and backlink generation.
And of course, continue to seek out new learning opportunities. Network with your colleagues and see if there are other parts of the business where your services are needed. Learn how to create content in different formats, such as videos, podcasts, or infographics. Learn about other job functions and how they roll up into your company’s broader goals. And keep up with the latest trends and developments in the content marketing industry.
At this stage in your career, you should expect a salary in the range of $60,000-$100,000.
Stage 4: Expanding Your Horizons
I learned things at Google that I was able to apply to my next job. And I learned things at my previous job that have served me well in the current role. My point is, you need to work a few different places to become a well-rounded content marketer.
I went from working at a large tech company, to a mid-size FinTech company, to a MarTech startup. At each job I learned different strategies and processes from highly experienced people, and those experiences helped me to become the content marketer I am today.
I’m not saying you should job-hop. I’m saying you should seek out new learning opportunities whenever possible, even if that new opportunity isn’t necessarily a promotion. If you’ve been in a role for several years, and you feel like you’re not learning anything new on a day-to-day basis, it might be time for a change.
Here are some of the job experiences I think will serve any content marketer:
- Work at a large company with tried and true methods around content marketing.
- Work at a small startup where you run point on all content marketing efforts.
- Work at an agency that serves many different clients.
At agencies, you’ll gain lots of exposure into how different companies do content, whereas working in-house you’ll be able to build your knowledge through specialization.
Jimmy Daly offers a lot more great insights into this topic on his careers blog.
Stage 5: Running the Show
Once you have a proven track record of developing and executing on successful content strategies, you’re ready to move up to the big leagues. And by that I mean a Head of Content job (also sometimes called Senior Content Manager, Director of Content, VP of Content, Chief Content Officer, etc.).
This role typically falls a level below the C-suite, and reports in directly to the CMO or CEO. Most companies require somewhere between 5-10 years of experience to be considered for this type of position.
When you’re a Head of Content, you’re expected to create the editorial mission, vision, and voice on behalf of your brand. You align editorial and business goals, oversee staff and budgets, develop ideas and concepts, and oversee the planning and production of content. You should also constantly be on the lookout for new business opportunities that will allow you to generate additional revenue through the creation of content.
The specific duties of a Head of Content may include the following:
- Formulate monthly, quarterly, and annual content marketing goals by working cross-functionally with other departments.
- Identify your buyer personas.
- Audit your existing content processes and identify improvements.
- Audit competitors and identify opportunities.
- Formulate a content marketing brand and style guide.
- Create a content marketing distribution plan.
- Create a method for measuring content marketing success.
- Secure tools needed to effectively execute on the strategy (including labor).
- Develop the content marketing organizational structure.
- Manage direct reports including the Content Marketing Manager and Content Writers.
And education doesn’t stop now that you’re running the show. In fact, it matters more than ever. You’re managing people now, and interacting with customers on a more regular basis. It’s important to have a mastery of not just content marketing, but people management, goal setting, and business development.
The average salary for a Head of Content comes in at around $168,000, according to data from Comparably.
Stage 6: The Executive Suite
I haven’t made it to this stage in my career, so maybe I’m being overly optimistic. But I believe those who excel at content marketing have a path to the executive suite. They could become CMOs or even CEOs. They could also go off and start their own agency, as these services are in high demand.
Content marketing as a profession is still in its infancy. The most experienced content marketers have only been in the game 10-15 years at this point. What lies ahead is promising, and the future is bright.
Tales of Content Marketing Career Paths
What I’ve just provided you with is an overview of what I believe it takes to blaze a career path in content marketing. However, my viewpoints are limited to my experience and the experiences of people I’ve worked with.
There are thousands of content marketers out there, and each one has had a different journey. So I reached out and asked a few of my colleagues about their content marketing career path. Here’s what they had to say:
“I found out that IBM was hiring freelance writers via Indeed. I was studying economics at the time and wanted to become an analyst. But I applied and got brought onboard. I freelanced for a couple of big name clients then realized I could make a living writing. I leveraged those freelancing experiences to get more clients, completed my B.S., and eventually got a job at Airbnb for a growth project. Next I become the Content Marketing Manager for Kahuna, a marketing automation startup . After that I went back to consulting, then was recruited for a Content Strategist job at eBay. I almost turned them away because the job description said it involved UX work. But I ended up going through with the process and I’m now immersed in product marketing and I’m also a community manager. I never imagined I’d be a community manager, and in terms of product marketing, I thought I’d need an MBA to pick up what I’m learning now. The short story is I just got into this by chance, networked a ton, and adapted to change and took adversity in stride.” — Charles Costa, Content Strategist at eBay (Website)
“I graduated college right around the time social media was becoming popular for brands. I grew up in the agency world, part of newly-formed digital teams that started to do more than just subcontract microsites to developers. I grew from a marketing generalist, to a writer, to community manager, to content strategist. I’ve seen how things get amplified and why they’re even created at all. The skills I needed to advance included project management, people management, basic content analysis, intermediate UX principles, copywriting, budget management, client services, and probably a lot more. In terms of career aspirations, that’s still TBD. I know I want to stay on the brand side, not ever get too far-removed from work, and manage teams. I have some good mentors/close industry friends who always remind me: marketing changes so fast that I should be preparing for jobs that might not exist yet.” — Marc Phillips, Content Director, IBM Watson Health
“I finished my Masters of Journalism and was entering the field at a time when a lot of newsrooms were downsizing and laying off people. After trying out a few different positions at different types of news orgs, I put some thought into what aspects of journalism I loved and what I could do without, then thought about what other careers might have more of the stuff I enjoyed doing. Marketing seemed like an obvious one to try. I ended up getting a contract position at a teeny walking tour company where I handled all of their marketing (social, blogs, press releases, brochures, etc.) and loved that. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to join the blog team at Hootsuite, which was like being in a tiny newsroom inside a company—kind of like a niche publication that focused exclusively on social media. That's when I really felt like I'd found what I was looking for.” — Kendall Walters, Content Marketing Manager, Vidyard
Get Your Content Marketing Career off the Ground
Writing has always been my favorite thing to do. I feel extremely fortunate that I’ve been able to turn my love for writing into a viable career path. Each and every day I’m learning new things, meeting interesting people, and thinking creatively. It’s really all I could have ever asked for.
I hope this guide to content marketing careers has provided you with some clarity into how to get your content marketing career off the ground. If you have additional questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out—my email is in my author bio.