3 Professional Development Options for Full-time Marketers

Sarah Steimer
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

What? Marketers looking to brush up on their marketing skills have a variety of options.

So what? The marketing world is changing constantly, and updating your resume can help push you to that next promotion, raise or a new job.

Now what? Consider the available options—including universities, community trainings and organizational certifications—to suit your needs and lifestyle.

​June 1, 2017

Marketers (and aspiring marketers) are constantly looking for ways to brush up on their skills or gain certifications. Marketing News explores three options.

There’s a big “what now?” moment that emerges during many professionals’ careers. Maybe this moment occurs because their knowledge has gone stale, they want an edge on the competition or they’re looking for a new job. For marketers—or those looking to gain entrance into the marketing field—there are numerous options for updating your know-how and résumé.

1. Industry Leadership Certification

The American Marketing Association’s Professional Certified Marketer (PCM) program currently has two tracks: marketing management and digital marketing. The latter launched in March and allows marketers to demonstrate that they have specialized digital marketing skills and are aware of the best practices in the field. 

“This was developed for the purpose of giving people the tools and the knowledge they need to advance their career,” says Christopher Bartone, director of digital content at the AMA. “It’s about career advancement and allowing marketers to take agency in trying to gain an edge.”

William Trevor, a faculty program director for marketing programs at Excelsior College, is a Professional Certified Marketer, Digital Marketing after taking the exam, and he says the biggest draw is that the exam is backed by the AMA. It is important to him, as a marketing professional, that his credentials convey his commitment to keeping his skills updated and that the certification is developed by leading industry and academic experts.

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Ready to get started with professional certification? Attend the Digital Marketing Boot Camp at the 2017 AMA Annual Conference happening September 11-13 in Las Vegas. You’ll leave equipped with the knowledge you need to take the free AMA Professional Certified Marketer, Digital Marketing exam that’s included with your boot camp registration. Learn more by clicking here.

 “Fundamentally, the certification helps me to show that I am current with industry best practice,” he says. “I have appended it to my e-mail signature and put it on my social media profiles, which has also generated a lot of comment and discussion from my connections and colleagues. It also hangs proudly on the wall in my office.”

Bartone says the AMA found that its members are seeking independence in the way they gain certification. The digital marketing certification exam takes about two hours and has 120 questions with an optional break about halfway through. The questions are multiple choice and true or false, with questions covering metrics and conversions, SEO, content marketing, social, community and more. The AMA served as a curator, pulling together the most recent, relevant information with its partners, with questions to be updated as the industry itself changes.

“When the trends in digital marketing change, the AMA’s digital marketing exam can respond in real time,” Bartone says.

The AMA partnered with LinkedIn Learning to design a learning path for the exam, using LinkedIn’s videos on various digital marketing topics that were recommended by a committee of marketing experts. Those looking to take the exam can use the 40-plus videos to study, but there is no obligation to watch. For instance, if a test-taker needs only to brush up on SEO, they can focus on just those videos.

“As someone who has been in education and online learning for a number of years, I really felt that the content was well-presented, current and designed to help me pass the exam,” Trevor says of the LinkedIn Learning videos.

A free practice exam is available that includes 28 questions representing each section of the certification exam. The practice exam can help potential test-takers decide whether they want to go directly to the full exam or shore up some of their skills with some LinkedIn Learning videos, Bartone says. And this isn’t a one-attempt test, either. Once the exam is purchased, marketers may take it three times over the course of a year.

“What the AMA is trying to do is help the marketer take control of their own curriculum and have the AMA’s community validate that this is where digital marketing is and these are the skills you need to know,” Bartone says.

Trevor says the exam required him to illustrate how his competence in the digital marketing area could be tested in the real world, and it tasked him with applying his knowledge in a practical and relevant way.

Once the exam is passed, the marketer is immediately issued a three-year certification. The AMA’s research showed marketers want the process to be rigorous, robust and conveniently accessible. “This is what provides the AMA community advantage,” Bartone says. “It gives them the confidence and an edge to be successful in their career and job search.

2. Bootcamp-Style Practical Training

General Assembly CEO and co-founder Jake Schwartz calls his organization “the solution to the global skills gap.” The education provider focuses on coding, design, data, business, marketing and career development. GA’s digital marketing program is available to students online and in-person at a number of its locations (there are 20 campuses in six countries).

There are two options for the digital marketing program: part-time or intensive. The part-time course lasts 10 weeks, with students meeting twice per week in the evenings. Most of these attendees already have full-time jobs. The one-week intensive program is typically for students without a full-time job. The program begins by building on the marketing background most students have, then shifts to a deeper dive into topics such as Google AdWords and Twitter buys. The students are working on a project throughout, and many use their own company, brand or campaign as the focus—particularly those who received funding from their company to take the course.

“For example, let’s say you’re developing a campaign on LinkedIn for tech recruiters,” says Taylor Golden, partnerships manager at the Chicago General Assembly campus. “You’ll work on the audience segmentation first, then you’ll work on developing Facebook ads. Working on these different components for a single objective helps you see the build of the actual campaign. You’re also exposed to classmates’ presentations twice during the course, then throughout the class when you’re talking about a particular topic and everybody’s sharing.”

The curriculum is built in collaboration with GA’s employer partners, says Jonny Vu, regional director at General Assembly in Chicago. The course reflects what these employers are looking for in graduates, or the sorts of tools and devices the companies are utilizing. The New York-based curriculum team gets feedback from all the campuses about what is relevant in each market as technology changes. Because the class instructors work in the field, they also bring in current, on-the-ground knowledge.

“Bringing those industry tidbits into the classroom is so valuable,” Vu says.

General Assembly’s coursework can be very flexible compared to a traditional or university setting. Golden says this ability to respond immediately to industry changes helps GA achieve a more iterative curriculum.

While the program is not certificate-bearing, the focus is on GA’s mission of advancing students from education to employment. A large piece of that is in the community-building that’s offered to students both during and after they take the course. The digital marketing instructors are encouraged to invite speakers to the class, and GA locations frequently host guest panels, networking activities, boot camps and other events that bring together thought leaders from the community.

“There are so many ways to work with General Assembly,” Golden says. “We’ve had different speakers come from all walks of the marketing world. Then they might send an employee to take a class, who then perhaps hires data scientists, UX designers or web developers from our other classes. It’s a weave of people that’s continuing to grow.”

3. University Tie-ins 

Choosing ongoing education programs by way of a university can be a great fit for professionals looking to gain customized training, but not a degree. One such example is the DePaul University Kellstadt Marketing Center, where courses are taught by marketing experts from the academic and business communities. Topics covered in class range from social media to website design.

“DePaul’s mission is to reach out and connect with the community,” says J. Steven Kelly, executive director of the Kellstadt Marketing Center. “My goal was to build something that helps people reinvigorate their skills in marketing. People just want to find out how to get their skills upgraded.”

Marketers can earn a certificate in certain classes or the Integrated Marketing Communications Certificate, which is a package of classes. The classes, which remain on the smaller side—about 10 to 20 students per section—ensure more interaction and include group projects that allow classmates of varying ages and backgrounds to collaborate and share knowledge. Kelly says if there is a project on mobile solutions, for example, he could see a student with a social media background paired with a person who has a strategic marketing background.

“I don’t ever see an age clash,” says Jurate Murray, associate director of the center. “I think they benefit from each other. Older students are learning from younger, and young students are learning from their [older classmates’] experience. They also keep in touch. I know a couple of students even started their own consulting business.”

There are some classes offered online through the center, but both Kelly and Murray emphasize the impact of the classroom experience. Kelly says many classes benefit from guest speakers and the type of group work that would be difficult to recreate in an online experience.

An advantage of education and certification through a university is having the institution’s accredited name attached. Murray says a number of foreign students find this particularly appealing.

“International students really value that this is an accredited institution, it’s a known university,” she says. “They go back to their home country and often get promoted because they have an education from the United States. A lot of students do want that piece of paper.”

When a program is associated with a university such as DePaul, Kelly says, there’s an awareness that quality should be measurable, and the programs must go through an approval process similar to the university’s degree programs. The curriculum must have clear objectives, and there needs to be a definition of what it’s trying to accomplish.

The types of students who come to the Kellstadt Center may vary widely in age and ability, but Kelly and Murray say they reflect a desire to grow with the industry. They are active learners and understand the need to update their skills. Some students even return to refresh their craft.

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Author Bio:

Sarah Steimer
Sarah Steimer is a staff writer for the AMA's magazines and e-newsletters. She may be reached at ssteimer@ama.org or on Twitter at @sarah_steimer.
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