Career progression in ecommerce and digital marketingI am often asked as a digital marketing and ecommerce recruiter: What is the one question candidates ask me the most?

This one, BY FAR:

“I feel stuck. How do I get to that next step in my career with more responsibility, a bigger title and higher compensation?”

After nearly 30 years as a multichannel, digital marketing and ecommerce recruiter, I can tell you that is there is no one-size-fits-all strategy when it comes to digital marketing and ecommerce career progression. I’ve never talked with two candidates whose individual circumstances, past histories, industry preferences, educational backgrounds, career goals, etc. were the same, and there are many different paths one can take to get from A to B. I’ve seen candidates create entirely new roles within their existing company, while others have built their careers by making strategic sideways and off-the-ladder diagonal moves that served as perches for eventually moving up. Some have even stayed put with one employer and slowly climbed the corporate ladder.

Digital marketers typically start off focusing in one of many specialized fields that fall under the category of digital marketing. Here are some of the specialties that are in greatest demand.

Social Media

Social media management involves managing and overseeing content on various social media platforms  Some of the most popular platforms include:

• Facebook
• Twitter
• YouTube
• Pinterest
• Google+
• LinkedIn
• Periscope
• Instagram

Content Creation

Content creation includes writing content for articles, SEO, blogs, websites, newsletters, sales letters, product description, YouTube videos and more. A background in journalism, or even a liberal arts degree can be good preparation for this. You might start as a copywriter, then move up to content manager and eventually become head digital content marketing.


SEO involves creating keyword rich content that’s easily found on popular search engines. Many SEO leaders started off as an SEO analyst, then to SEO manager becoming director or the department head.

Paid Search

This is all about paid search advertisements, also referred to as pay-per-click. Together with SEO, they are sometimes referred to collectively as Search Engine Management, or SEM.

Conversion Rate Optimization

This would probably get my vote for the fastest growing of the digital marketing specialties. Conversion Rate Optimization, or CRO, is the implementation of systems and tools such as opting-in and landing pages to convert online leads to sales. It also involves testing real users to better understand human behavior during the sales process.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing is right up there with CRO as an area that is in big demand. Essentially, it involves promoting other people’s products and services on you website for a fee.

It Starts With Your Resume

digital marketing career progression

Take it from me as a highly experienced digital marketing and ecommerce recruiter, digital marketing and ecommerce career progression all starts with your resume, and without a strong resume, you put yourself at an immediate disadvantage. And I’m not just talking about formatting, or whether to include images, or how many pages your resume should be. There is one powerful aspect to resume writing that is frequently overlooked:

Instead of writing everything to the past or present, you should also try write it with what I call a “future voice.”

Digital marketing and ecommerce lends itself very well to this concept because they are job functions rather than industry categories. There are distinct titles that tend to distinguish one level of responsibility from another. There are individual contributors, there are Managers, Sr. Managers, Directors, Sr. Directors, VP’s and so on. You might have leap-frogged over a title along the way but chances are sometime during your career you’ll want make a run for that next title up, whatever it may be. And this is where candidates should think about painting their resumes with a slightly different brush, so that employers will view you not just for who you are and what you’ve been, but also for what you could become.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’re a Manager of Digital Marketing, and let’s assume you’re on a dead-end path with little or no opportunity to move up with your current employer. As we know, Managers of Digital Marketing (which I’m roughly defining as those with up to around 10 years of experience, give or take) are hired for their hands-on expertise with channels and platforms. Some have managed a small staff and may have even had limited P and L, but their world largely revolves around projects and campaigns. But you’re ambitious. You want to be a Director someday, and you believe you have the skills, the track record and the confidence to get there. Directors live in a world of marketing programs, not just campaigns. They think in terms of a coherent business plan, a path towards reaching business objectives. They are a leader in planning and design, and they also typically have larger staffs so management and leadership skills become more important.

As as Manager, the depth of your experience in each of these elements may be limited, but perhaps not so far removed that you can’t include on your resume instances where you performed Director-like tasks. Perhaps you participated in higher level planning or strategy meetings with top leaders, or maybe led a team on a special project or multiple projects. You might have even made some key spending decisions or worked with an internal agency or shared services. There are lots of things Managers do that cross the Manager/Director divide, and by showcasing those Director-level abilities you will be presenting that experience in a light that supports your career goals. You will be viewed as more than just a Manager, but rather, as someone who is poised to take on next-level responsibilities. This approach helps to create an entirely different perception on the part of the employer about who you are. And if you don’t do it, no one else will.

Next time you refresh your resume, check how well you’re speaking in that “future voice”. You might just be surprised how much digital marketing future you can find in your past, and give your digital marketing and ecommerce career progression a boost.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and omnichannel marketing. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 33 years. With more than 200 published articles on his blog and LinkedIn profile, and widely quoted by leading business publishers including Bloomberg, AdAge, AdWeek,  DigitalCommerce 360 and Target Marketing, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences and webinars. He is also a vetted member of the faculty of experts, specializing in the fields of digital commerce. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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