How to Get From Entry Level Marketer to CMO

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Published
Jul 16, 2020

Jul 16, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

If you’re thinking about switching to a marketing career, or if you’ve just graduated with a marketing degree, you might be thinking about your long-term future in the field. One of the top positions you can reach as a marketer is Chief Marketing Officer, or CMO, within a large organization. But looking to become a CMO when you’re basically an entry-level marketer can feel intimidating.

What steps can you take to get there?

The Role of a CMO

Let’s start by more closelyexamining the role of a CMO. The CMO is primarily responsible for overseeing the marketing and advertising strategies within an organization, and possibly facilitating growth in other related areas, like sales. Generally speaking, the CMO operates high-level; they’re responsible for setting the tone for the marketing department, creating and assigning high-level objectives, analyzing previous work, and managing other people.

Perhaps most importantly, the CMO is responsible for coordinating and mobilizing other marketers within the organization. They may assign responsibilities and objectives to Vice Presidents in Marketing, who may break those responsibilities down and assign tasks to Directors, who in turn assign tasks to project managers, and eventually to lower level workers.

CMO responsibilities are sometimes outsourced to professional marketing agencies, in part as a cost-cutting measure, and in part to guarantee experience and stability. Accordingly, not all companies have a designated CMO. You may also serve a functional role as CMO as the founder and/or CEO of a company, especially in the early stages of growth.

Getting From Entry Level to CMO

Let’s assume that a CMO position is available for an organization you like. How can you get there from starting out at an entry level position?

  • Entry level positions. Your first entry level position shouldn’t be hard to obtain, provided you have some education or experience to make you a good fit for the role. For example, you may start out as a graphic designer or a copywriter, given the right background. You’ll spend several months to a few years here, and possibly longer. It’s also advisable to work in as many different roles as possible; you don’t necessarily have to job-hop, but you should encourage cross-training and get exposure to different areas within the marketing department. This can help you become a better-rounded and more experienced leader.
  • Lower management. For many people, the next step is getting to a position as a lower manager. If you started your career as a content creator, for example, you may move tooutsourcing your business’s content creation, or coordinating other content creators within your organization to achieve your high-level goals. Your responsibilities will still be limited, and you may be involved with entry-level responsibilities, but you’ll serve at least some role as a manager or supervisor.
  • Mid-career options. From here, there are many mid-range career options you can consider. You may pursue management responsibilities in a higher context, working your way up through middle management. You may also specialize in a specific area, becoming a senior designer or a promotions manager. It takes about 10 years of experience to be considered a “senior” anything, but you can start navigating the realm of marketing management with just a few years of experience.
  • Director of marketing. After spending some time as a higher-level expert and/or a marketing manager, you can start looking at advancing to the level of “director.” Some companies have an appointed, generic “director of marketing,” but it’s more common for larger businesses to have multiple marketing directors for different departments, like “Director of Media,” or “Director of Marketing Analytics.”
  • VP of marketing. Vice Presidents (VPs) of Marketing may be generic, or may be assigned to specific roles, much like a director. VPs tend to outrank directors, and are responsible for coordinating director activity. Accordingly, they tend to have broader responsibilities assigned; for example, you may become “VP of Digital Marketing,” which encompasses work in many areas.
  • CMO. Once you’ve gotten some experience in upper management, you’ll be poised to be hired (or promoted) as a CMO.

Traits That Make a Great CMO

As you develop your experience and skills throughout your journey in the marketing world, you’ll want to increaseyour potential to become a great CMO.

These traits tend to be some of the most important:

  • Good brand fit. Good CMOs embody the values and vision of the company they work for. They’re often the face of the marketing department, and they’re incredibly influential within the marketing department.
  • Emphasis on vision and high-level goals. Rather than getting bogged down with details and minutiae, CMOs are good at considering high-level goals and an overarching vision for the department. Other managers and workers can work out the details.
  • Capacity to collaborate. Effective CMOs don’t try to do things by themselves; instead, they lean on the expertise, creative ideas, and work of others. Collaboration is key.
  • Delegation and coordination. CMOs also understand the strengths and weaknesses of the people beneath them, and can coordinate project and task assignments accordingly.
  • Adaptability and creativity. CMOs need to solve tough problems and changing circumstances. This requires them to be extremely adaptive, and apply creative thinking on a regular basis. Effective CMOs are always experimenting and trying new things.
  • Analytical and scientific. Similarly, the greatest CMOs tend to be analytical and scientific in how they think. They scrutinize everything about their marketing campaigns, looking for ways to trim fat or optimize for improvement. They’re also not afraid to experiment and learn as they grow.
  • Articulate and inspiring. The best CMOs are also impeccable communicators; they can explain their vision clearly, and can inspire everyone underneath them to perform their best.

You’ll spend years, if not decades, working your way from meek entry-level marketer to CMO, but it’s a journey that most people can make, given the right amount of dedication. Remain patient, be kind to your teammates, and keep working hard—eventually you’ll get to where you want to be.