How many times did you switch majors in college? Do you work in a career related to your degree? Did you start in marketing?

Most of us change careers throughout our lives. With an unpredictable economy and people living longer lives, career switching is common.

A new career in marketing can be challenging. Today's college students majoring in business with a focus on marketing may find it difficult to obtain jobs in the field immediately after graduation. Not every student even knows whether she wants a marketing job. Nonetheless, the student who poses this week's new dilemma has two things going for her: she knows what she wants, and she has work experience.

We would like to hear how you came into your marketing role. Was it planned or by accident? How can college students or career switchers make the foray into marketing? What works? What doesn't?

Not into career moves? Perhaps you have challenges working with a colleague? Let the SWOT team help you out. Or maybe you have a marketing process that is not working. Give us details, and we will ask the 100,000 “MarketingProfs Today” readers what they would do. Write to us and pose your dilemma. You will receive a FREE copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing, just for dropping us a line with a new topic to explore.

This Week's Dilemma

How do I break into marketing?

I'm still a college student who has been lucky to expand and enhance my MarCom abilities for the past five years though work experience. In the last year, I was placed into the position of Director of MarCom (I'm sure due to trust in me and lack of budget); anyway, I have matured through this position faster than I have with anything learned in business school, and now I am considering a venture into different industries to get more experience. Where do I start? How did other marketing professionals come into their careers? How do I convince people I might actually be good at what I do despite my age? I plan on continuing my degree through my university, but in the meantime, where do I begin?

— A student

Previous Dilemma

We're getting flattened by a marketing boss's steamroller!

I'm a marketing director who is in a pickle with my new boss, who was just hired as Marketing VP. Our company is 15 years old and well established in our industry. Two days after he was hired, he called us together and laid out his marketing plan, a plan that requires lots of work from us with short deadlines and large expectations. His style is non-participatory and he gets defensive if we question an element of the plan.

Our last VP had the opposite personality. She did a great job and was offered a better position at a different company. We are saddled with a steamroller who dictates orders instead of leading. It is quickly becoming a disaster in the making. Since I am the number-two person in the department, it is a hard position to be in and I must tread lightly.

I have tried to address this with the VP, but he got angry and said something I haven't heard in years, “My way or the highway.” Our team has been together for years and done remarkable things. I would hate to give it up. How can a person work around such a situation? I'm sure others have been trapped in a situation where a higher-up built a wall and gave no support to employees.

—Anonymous, Marketing Director

Summary of Advice Received

Internal politics are a challenge for every organization, large and small. This marketing director's dilemma looks like it leaves little room for resolution. Such a situation can happen to anyone in any position if the VP (or any leader, for that matter) is a brick wall.

Before providing solutions to resolving conflicts with the VP, readers offered possible reasons for the boss's behavior and encouraged us to understand the VP's motive before we try to improve the situation. Perhaps the boss received a directive from the higher-ups and is under pressure to do what it takes to make it happen. Heather Logan, CEO of Solutions Planning Group, has seen it happen:

No doubt, he's missing some important management skills, but perhaps there's more going on from an executive management level as well. He may have been given a dictate to turn sales around in six months or leave at the end of the customary probation period. I've seen CEOs and boards hand down such dictums out of panic in the midst of or following an economic downturn.

If this is the case, Heather is right in that the boss could be lacking or forgetting his management manners. The boss could phrase things differently or be honest and tell the marketing director about the dictum. Unfortunately, it's not uncommon for management to withhold such information, and employees are left to operate on partial information.

Xerox Creative Marketing Manager Henry Eakland believes it would be helpful to know why this person was hired:

Did senior management get what it wanted—a no-nonsense, take no prisoners kind of guy? If this is the case, the writing is on the wall and senior leadership would seem to be pushing for a shakeup in the marketing team of which the team is not aware. Or did senior management hire a person who they thought would fit right into the culture and provide continuity? In this case, there's a major disconnect and it could very well be that the new Marketing VP was able to pull the wool over people's eyes during the interview process—something that needs to be dealt with at the senior level.

A VP inheriting a team and a team inheriting a VP isn't an easy situation.

Our readers suggest four ways to deal with this sticky wicket:

1. Play to the boss's ego.

2. Stand with the team.

3. Look for another job.

4. Ride it out.

1. Play to the boss's ego

A reader suggests letting the boss know that you like his ideas but there are sticky obstacles to overcome. Ask him how he would get around those obstacles, to give him a chance to offer his expertise. Maybe he will realize that his goals aren't achievable, at least not right away, and he'll loosen up.

“Ouch! I suspect you're spending a lot of time in deep breathing exercises and perfecting your ability to count to ten!” says Heather Logan. She goes on:

You're not going to like this, BUT… try going along with his plan. He feels like he has something to prove and that leaves little room for negotiation. Work on following his directives as closely as possible. Rather than making suggestions that start with “instead of...” make suggestions that build on his idea. In other words, instead of alternatives, use augmentations. He'll feel like you've bought into his philosophy and that you're trying to create a success.

Remember, you're a skilled marketer, so you already know how to speak to your audience and its motivations. He won't be motivated with examples of how you used to accomplish this or that, so don't even go there. Instead of using your best marketing style, frame everything from the customer's (the new VP's) standpoint.

Rely on the good-old four Ps of marketing when dealing with the boss. An anonymous reader suggests asking questions surrounding the four P's:

To make your marketing plan successful, make sure you have all the basic information/ideas are covered. Who is the target market or specific customers? Which medium does he think would be best? Has the boss used other mediums in the past and what was the result?

Asking such open-ended questions that rely on his expertise, and make him the expert, will open a dialog during which other options can be considered. And let's hope that it leads to a discussion instead of a dictation.

2. Stand with the team

That's not a wall, it's a warning, believes Denis Du Bois, VP of P5 Group, Inc.:

My guess is the new VP is prepared to clean house. His steamroller antics are paving the way for an agency or team he prefers. If he can get some of you to quit instead of firing you, he saves the company money. Depending on the size of your team, chances are some of you will stay and it won't be all that bad—different, but educational. This VP got the job and his favorite team or agency has won his loyalty. So I would assume that they have something going for them.

You've got some decisions to make. Do you fend for yourself or reinforce a cohesive all-for-one attitude in your team? I cannot answer that for you. If you're a middle manager, you might be able to fill a crucial role for this VP who doesn't want to deal with employees. He obviously has some aggressive goals and you can make them happen on the stated schedule. However, if he brings in his favorites, they probably won't want to report to you.

If you have team members with whom you're comfortable, it should make the difficult time easier. Stick together and support each other.

Yaman Ogut of Fidelo has been in this situation before. Yaman's experience teaches us to stay CCC (cool, calm, and collected) and to work with the team:

We were fortunate enough that some members of the board were not happy with our new VP as well. But we had to cradle the board members' discontent. Tough task to begin with, as it had taken several months for us to realize what we had to do. Most of us came to the brink of the F word. The team had really to coalesce for this to happen. In fact, the discontent was so high that team members who didn't even like each other bonded against a common enemy.

We rode out the storm; we did everything asked of us to the best of our efforts. Before undertaking any order, we came to a common understanding of what exactly was asked of us and told them of our capabilities and resources or lack thereof. By this time, we had given up on trying to help him in the best interest of the enterprise at hand.

We were confident that our company would not tolerate such mismanagement; we were proven right. However, there was a bit of bickering. I now realize that being able to keep cool, calm, and collected was one of my better achievements in this debacle. What you do is not what you are or who you are; pride is a bad one to swallow, and makes you prone to ulcers, etc.

This may not be a wonderful time in your career, but it's an opportunity to sit back and let someone else worry about the department. Taking care of yourself and doing your job can be the best things to do for a short while.

3. Look for another job

If after a reasonable amount of time the situation hasn't improved and it's becoming more of a burden, it may be time to move on. No job is worth sacrificing health and happiness.

Creative Consultant Vicki Wright of Wright Consulting endured this situation with a VP and his handpicked director for over two years:

My goal was to cooperate as best I could and outlast them because our team and our work had been so successful before they arrived. The outcome? A massive reorganization in which too many talented and experienced people (read: threatening to the boss) lost their jobs. My advice? Take the highway. You are in a no-win situation. You should start looking for a new job—possibly with your former VP! Get out while you still have your sanity.

This guy will never give you an inch, because he is too insecure to admit that you might have a better idea—you know that already. There are a lot of crazymakers in high positions, and no one ever prospered trying to fly below the radar. When you can breathe freely, you will grow much faster.

Getting a job overnight rarely happens, so by the time a job offer comes along the VP will have been there for a few months and it'll be a good time to gauge whether to stay or go.

Another reader who was recently in this situation says it's nearly impossible to change a person, especially when you're a subordinate. The reader offers two choices: Learn to work in a dictatorship by accepting it for what it is, or seek other employment where your talents can be utilized.

This respondent knew right away from meeting her new boss that it wasn't going to work. She couldn't continue working in an environment where there was no teamwork and collaboration. She had great chemistry with a former boss who went to work for another company. After reconnecting with the former boss, she was offered a position, and voila, they're a team again.

4. Ride it out

On the other hand, the situation could be as simple as giving it a little time. “Give him a chance. Change is good sometimes. If he is wrong, he might just run out without anyone getting his hands dirty,” says Chris DeCamp, operations manager at Reservoir Investment Group.

Heather Logan offers another suggestion:

Look for a marketing experience (small scale) that's new and unfamiliar to both of you. For example, go visit three local customers in a face-to-face meeting. That puts you on equal footing where some JOINT new ideas could arise. And if you're still getting nowhere, plan to say goodbye. Contributing something of significance is more important than the same signature on your paycheck. You'll leave knowing you put your best foot forward.

Another reader believes it is really is the “VP's way or the highway”:

It might be best to start looking at the highway or produce good work, earn his confidence, and wear him down over time. If he, indeed, has a mandate from the board, he's going to do what it takes to reach those goals. If the team hinders, he'll change the team.

I'm two years into a new VP that I didn't agree with at all and I survived through patience and the realization that our company hired her to change things. If I hadn't gotten my head around that concept, I would have been one of the things that got changed. Pick your battles and prove yourself without a frontal assault. It just won't work.

Letting the boss blow out steam is a challenge, but try it for a while advises a respondent:

Do everything the best way you know how without giving in to his demands. If you have the endurance and the patience, wait a few months to see how the new boss is settling in. If there is no change for the better, then it is time to speak to your boss's superiors.

We leave you with encouragement and a reminder for leaders everywhere:

Boss or Leader

The Boss drives his workers: The Leader coaches them.

The Boss depends on Authority: The Leader on Goodwill.

The Boss says “I”; The Leader says “We.”

The Boss rules by Fear; The Leader inspires by Enthusiasm.

The Boss says “Get here on time;” The Leader gets there ahead of time.

The Boss fixes blame for the breakdown; The Leader fixes the breakdown.

The Boss Knows how it's done; The Leader Shows how it's done.

The Boss makes work drudgery; the leader makes it Fun.

The Boss says “GO;” the Leader says, “Let's Go together.”

The Real Leader never Bosses: She sells instead of tells. She knows that people need to want to do things and—where possible—be included in decisions.

—Unknown author

We all get wrapped up in our daily lives, and even the best leaders forget to lead and they instead start to act like bosses. Occasionally, we all need reminding that we should step back and remember how we arrived where we are today.

Thanks to MarketingProfs readers (or more appropriately… leaders), who offered their best advice. We know you're out there coaching and supporting your own team in the best way possible. If you have a moment, the suggestion box is open for your thoughts on the new dilemma—How do I enter a career in marketing?

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Hank Stroll ( is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.