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Expert Advice: How to Land First CMO Job

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How to Land Your First Chief Marketing Officer Job: Insights From Top CMOs on how they landed their CMO position

Today, the role of Chief Marketing Officer has never been more complex. According to Gartner, the CMO role in recent years has undergone a tremendous transformation, taking on most aspects of the Customer Experience (CX), in addition to other responsibilities. What is

Briefcase Coach spoke to several seasoned CMOs across different industries to find out how they landed their first jobs, and what activities they recommend for anyone hoping to attain this multifaceted role. Read on for their top tips and insights.

Make Yourself Invaluable

The first step to attaining any position of leadership is to make yourself essential.  “Without it being a masterplan, I built my leadership position by first making myself invaluable,” explains Josh Cole, CMO, marketing consultant and advisor based in LA.

But what exactly does one need to do to be seen as invaluable? For Cole, gaining expertise was key.

Tip 1: Always Be Learning

Those who reach top leadership roles, marketing included, place a premium on learning and being open to new ideas. 

 “The first important step on my path to leadership was a deep commitment to learning.,” says Cole. “I subscribed to every available newsletter about digital marketing, read books on UX, and kept a close eye on what companies in other industries were doing — in short, I committed myself to become an expert in the field.”

By becoming an expert in your field and gaining specialized knowledge, you automatically elevate yourself amongst your peers. “I became a trusted source of information among higher-ranking executives in the company, right up to the CMO and president,” Cole explains. “By earning their trust… these executives would skip over my higher-ranking team members to answer their questions. Which I did as thoroughly and factually as possible.”

He also adds that one should read widely in general.  “Broaden your knowledge base. Stay up to date on business and economic news, not just marketing industry news.”

I subscribed to every available newsletter about digital marketing, read books on UX, and kept a close eye on what companies in other industries were doing — in short, I committed myself to become an expert in the field.

Josh Cole, CMO, marketing consultant and advisor based in LA

Tip 2: Prioritize Self-Knowledge

William Jones, VP of Marketing & Growth at Mitto, recommends adding self-knowledge to  general knowledge to achieve alignment with your long-term goals.  He advises developing a laser focus on the types of employers you work best with early on in your career.  Consider asking the following questions:

·  What type of company do you want to work for?

·  What size company do you feel would be best for your skill set?

·  What type of culture do you want your employer to have?

·  What are your values and where/how do they fit with the company?

“It’s enticing to land your first leadership role in any company, any industry, but if it doesn’t align internally you’ll likely be less successful and fulfilled,” he adds.  By getting alignment with your goals and getting clear on what you are looking for in a company and/or employer, you can ensure that you will be a committed, long-term, valued employee that can make a real impact over the long term.


A critical component in eventually landing a CMO role is leveraging the power of your network. Statistics bear this out. According to, 80% of professionals find networking essential to their career success, almost 100% believe that face-to-face meetings build stronger long-term relationships, and 41% want to network more often. So make sure you are networking and, more specifically, conveying to friends and colleagues the type of role you are seeking and the type of company that you are targeting. 

Sally Wilson, Vice President of Marketing at Salt & Straw, testifies to the importance of networking. “Having great marketing and management experience and results at a well-respected marketing-driven company won me the job, but networking was essential to opening the door,” she says.

William Jones says growing your network isn’t enough – what’s most important is using it at every possible turn, not just when job-seeking.  “Enrich (your network) and lean into it where you can. Ask for help and guidance. It can be very powerful in providing valuable insights into marketing, your industry, leadership, etc..but it’s also likely to pave the path to your next opportunity.”

Optimizing your LinkedIn profile with keywords is a powerful way to increase your visibility, not just amongst peers but also for potential CMO searches. Judiciously using keywords to describe your skill sets and experience could make the difference between recruiters taking notice – or not. For more details on how to optimize your LinkedIn profile, click here.  

Joining a networking group in your community can be another powerful way to turbocharge your network.  If you are interested in joining one or learning more, click here:

Challenge Your Comfort Zone

One thing top marketing leaders have in common is that they constantly challenge themselves and are willing to endure any discomfort that goes along with taking on those challenges.

“Be open to pushing your comfort zone,” advises Wilson.  She also says to not be afraid of zig-zags in your work experience.  “Following a non-linear path can lead to excellent depth and breadth of experience – and a lot of personal fulfillment. I’ve learned so much from taking on substantive roles at various companies that are disrupting their industry.”

The Role of Self-Belief to Land a CMO Job

Jones says self-belief is in many ways the most important skill to develop for any individual aiming to land a marketing leadership role.  “There’s a saying that “there are people less qualified than you doing things you want to do, simply because they decide to believe in themselves.” This doesn’t mean fake it until you make it.. It means to trust yourself… We all give ourselves too many excuses to not start or do something, but if you believe in yourself, you’re more likely to start.”

Wilson and Cole concur. “If you want to be a VP, first act like a VP,” says Cole. “Believe in yourself,” advises Wilson.  “Go with your heart.”

Share Your Vision for The Future

Making sure to show that you can think of the big-picture is another way to position yourself for a CMO role.  “Show your ability to develop a vision for marketing for the company and build and motivate a high-performing team,” advises Wilson. “For the former, be ready to share tangible ideas on what you’d like to improve and grow…with a focus on the next 3 years.”

Foster Internal Alignment

Jones stresses the importance of seeking alignment within the company and the employee team.  “It is more important than ever for marketing leaders to work hard at creating and maintaining alignment and culture. We are used to being empathetic to the customer but not internally to the organization. I love discussing strategies for the importance of internal alignment… with employees and connecting it to customers. By understanding the adoption process, overcoming our natural resistance to change, and getting everyone swimming in the same direction, that’s when you (the company) can produce your best work.”

3 Critical Tasks For Future Marketing Leaders

According to these CMOs, the following three activities are essential for future marketing leaders:

  • Deepen Financial Knowledge. “Particularly financial planning & analysis and budgeting skills,” says Cole. Technical know-how is also essential. Make sure your knowledge is solid on everything from social media platforms to any internal systems used by the company. Data and Marketing Analysis are also important, according to CannyCreative. Understand how to analyze data to gain a deeper understanding of your audience and your competitors.
  • Study Digital Marketing Trends “Keep abreast of them, ideally on a macro and micro level. Ideally, you are astute in both brand marketing and performance marketing if eventually, you want to become a CMO,”  says Wilson.
  • Understand Stakeholders’ Language.  For marketing leaders to gain influence, it’s crucial to learn and speak “the language” of internal stakeholders, upper management and C-suite,” says Jones. “Understand what their goals and perspective are and adapt your communication accordingly, in a language they understand.”

In addition, future CMOs must learn to practice agility. In today’s turbulent business environment, it’s critical that anyone aiming for a CMO role be able to think on their feet, juggle a wide variety of projects and adapt quickly to any situation that arises.

“Leadership is a journey,” says Jones. “There’s no right path but I am a firm believer that leaders should never stop learning…. So, know thyself, and constantly seek growth, in any form that fits you.”



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