Digital Marketing Internship vs A Digital Marketing Course: Which Should You Do?

Marissa Sapega, contributor to the CareerFoundry blog

If you’re thinking about a career in digital marketing, you’re no doubt considering various routes into the field. Should you do a digital marketing internship? Or would your time and money be better spent on a digital marketing course? To help make the decision easier, we explore and compare both options in this guide. 

We’ll cover:

  1. What is digital marketing, and what does a career in the field entail?
  2. What can you expect from a digital marketing internship?
  3. What can you expect from a digital marketing course?
  4. Should you do a digital marketing internship or a digital marketing course?
  5. Key takeaways and next steps

By the end of this guide, you’ll have a much clearer idea of what to expect from both a digital marketing internship and a digital marketing course—and, hopefully, a better understanding of what’s right for you. 

1. What is digital marketing, and what are your options for learning digital marketing skills?

Digital marketing is an umbrella term for any type of advertising or promotion on a digital channel. For example, social media, SMS (text), search engines, and email are all considered forms of digital marketing. 

Digital marketing professionals use these channels to generate leads and sales, increase brand awareness, and communicate with customers. If you’ve ever clicked on a search result on Google or read an email from a brand, you’ve been exposed to digital marketing! For an overview of what a career in the field might entail, read about what a digital marketing manager does in their day-to-day work

How can you learn about digital marketing and gain experience in the field?

If you want to pursue a career in digital marketing (and eventually land one of these top digital marketing jobs), you don’t necessarily need a digital marketing degree. However, you will need to learn some fundamentals, gain hands-on experience and, eventually, build out a digital marketing portfolio.  So what are your options for breaking into this exciting field?

Free introductory digital marketing courses

With the wealth of free online courses available today, it’s easy to familiarize yourself with fundamental digital marketing concepts and channels. From YouTube videos to MOOCs (massive online open courses), you can easily take advantage of extensive free knowledge out there. Some examples of free digital marketing courses include Google’s Fundamentals of Digital Marketing, a 40-hour comprehensive course which covers the basics of digital marketing using self-paced modules taught by Google experts. If you pass the exam at the end, you’ll get certified, which can help boost your appeal to potential employers.

Another option is Hubspot’s Digital Marketing Academy Course, a free certification course featuring 37 videos that will teach eager students digital marketing fundamentals over the course of nine lessons. It even includes 11 quizzes to keep you on your toes and help ensure you retain what you learned.   

Full digital marketing bootcamps or programs

Perhaps you’ve tried a free course, and now you’re ready for a more comprehensive education. Or maybe you’re keen to break into the digital marketing field, but the idea of an internship is unappealing (they’re not for everyone!). Regardless of your situation, a bootcamp or program is an excellent way to get the rigorous training you need to follow your dreams. 

A bootcamp or program offers a way for individuals to learn valuable new skills relatively quickly (duration depends on the program.) They are especially useful for people who already have a degree or who are looking to change careers without acquiring a new one. 

Bootcamps offer a very streamlined approach to education. They focus on one topic (like digital marketing) and do not deviate into other categories as a traditional degree would. As the name implies, bootcamps can also be very intensive. This is by intent; to transfer substantial knowledge in a relatively short time requires more of a “fire hose” approach than delicate watering! 

A program or bootcamp is the perfect solution for someone looking to acquire significant knowledge in a short time without sacrificing other priorities they may be juggling. Anyone can join a bootcamp—regardless of age or skill level.

If you’re not sure about this route, check out our evaluation of whether or not a digital marketing bootcamp is really worth it. Already a fan of the bootcamp idea? Do your research with this comparison of the best digital marketing bootcamps available right now.

A digital marketing internship

The best internships will expose individuals to real-world business projects and allow them to learn from more senior people. In the best situations, a digital marketing internship may even open doors for future employment with the company or present networking opportunities that may lead to a job. 

Now we’ve explored a few options for learning digital marketing skills, let’s focus on the topic at hand: Should you do a digital marketing internship or a digital marketing course? First up: the pros of a digital marketing internship.

A group of people working in an office as part of their digital marketing internship

2. Why do a digital marketing internship?

Internships can be incredible opportunities for people looking for hands-on experience at a real organization. 

What is a digital marketing internship?

A digital marketing internship will take place at a marketing agency or as part of an in-house team. Unless it’s a huge company with its own digital marketing department, you’ll most likely be working with the marketing team. 

Digital marketing internships may be paid or unpaid. Generally speaking, smaller companies are less likely to pay interns, but plenty of small to midsize companies do offer compensation. An internship can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. 

What can you expect to gain from a digital marketing internship?

Responsibilities can vary, but if it’s a high-quality internship, you’ll learn about the main digital marketing channels and get hands-on training that you can employ in a future job. You may get to write advertising copy for ads on digital marketing channels (like paid search or social media) or create design assets that will be used for digital promotion. You might be expected to write blog posts or email copy as well.  

Who can apply for a digital marketing internship?

Anyone can apply for a digital marketing internship, but such roles are geared towards those with little to no experience in the field. A digital marketing internship is certainly a possibility if you’re mid-career and looking to switch jobs, but it may be harder to adapt to an internship (especially if it’s unpaid) if you already have some workplace experience.

Many internships require a degree or at least coursework related to digital marketing, communications, or marketing in general, yet you can still land an internship without any relevant experience. If this is the case, you’ll need to demonstrate some transferable skills and a ready-to-learn mindset.

What are the pros and cons of a digital marketing internship?

At best, an internship will give you insight into what it’s like to work in digital marketing, and you’ll leave with new knowledge and valuable skills under your belt. You may get a job offer or get introduced to others in the field who may help you find a job in digital marketing. If you don’t have any work experience, an internship is a great way to pad out your resume.

However, not all internships are created equal. Before taking on a digital marketing internship, it’s important to be clear on what your role and tasks will be. Will you be shadowing someone with experience in the field and learning from them? Or will you be taking on mundane tasks with no real relation to digital marketing? 

You can minimize your chances of enduring a less-than-stellar internship by speaking to past interns, researching company reviews online, and establishing a clear understanding of what the internship will involve before you begin. 

A digital marketing student sitting in a cafe working on a laptop

3. Why take a digital marketing course?

If you’re not keen on the idea of a digital marketing internship, you may choose to go down a different route. A digital marketing course is a great option for people looking for everything from an introduction to the field to a full-on certification.

What are your options for a digital marketing course?

Thanks to the internet, there are myriad options for digital marketing courses, programs, and bootcamps. These include:

  • Short and intensive. People looking to burnish their resumes with certifications and brush up on their skills are usually the best fit for this type of program. While it’s possible to absorb substantial knowledge in a few weeks, newbies may find that they need continuing hands-on experience to acquire the skills they need to succeed in a new position. However, if you are starting with some basic knowledge (perhaps you’ve taken a free course or two), shorter digital marketing courses may give you the fundamental skills (and the confidence) you need to secure an entry-level position.
  • Longer, more comprehensive digital marketing programs. Programs or bootcamps that last six months or more are geared towards individuals who need flexibility due to familial or job obligations. These programs often better prepare people for a genuine career change simply because of the duration and time spent learning. With a more prolonged course, you’ll have more time to absorb concepts, ask questions, and practice your skills. The longer programs also tend to be more hands-on, involving project work as well as theory.
  • Online digital marketing courses. Online programs offer exceptional convenience, especially if you reside in a location that does not have the type of program you’re interested in. With today’s video-conferencing technology, some online programs are comparable to in-person ones, especially if you’re matched with a mentor and have adequate access to your trainers and a solid support network.
  • On-site courses. Many higher education institutions will offer digital marketing programs, courses, or bootcamps on their campus. These are great for people who have the flexibility to travel, move, or happen to live close by. An on-site program will probably have the same type of curriculum as online programs, but you’ll have the advantage of meeting your peers and teachers in person. For some people, this provides a better learning experience. It may also be easier to network in person. 

What can you expect to gain from a digital marketing course?

At the end of the day, a digital marketing course or program should deliver substantial value for its students. Whether that’s a certification to help boost their resume, mentorship, a portfolio they can show off to potential employers, or other key benefits, be sure to consider exactly what you want out of your course before you sign up!  

Here are some of the top advantages of a digital marketing course:

  • Certification or recognizable qualification. If it’s from a trusted source, a certificate or another type of accepted qualification can set you apart from the competition. It communicates to employers that you’ve achieved a level of competence that will make you a valuable asset to their organization.
  • Hands-on experience. Quite simply, nothing compares to hands-on experience. You can watch someone perform a task multiple times, but until you do it yourself, you won’t know if you can actually achieve the same result! A digital marketing program should give you ample opportunity to get your hands dirty on different digital platforms like paid search and social media so you can familiarize yourself with the interfaces and put your newfound skills to work. Not only that, but hands-on experience guarantees you’ll be working with the most up-to-date versions of the platforms you’re learning about. 
  • Relationship with a mentor. Some (though not all) digital marketing bootcamps provide mentors as part of the program. Mentors can be an invaluable resource for fledgling digital marketers, not only in terms of giving advice but also for networking opportunities. A good mentor will guide you and support you, and relationships often last beyond the course completion date.
  • A marketing portfolio. Today’s competitive job market often demands proof that you actually possess the skills you tout on your resume. A marketing portfolio is an excellent way to showcase your prior work to potential employers and prove that, yes, you are genuinely as good as you appear to be on paper!
  • Job guarantee. The ultimate brass ring for a digital marketing course is a job guarantee. If your program can ensure you’ll be gainfully employed in the digital marketing field, definitely give it some serious thought. But before you sign on, take a hard look at the fine print to make sure you understand precisely what the bootcamp is promising.
  • Camaraderie with peers. Teaching yourself new skills can be a lonely road. The right digital marketing program will introduce you to students who share your goals and struggles and provide a sense of community, which can be incredibly helpful during more frustrating times.

Who can take a digital marketing course?

Anyone can take a digital marketing course! (Especially a free one). Just make sure you’re taking it for the right reasons. Even if it’s free, you’re still devoting time you could be spending doing other things. Consider what you want out of the course, and then choose one that aligns with your ambitions.

Depending on the course, you may not need any prior experience in marketing or digital marketing to benefit from a program or bootcamp. However, be sure to check the requirements and prerequisites before enrolling to ensure you’re a good fit for your course before making any final decisions. 

What are the pros and cons of a digital marketing course?

The pros of taking a digital marketing course are myriad. You’ll acquire the skills you need to be successful in a digital marketing role, meet people with whom you can share your frustrations and joys, expand your skill set, and ideally land a job as a digital marketer upon completion!

But no course is perfect. Those without job guarantees may provide you the skills you need, but without real work experience, finding employment may be difficult, regardless of how stellar your portfolio is. You may realize halfway through your course that you’re really not all that interested in digital marketing (which is why taking a free class to start is always a good idea). If you choose a course that doesn’t fit with your financial, job, or family situation, it could end up being a stressful experience. 

A person on a laptop, researching whether it is better to do a digital marketing internship or a course

4. Digital marketing internship vs a digital marketing course: Which should you choose?

There are several things to keep in mind when deciding between a digital marketing internship and a course or bootcamp. 

A major consideration is how comfortable you’d feel working as an intern. If you are looking to switch careers and have several years of work experience under your belt, an internship may not be the best way to gain experience in the field. But if you’re at the very beginning of your career, they may be perfect. It comes down to personal preference.

An internship is also more of a wild card when it comes to knowledge. With a course, you can guarantee you’ll get hands-on experience and comprehensive education about digital marketing; an internship may not teach you nearly as much, or indeed anything helpful at all. With a program, you’ll get to see the curriculum beforehand and go in with a clear idea of your learning goals and expected outcomes. With a digital marketing internship, there is no way of knowing what’s in store.

Your financial situation also plays a role. An internship may pay you, but it might not be enough to live off of. And, of course, paid internships are not a guarantee. A digital marketing course can also be expensive; you may need to keep a full-time job to be able to afford it.

The best internships are usually on site, where you can easily interact with your colleagues, and networking opportunities are rife. If you cannot move for an internship, or simply want to learn new skills in a way that’s flexible and fits around your life, an online bootcamp or program may be a better option 

Both digital marketing internships and courses potentially offer the prospect of landing a full-time job (especially if your course comes with a job guarantee), can be very valuable learning experiences, and may connect you with a mentor. Each one is also a commitment, so think long and hard before dedicating yourself to either one. 

5. Next steps

Choosing to enroll in a digital marketing bootcamp or taking an internship are choices not to be made lightly. First, identify your goals. What do you want to get out of either one? Then consider your limitations: Are you able to move? Will you need to have a full-time job to afford to live while taking a course? Are you willing to take an internship should you get an offer?

And, of course, make sure that digital marketing will hold your interest before you make any sudden moves! So, read up on the field and learn as much as you can about what a career in digital marketing will entail. We can recommend these articles as a starting point:

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to digital marketing with a free, 5-day short course.

  2. Take part in one of our live online events about career change into tech.

  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and if digital marketing is right for you.

  4. Explore all our career-change programs and become an in-demand tech professional.