So…you’re hiring a marketing co-op student?

August 21, 2018
Marketing Coop Student Hiring

I’ve had the privilege of being part of tech start-ups that understood the value of a senior marketing role in the early stages of a company’s life. From defining and verifying a target market, to developing and testing the value proposition, to the early stages of content development and sales education, to the formulation of lead-generation strategies, and establishing thought leadership and branding in a particular space, marketing plays a critical function in an early-stage company.

And yet, we know that many tech companies don’t start with a marketing person on the team. There’s a huge number of startups that kick-start their business with 1 or 2 people who’ve got a technology idea they think is awesome. The company may remain as just the founders for a while and then add a few more developers to add features to the core product. The founders often find themselves spread thin, as they simultaneously function as the CEO, CTO, coder, sales evangelist, QA, and brochure-writer.

And then someone gets the idea, “Hey, let’s get a marketing co-op student to do it!” I’ve seen that “it” range from everything from “we’ve got to do all forms of social media” to “let’s get the co-op to try sales calls” to “I want 3 fancy brochures outlining each new feature” to “Can you get us coverage in the Wall Street Journal?”

And I’ve also seen many situations where the marketing co-op student is “let loose” without any mentoring or guidance once they’ve been assigned “it.” Most would never dream of letting a 2nd year engineering, software development, or computer science student loose with their key intellectual property, so why would you do it with something as important as your company brand?

I absolutely believe that marketing co-op students can help your early-stage company as much as engineering students can – as long as they’ve got clearly defined roles and responsibilities AND someone to mentor and coach them.

Before you even post for a marketing “co-op,” ensure you know what you want the person to do.

  • Help plan events like webinars and tradeshows?
  • Write content for your company site?
  • Create landing pages to test your latest campaigns?
  • Research potential customer organizations?
  • Design templates and graphics?

Don’t just say “marketing stuff” (which I have seen!) Set a realistic set of responsibilities and functions.

The prime responsibilities you define for the job will determine where you post the job.

Several of the startups I worked at had very complex technical products with long sales cycles. Our products were not SaaS-type sales, so hiring someone out of a digital marketing stream to craft landing pages wasn’t as important to us as finding someone who could research and write good articles to establish our thought leadership. So, we posted our job opening with the Arts Co-op programs. One of the best marketing co-op students I ever worked with was an English literature major. Her solid research, planning, organization, and writing skills were utilized immensely. She not only wrote articles that we could use as contributed bylines, but she was also able to create a really valuable library of boilerplate content that we could use for proposal responses.

Determine who in your company is going to manage that marketing co-op student.

This is critical (and almost always happens in the technology stream, but I’ve seen it neglected so many times on the marketing side of the house.) Someone in the company needs to make time to mentor and manage that student. Even the awesome student I mentioned earlier needed regular check-ins to ensure we were on track, that feedback and guidance were provided, and that priorities could be re-adjusted if necessary. And to know that she was part of a team she could turn to!

If you don’t have a lot of marketing expertise, remember sometimes it’s worthwhile to bring in a senior marketing person to work with your management team on a short-term basis to help shape a marketing framework for your next month, 6 months, or year. And you can use that framework to help guide the student. If you happen to be in an accelerator program, perhaps take advantage of an EIR (Executive in Residence) or mentor to get some marketing guidance so you can work most effectively with a marketing student.

Remember, it’s not just about your company.

Of course, we hire because we have business needs to be met. But when we use a co-op program, it’s not about “cheap labour” (as I’ve unfortunately heard a few people refer to their co-ops); it’s about taking our responsibility to offer meaningful work to students seriously. This is how we develop the next generation of talent; its how we let students learn how organizations function, what to expect in a work environment, and what type of career they will eventually love (or not.) We want that student to contribute to the company and the best way we can ensure that is to treat that person like a valued team member by providing interesting work, a respectful work environment, and a safe place to learn and grow.

So, by all means, hire a marketing co-op student, but just ensure you’re doing “it” right.


Alison Berg is the Director of Marketing at Innovation Boulevard.
When she’s not watching Netflix or hanging out with her kids,
she loves working with early-stage tech companies on both HR and marketing strategy. 



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