Go to the Head of the Class

by Susan Mullin

With the rising cost of higher education, and a rapidly changing marketing industry, are college degrees still worth it?

You need not look too far in the news headlines lately to see impassioned discussions—and more than a little angst—about the rising costs of higher education. As a result, many are asking whether a four-year college degree is even still worth it.

Marketing and communications job candidates with college degrees are at the head of the class

It’s a question we are asked often, by job seekers and especially future job seekers currently facing some important choices about their own higher education. As one of the Washington area’s leading recruiters in the marketing and communications industry, TorchLight’s experienced hiring experts closely monitor D.C. business trends, and when it comes to professional roles in marketing and communications, we can tell you that a college degree is still important—but so are some other factors.

To position yourself for maximum career success in marketing and communications, keep the following in mind:

Most companies won’t look at job candidates without degrees.

Our clients—some of the D.C. area’s most established and exciting companies—expect job candidates to have a four-year college degree. But, you don’t have to go into debt for the next century just to land a good job. Generally speaking, where you went to school is less important than what you did in school.Said one client: “It’s not so much the school or the degree itself as what went into attaining the degree: the ability to think, to draw connections, to think critically, to research and dig deeper, to develop leadership and time management skills, to meet deadlines.”

But, it’s not only about the degree. Companies expect to see hands-on experience along with the degree.

It’s not enough to simply hold a four-year college degree. Companies today expect to see that you’ve gained some practical experience, too. That can include internships, work experience, job shadowing or volunteer service putting professional skills to work (such as helping a nonprofit write copy for its digital fundraising appeals or manage content for its social media page).Said one client: “We look for candidates who have both academic and real-world experience—specifically, how did you apply what you learned in the classroom to a business setting? Your performance, and the value you added, is a strong indication of your future performance.”

Companies want evidence that you’re keeping your skills sharp. And, a deeper skill set can command a higher salary.

Potential employers are impressed by candidates who demonstrate a commitment to “life-long learning.” That’s especially true in marketing and communications fields, where the speed of change is rapid. Staying current on your skills and knowledge is a defining and notable differentiator. A few ways to do that might include pursuing a certificate in a specific practice (such as graphic design or health care communications); actively participating in professional associations (such as local chapters of the International Association of Business Communicators or the American Marketing Association); and participating in webinars and seminars offered by experts in a particular field of study.

One key advantage for keeping your skills sharp? The more you bring to the table, the more in demand you will be—and the better salary you can command. If you’re a copywriter, add coding/HTML skills to your skill set. If you’re a PR professional, complement your traditional experience with online marketing know-how.

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Posted in , Professional Development