Careers for Communications Majors
Communication Degrees are Versatile
Communication is inherent to everyday life and exists, in some way, in almost every field out there. But also as a matter of life, not everyone knows how to communicate effectively or how to tailor a message to a specific audience. This is where a communications degree comes in. Through the study of communications, graduates gain strong skills in strategic thinking and planning, critical thinking, data analysis and, of course, the evolving nature of communications in the digital age. By honing these skills, a communications graduate can enter almost any field with one of the most versatile and flexible degrees.
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How to Use Your Communications Degree
Skills gained within a communications degree are wide-ranging and varied and go beyond the basics of communication. Communications degrees are applicable to almost any field, but it’s important to think strategically about how to use the degree. By thinking ahead about what skills are needed for a desired career, a student can identify the appropriate coursework in and outside the major and find experiences to develop those skills.
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What Skills Will You Gain with a Communications Degree?
- Strategic communications planning skills Communications expert Emily Offerdahl sees the ability to strategize and deliver a cohesive communications campaign one of the greatest skill sets she gained from her communications degree. She says these skills are adaptable to almost any communications job from political campaigns to a fundraising campaign. The skills also apply to almost any career that involves communications or strategic planning.
- Market research and data analysis skills Many degrees require some data analysis coursework which proves essential in understanding a market, be it a college’s prospective student market or potential customers for a new product. By understanding and analyzing a market, communications professionals are able to understand the best means and processes of drawing in their target audience.
- Leadership skills Because communications is essential for leadership positions, many degree programs involve elements of leadership development and guidance.
- Presentation and public speaking skills One of the oldest forms of communication is, indeed, oral communication and no degree is complete without some element of public speaking skill development. Additionally, presentation skills are important in order to convey complex topics in a digestible format.
- Writing skills Communication, of course, requires strong writing skills. But writing comes in many forms depending on the job requirements and programs often provide opportunities to dive into different types of writing (e.g., copywriting, journalism or technical or professional writing).
- Branding and marketing skills While creating a distinct identity for a product through branding is not new in the world of product marketing, it has become an important element for people. Offerdahl says that her master’s in communications program actually required her to develop a personal brand. Believe it or not, she had been asked what her brand is in job interviews. Because of her training, she had a strong answer.
- Digital media strategies Because communications methods are evolving, most communications programs are focusing heavily on digital media strategies of communication including social media marketing and innovative website development.
How Does a Communications Degree Help You in the Job Market
Emily Offerdahl says that one of the greatest aspects of a communications degree is the flexibility. Almost every sector needs a communications person. “I think most communications people could go from a large agency or government agency to a nonprofit to the private sector really easily,” says Offerdahl. “I don’t think that’s true for most job types.” That’s one of the reasons she wanted to work in communications. “I wanted a job that was flexible so I could live anywhere and work anywhere.” While if someone goes from the public to the private sector there might be a shift in mindset, the role of the communicator remains the same, says Offerdahl, “the communicator is always there to understand customers.”
Part of what has helped Offerdahl (and as she sees it, most communications professionals) be adaptable is having a birds-eye view of the organization. Communications professionals have to understand almost all of the inner workings of a company or organization in order to effectively communicate to customers. Communications graduates are particularly adept at this, putting them in an excellent position in the field.
Career Paths & Salary Potential for Communications Majors
Communications professionals are needed in just about every industry out there and the salary potential can be high. The following is a list of both traditional and non-traditional communications careers, but communications students could look at almost any field and identify a potential career path with communications as the focus.
Traditional Communications Careers
- Communications Manager Those in communications management are usually in-house communications coordinators or managers tasked with effectively telling the story of a company or organization. They must get to know all elements of the organization, understand an organization’s mission and values and know products and services intimately in order to be able to develop appropriate communications strategies. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $47,900
- Marketing and/or Advertising Manager Marketing and advertising professionals work on behalf of a company or organization to build and advertise its brand. This could be a product, a service or even a company’s values. Both involve having a strong understanding of the target audience and the ability to create and implement a wide-reaching and strategic marketing or advertising campaign. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $129,380
- Public Relations Specialist Public relations specialists develop strategies on behalf of a person, a company or organization to showcase the brand and the organization’s work through a variety of mediums. PR professionals also handle crisis communications, for example, when a politician or public persona experiences a scandal. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $47,900
- Human Resources Specialist Human resources specialists work with companies and organizations to recruit, retain, and manage relationships with employees. Depending on the size of the organization, some HR specialists would be involved in all aspects of employee relations, and some might be focused on specialized areas such as recruitment or training. Communications are involved in almost every aspect of HR making it a common path for communications graduates. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $60,350
- Market Research Analyst Market research analysts are excellent with data and are essential for advising a company on who would be interested in a product or service and how they’d value it. The reports that analysts produce provide a macro-level picture of a market. Communications graduates excel in providing strong presentations and distilling potentially confusing data into an easily digestible format. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $63,230
- Journalist Journalists are, by nature, professional communicators. They tell compelling stories about the world and make it readable, interesting and important to the readers or listeners. Journalists can work in print, radio, television or digital media formats. While reporters and correspondents are traditionally the jobs that the world sees, hears or reads, there are many people such as editors and producers who do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to ensuring the content is appealing to the audience. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $40,910
Non-Traditional Communications Careers
- Social Media/Digital Media StrategistsWith the advent of social media and the advancements in technology, social media and digital media strategists have become important positions within the communications field. Communications graduates with strong digital media skills and social media marketing skills have a leg up in an industry that is constantly evolving. Degree level: Bachelor’s PayScale Median Salary Estimate: $49,545
- Event planner Event coordination and planning requires a great deal of organization and communication with a team of staff and vendors. Whether a planner works in planning conferences, weddings or traveler accommodations, communications is an essential aspect of the job and a communications graduate is an excellent candidate for such positions. Someone with strong organizational and business skills — which can be gained with a communications degree — also helps in these positions. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $48,290
- Real Estate AgentWhile it might not seem directly linked, a real estate agent with a degree in communications has a leg up on competitors. Real estate agents rely heavily on developing their own personal brand, marketing effectively and having strong interpersonal skills with clients and competitors. A communications graduate with an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong eye for market trends makes for an excellent real estate agent. Degree level: High school diploma May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $45,990
- Fundraising and development managers Fundraisers are needed in almost any industry, but especially the non-profit and higher ed sectors. Fundraising and development offices are often in charge of large-scale fundraising campaigns where marketing skills prove essential. Additionally, fundraising involves excellent writing skills through grant-writing and strong interpersonal skills for building relationships with potential donors. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $55,640
- Interpreters and TranslatorsFor communications graduates who are fluent in another language, have spent time overseas and have a focus on intercultural communications are especially equipped for a career as an interpreter or translator. Because of the globalized workforce in which we live, interpreters and translators are needed in almost any profession to provide professional translation, but are particularly sought-after in the medical fields (where additional training and certification are typically required). Degree level: Bachelor’sMay 2017 Median Annual Salary: $47,190
- Training and Development ManagerTraining and development is a part of the human resources field, but it has a more targeted focus on employee learning and professional development by implementing trainings for employees, identifying employee development needs and contracting with outside agencies to provide the training. A communications degree would help develop skills in facilitation, curriculum development (including e-learning tools) and assessments. Degree level: Bachelor’s May 2017 Median Annual Salary: $108,250
10 Ways to Prepare for Your Career
While knowledge gained in the classroom is always important, students should look beyond the classroom to build on-the-job skills or develop skills that aren’t offered in their program’s classroom. Additionally, students should be intentional about how they move through their program to make the most out of the experience.
- Get a student worker position in the communications and marketing officeTake advantage of work study opportunities and paid assistantships as students can get experiences in these offices unlike those in a private sector internship.
- Volunteer at non-profits to do communications workStudents dedicated and passionate about a certain cause can get great experience assisting with communications work at non-profits, but they should be very committed to the work and the organization as non-profits frequently get half-hearted assistance which can take energy and time.
- InternThere’s nothing like getting an inside perspective and industry connections than through an internship. Traditional internships are always excellent options for on-the-job training.
- Take courses outside your majorClasses that could be exceptionally useful in communications include practical intro courses in graphic design, writing (technical/professional writing), printmaking, book publishing, journalism and digital platforms.
- Join a local Public Relations Society of America chapterProfessional networks are designed for networking and many have student pricing and student networking opportunities built in.
- Work on political campaignsPolitical campaigns are tough work, but they’re the perfect opportunity for recent graduates to test their chops as they’re short-term and an excellent way to build connections.
- Travel or live abroadThere’s no better life experience than living in another culture. Study abroad, join Peace Corps or just go on a month-long backpacking trip. These kind of experiences will speak louder than words and translate into a more expansive worldview.
- Join or start a relevant club or organizationSome schools have great clubs and organizations to expand their communications skill such as a marketing club or a school paper. If a topic of interest doesn’t have a club at your school, start your own!
- Develop your own personal brandIn the digital age, personal branding has been an important aspect of communications and applicants are often asked about their “personal brand” in interviews, so applicants should be prepared with a well thought-out answer.
- Take advantage of school career resourcesThere’s nothing more useful than a school’s career center with staff who can help refine a resume, practice interviewing skills and hone a job search.
Emily Offerdahl is the Director of Marketing and Communications for Undergraduate Admissions at Portland State University.
Why did you pursue a communications degree?
When I was working for the federal government [with the international aid organization, USAID], I discovered my interest in helping make complex concepts digestible for broader audiences. Also, I became interested in increasing transparency, specifically around internal communications [which is the medium through which a company or organization communicates with staff within the organization] about things that tend to feel opaque. At USAID, for example, we had 300 staff who are working in 200 countries. We were supposed to be helping give them technical tools and guidance on how to do their jobs. But they weren’t getting consistent information and they didn’t know who to contact. The communications within the organization wasn’t very streamlined. So we created a newsletter to disseminate policies and news and academic and technical research to them so that they felt that they had a connection and knew what was happening from the administrative level.
So because of that, I decided to go get my master’s degree and broaden my experience and help get me opportunities to work in different types of communications jobs. I also wanted to get a broader idea of marketing, communications and the public affairs sectors. So I did a program were I learned business communications, business planning, public affairs, crisis communications, media relations and public speaking. These were all skills that I wasn’t necessarily going to gain in my job so, the degree could enhance that skill set.
What career advice would you a prospective communications student?
I would say, don’t rush into your career. The fact that I did Peace Corps and explored what was out there for a long time before I got my graduate degree, I was able to gain a lot of really great experience, but wasn’t necessarily directly related to my degree, but has helped me immensely. Travel and living abroad gives you a different worldview from other applicants because you’ll gain an understanding of the complexity of the world and communications. You’ll also gain experience communicating to different populations, which is always going to be relevant no matter what industry you’re in.
Additionally, it’s important for students to understand using their own personal social media accounts as a brand. Having their own brand is very important. I’ve been asked in multiple interviews what my “brand” is. I luckily had an assignment in my communications program for this, so I was ready with an answer. You’ll want to develop an answer to that. Think of yourself as if you’re a company and building that strategic communications brand around your identity. It’s a great way to practice communications skills.
Famous People who Studied Communications
Media Mogul, Actress, Television Personality
Tennessee State University, 1986
Before Oprah became the first black woman billionaire and one of the most recognizable figures in the world, she got her start on scholarship at Tennessee State University where she pursued a degree in communications. Her communications degree was a natural fit and led smoothly into her very public career communicating through television.(Sources: Biography.com, Tennessee State University)Al Roker
TV personality, NBC Weather Forecaster
SUNY Oswego, 1976
Al Roker, NBC’s weather forecaster, actually got his start in communications, not meteorology. By honing his craft for communications was a natural starting point for the man who seems to be known as America’s weatherman.(Source: Biography.com, Twitter)Stephen Colbert
Comedian, Host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Northwestern University, 1986
Before he got his start in comedy, Stephen Colbert studied communications at Northwestern University. The craft of comedy is one of the most challenging forms of communication making the link between his degree and his current work clear.(Source: Northwestern University)Seth Meyers
Comedian, Host of Late Night with Seth Meyers
Northwestern University, 1996
Seth Meyers seems to have taken a similar track to Stephen Colbert by starting out in communications at Northwestern. Meyers has made political comedy a focus of his work which could be a potential root of his degree.(Source: Northwestern University)Howard Schultz
Former Starbucks CEO
Northern Michigan University, 1975
As arguably one of the most successful and famous business people in the world, Starbucks founder, Howard Schultz, is an example of where a communications major can go. While after college he struggled with direction, he credits having his degree and a few business courses under his belt as being the important starting point to a successful career.(Source: TIME)
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Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.
Resource for Communications Majors
American Communication Association The American Communication Association is a non-profit virtual professional organization for communications professionals with a mission to advance research and studies in communications. While the Association provides in-person professional opportunities, it focuses on accessible networking and professional information-sharing through digital mediums.
Peace Corps Peace Corps is the United States’ international volunteer organization. Volunteers are placed all over the world in positions focusing on topics such as health, the environment, education and community development. With a small stipend and tuition forgiveness upon completion, Peace Corps is a great way to gain international experience while serving others.
International Communication Association The International Communication Association is ideal for students interested in the academic or international path within communications. The international non-profit is associated with the United Nations and has a strong academic and scholarly focus.
Coursera Coursera offers inexpensive, online courses in a range of fields including communication. This is an excellent site to expand skills in digital communication, social media, writing or other necessary skills that can complement a communication degree.
AmeriCorps AmeriCorps is the United States domestic volunteer organization. Volunteers, who receive a small stipend and an education award upon completion, are placed all around the U.S. AmeriCorps can be a rewarding and vital experience to help guide communications majors expand their worldview and guide their future careers.
American Marketing Association The American Marketing Association is the key professional association for those in the marketing field. The Association provides a wide variety of networking and professional development opportunities through both in-person and virtual events and trainings.
Public Relations Society of America As the largest professional association for communications professionals, the Public Relations Society of America is almost essential for anyone interested in communications. The Society also has a variety of professional interest sections. The national conference and other events and workshops are an excellent way to gain professional development experience.
The Society for Human Resources Management As the world’s largest human resources professional organization, the Society for Human Resources Management, is almost essential for those interested in human resources to explore. The Society offers nationally recognized certifications, workshops and virtual events for anyone in or interested in human resources.
Udemy Udemy offers affordable, accessible and highly curated technical and business courses online. It’s an excellent resource for complementary coursework such as in social media management, writing and general communication skills.
Insights Association For students interested in a career in market research, Insights Association is the premier professional organization to gain skills and contacts within the field.
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