Whenever a friend tells me his or her child has studied communications in college I shudder a little bit.
It's not that I don't want young people to go into the field. Instead, I'm concerned that these young folks have spent four years earning a degree that won't help them get or do a job.
That's not to say there are no communications programs at colleges where graduates get a solid foundation in actual work. There are some where journalism basics are taught alongside public relations and digital media skills.
In a lot of cases, however, that's not the norm. Many schools that offer a communications major focus on theory, the esoteric, and academic areas which may have value, but don't prepare you for work.
That leaves many communications graduates unprepared for the work force, something that's pretty common in many fields. The difference is that communications translates into a number of specific jobs.To get hired for those positions however, a communications major probably needs more than a degree. These are the top careers for communications majors and how to get them.
While print journalism has rapidly shrunk and will continue to get smaller, digital opportunities abound. To get started as a journalist, graduates will need to be prepared not just to write stories, but to do so quickly while also incorporating video, social media, and other evolving ways to tell a story. Today's journalist must move quickly while also having a command of the multimedia tools that are now common even in traditional newsrooms.
The best way to get these skills is in many cases to work at your college newspaper. Doing so will give you real-word experience in reporting, dealing with sources, and in taking criticism. Those are not easy skills to teach in a classroom -- even for programs that try to. But college newspapers offer a chance to actually do the job, and even give you real clips which are essential to landing your first real-world position.
Public relations professional
A lot of journalists become public relations (PR) people because the two positions require similar skills. In both cases, writing is key -- as is the ability to communicate with people well. PR jobs require you to be a little nicer than the average journalist has to be, but in many cases the pay is better and the hours are preferable.
Many entry-level PR jobs go to communications majors with vague qualifications at best. The best way to move to the head of that pack is to have some actual experience. That can be gained via an internship -- perhaps even in the PR or sports information department at your own college.
Knowing how to write a press release is key, as is being able to handle rejection with a smile. PR people hear no a lot and they have to be able to deal with that in a way that keeps the door open with that contact for future opportunities.
Nearly every non-profit needs help writing grants. In many cases, especially at larger non-profits, a dedicated grant writing position exists. In smaller operations, grant writing either falls to the communications department or the development (fundraising) people.
If a student wants to work in one of those areas, being able to write grants should give you a major edge. That's not something most (if any) colleges will teach, but it's something there are many classes and programs that will teach you the skills (including some which are free). There are major differences between writing local, state, and federal grants, but having any experience, even if it's through a free class, could put you well ahead of other candidates.
Digital content/web manager
Most companies have a website and many have one that's actively updated. That means that even at a business where editorial or content is not a focus, there's usually one person (or more) with a communications or journalism background on staff.
Becoming a digital content manager requires knowing how to write -- and increasingly how to produce multimedia content. In addition, many people in these positions have social media posting responsibilities. Also, while these are not coding jobs, it's generally good to know the basics. That means understanding HTML and as well as how website content management systems (CMS) operate enough to interface with whoever maintains the backend for the site.
In many cases, the person in this job has to know much more than just writing and editing. He or she needs to be able to problem solve and know what outside resources are needed when something goes wrong.
Getting hired for this type of position generally involves proving you can meet the content demands while also handling the technical needs. Being familiar with WordPress, Drupal, or other similar CMS software will help as will knowing the basics of cloud hosting and having a strong understanding of social media.