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Become a Communications Specialist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a communications specialist. Research the education requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in public relations. View article »

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Video Transcript

Communications Specialists

Communications specialists, also known as public relations (PR) specialists, use their mastery of oral and written communication to relay critical information or to create or maintain a stylized company image. These professionals can work in the offices of advertising or PR firms, educational administrations, or government agencies, among other areas. Overtime and long business hours are common in this career. Competition for jobs is also strong, particularly at the management level.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; some employers prefer a master's
Degree Field Communications, marketing, journalism, English, or business
Licensure/Certification Some employers prefer professional certification
Experience Internships often preferred
Key Skills Decision-making, speaking, professional writing, and interpersonal skills; social media, HTML or CSS, online research, and word processing experience
Salary $56,770 (2015 median for all public relations specialists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Communications specialists have bachelor's or master's degrees in communications, marketing, journalism, English, or business. They are expected to have strong decision-making, speaking, professional writing, and interpersonal skills. They should also be able to use word processing, HTML, CSS, social media, and online research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for all public relations specialists (which include communications specialists) was $56,770 in 2015.

Be a Communications Specialist

What steps should I take to become a communications specialist?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Education paths to becoming a communications specialist include journalism and marketing majors or a concentration in public relations. Regardless of major, prospective communications specialists take courses in public relations management, writing for electronic media, video production, technical writing, and graphic design. In addition, taking classes in psychology, social science, and political science may prove helpful for employment down the line.

Success Tips:

  • Build a portfolio to use on your path to success. Portfolios help employers make hiring decisions for both internships and employment. Many bachelor's degrees that are appropriate for communications specialists require the completion of hands-on projects, such as writing examples, brochures, press releases, and newsletters that can be showcased in a portfolio.
  • Complete an internship to accelerate your career success. Employers often look for candidates with some work experience, even for entry-level jobs, and college-sponsored work internships can satisfy this requirement. College internships are often required for the completion of a public relations degree. College-based internships focus on working with professionals in a teacher-student setting with periodic employer evaluations. Organization-based internships may be offered through non-profit media relations groups, such as the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA).
  • Join a professional association to expand your success. Joining a professional PR organization, such as PRSSA, can give one access to career development and networking opportunities. Undergraduate students can join as an associate members during their senior year.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

An entry-level position provides an opportunity to gain professional work experience while observing the kinds of responsibilities PR professionals handle each day. Work experience is necessary to advance in the field or apply for accreditation. Manager or director positions in PR require several years of work experience.

Success Tip:

  • You will want to become proficient in the use of social media. Knowing how to utilize social media can help communications specialists move to the forefront of the profession. Additionally, many new job openings in PR are expected to require individuals who can help clients learn to use social media.

Step 3: Get Accredited

Some employers in the PR industry may expect prospective communications specialists to be professionally accredited by a certifying organization, such as the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). PRSA applicants are required to have professional experience, be a member of a participating organization, pay a fee, and pass an exam.

Step 4: Consider Career Advancement Opportunities

Since competition is often strong for communications specialist positions, additional education can set a potential employee apart from other candidates. Consider earning a master's degree in communications, public relations, or marketing. In addition, maintaining a membership in a professional PR organization can provide ongoing opportunities for networking.

Communications specialists use communication to relay critical information or to create or maintain a stylized company image. They have college degrees, strong speaking and writing skills, and the ability to use relevant computer software and tools, and they earn a median annual salary of $56,770.

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