Become a Communication Officer
Communication officers, also known as public relations (PR) specialists, help manage internal and external messaging for an organization. For example, a communication officer may work with a company's CEO to develop a message of family values. Their external communications might include social media and advertising that shows how the organization is devoted to family values. They may also work with the human resources department to promote internal activities that support family values for employees.
Career Requirements at a Glance
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree is standard|
|Degree Fields||Public relations, communications, journalism, or related field|
|Experience||2-5 years of related experience|
|Key Skills||Interpersonal, written and verbal communication skills; problem-solving and organizational skills; knowledge of spreadsheet, word processing, and multimedia software|
|Mean Salary (2015)||$65,830 (for public relations specialists)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2015), Job postings by employers (December 2012)
Let's explore the steps required to enter this career.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
The minimum requirement for communication officers is usually a bachelor's degree in public relations, communications, journalism, or a related field. Students in these programs might take courses in writing and speaking, as well as public relations techniques and principles. They'll also learn about messaging, ethics, and PR strategy, and they might have the chance to take courses relating to niche areas of PR, such as non-profits. In some cases, students are required to complete an internship.
First, volunteer to gain experience. Volunteering with one or more organizations is a good way for aspiring communication officers to get experience in the field. For example, many non-profits have programs or events that they would like to be publicized. Students can join a committee that focuses on publicity to gain experience.
Also, practice social media. Public relations undergraduate coursework will likely require at least one course in new media or digital media. Many communication campaigns utilize social media to reach a broader audience.
Step 2: Gain Experience
One entry-level position that aspiring communication officers might pursue to gain experience is communications assistant. In this role, employees typically support upper level staff, coordinate PR events and activities, and monitor press mentions. Over time, they might advance to communications associates, who coordinate publications, take on website duties, and collaborate on social media strategies.
Build a network. As communication officers move up the ladder, they might be expected to contact journalists with story ideas. Communication officers can begin to build their professional network by attending industry events and serving as a resource for reporters.
Step 3: Become Certified
Communication officers can earn voluntary certification from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) or the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC). For both the PRSA's Accredited in Public Relations credential and the IABC's Accredited Business Communicator designation, individuals must have a minimum level of education and experience to qualify to take an exam. The IABC requires submission of a portfolio of work samples as well. Upon earning the certification, communication officers will have to earn continuing education credits to maintain their certification.
Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree
For upper level positions, some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. Students in these programs take advanced courses in public relations, as well as applying those principles in their thesis. Students also might have the chance to choose a specialty area, such as corporate communication, crisis communications, or strategic planning.
To recap, communication officers typically need a bachelor's degree in public relations or a related field. You'll likely have to work your way up this position, and voluntary certification could enhance your job prospects.