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Continuing Education and Career Advancement: What’s the Biggest Bang for the Buck?

From left: Jenna Matzer, John Boul, Nez Savala and Michael Lourie

Since the coming of age of public relations and comparable industries, continuing education has been on the rise. However, there is often a debate on whether advanced degrees and/or accreditations are necessary to advance in your PR career. The common question still sits among us: what is the benefit?

PRSA St. Louis devoted its September meeting to addressing this question, among others, regarding continuing education in public relations. We were joined by three industry professionals who discussed these questions, all of whom pursued an advanced degree or certification. The three panelists were:

  • John Boul, Manager of Global Media Relations at Edward Jones
  • Michael Lourie, Director of Marketing and Communications at Missouri Baptist Medical Center
  • Nez Savala, Director of Public Relations at Confluence Charter Schools

John was speaking on behalf of his Masters in Strategic Communications, Michael on his MBA and Nez on her APR.

At some point in their careers, many people consider whether or not to pursue an advanced degree and the tangibles and intangibles of doing so.

Some industries rely heavily on work experience and don’t require an advanced degree or accreditation, while others believe an advanced degree will certainly put you on a higher career trajectory.

“It would be unfair to say that the MBA got me the position, but it certainly made me easier to consider,” Michael stated when asked if his MBA was a deciding factor in landing his current position at Missouri Baptist Medical Center. “It doesn’t hurt in setting you apart.”

On the contrary, when asked if an MBA or similar degree would influence his choice in hire, Michael said, “It’s not the degree, it’s the work experience – what have you done, what can you apply that will be of value.”

That seemed to be the running trend of discussion. Though their continued education did improve their professionalism overall and self worth, each of them placed a high emphasis on work experience and intellectual curiosity. Nez commented that her APR gave her a confidence boost in her decision-making in the workplace, while John stated that his MSC has played an important role in communicating efficiently with people on a daily basis.

Timing is also a factor that should be considered. Our panelists all waited to continue their education later in their career as opposed to immediately following their undergraduate degree. This meant earning a degree while working; and finding that balance between work, school and a personal life comes as a challenge.

With the evolving world of PR and its interconnectedness of creative, marketing communications and technology, there has become a dire need for broadly-based education that is relevant and connected to the public relations practice. But you don’t necessarily need to go to the classroom to achieve this education. Attending seminars, becoming more involved with PRSA or other member organizations, volunteering, leading committees or undertaking pro-bono work are all ways you can demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning without having to pay the big bucks for an advanced degree.

This debate about whether or not to pursue an advanced degree or certification all came down to a simple solution: it depends on the industry you’re in and what is best for you. There are certain economical, political or educational motives from which we decide to advance our education, and everyone has their individual reasons.

Something to think about: what is your resume? It is your brand. It’s who you are on a piece of paper. Degrees and work experience all make up your personal brand. Do what is right for you.

This post is courtesy of Jenna Matzer. She is the regional manager of communications and public relations at Unity Hospice. She holds a B.A. in speech communication with an emphasis in public relations from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. You can find her on Twitter @jmatzer

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