Communication Careers: Options Abound
I’ve noticed lately that a communication major is a very popular college degree choice. There are many different types of communication careers for which such a major may be useful.
Communications careers are also suitable for a wide variety of other liberal arts majors, since the core skills of written and spoken communications, research, and analysis needed for most communication jobs can be developed through study of anything in the liberal arts curriculum, including social sciences, arts, humanities, and physical sciences.
The Communication major … is first and foremost a traditional “liberal arts” major. The goal of the major is not to train individuals for specific careers, but rather to provide the general skills that are useful for a wide range of life trajectories. We aim to graduate students who can speak and write clearly and effectively, who are able to do research to understand more about the world around them, who are critical consumers of information, and who are critical thinkers. These skills provide the basis for success in many paths following graduation.
Indeed, when I was in college (way back in the 70s) fewer institutions had separate communication majors and departments, yet the market’s needs for talented, college-educated communicators were met all the same — because for the right type of person, a general college education did the trick.
This observation may provide a useful tip to those considering communication careers: the importance of college education to such careers may lie less in communication-specific classes than in breadth and depth of overall knowledge.
In fact, often people doing the hiring for communication jobs have come to a communication career through a less-direct route, having had a far different undergraduate major, and will respect and value that in the right applicant.
This suggests there may be value in coupling a communications major or minor — or just core communication classes — with a major or minor in an area of interest, whether it be history or international relations or political science, etc. Foreign-language study (which may or may not be a graduation requirement) can always come in handy; bilingual communications skills add a very useful dimension.
Throw a few communications-related internships into the mix, and you can be very well-prepared for an entry-level communication job.
What’s Covered by Communication as an Academic Discipline That Distinguishes It From Other Fields That Develop Communication-Related Skills?
The field of communication focuses on how people use messages to generate meanings within and across various contexts, cultures, channels, and media. The field promotes the effective and ethical practice of human communication.
Communication is a large and diverse field that includes inquiry by humanists, social scientists and critical and cultural studies scholars. A body of scholarship and theory, about all forms of human communication, is presented and explained in textbooks, electronic publications, and academic journals. In the journals, researchers report the results of studies that are the basis for an ever-expanding understanding of how we all communicate.
Note: Understanding how we communicate and learning to communicate well are not the same thing. Only the latter develops an actual work skill. For example, learning about flirting as communication will not necessarily help you land and keep a communication job (though it could!)
Who Hires for Communication Jobs?
Employers filling communication jobs can be businesses large and small, for-profit or not-for-profit, government agencies at all levels, and specialized communications firms such as marketing, advertising, and PR agencies.
There is also a booming freelance writing market, facilitated by freelance job electronic exchanges such as elance.com. There are many freelance sites to consider. Taking some freelance projects offered there may be a great way to jump-start communication careers, especially when full-time work is hard to find even for well-experienced pros.
What Are some of the Main Categories of Communication Careers?
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook lists the following main categories of “media and communications-related occupations”:
- Authors, writers, and editors
- Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators
- Interpreters and translators
- News analysts, reporters, and correspondents
- Public relations specialists
- Technical writers
- Television, video, and motion picture camera operators and editors
Communication Careers Involve a Wide Variety of Skill Sets
Oral Communications Skills
Some communication careers extensively utilize oral communication skills, whether public speaking in person or oral communication through radio/TV and/or audio/video recordings.
Written Communication Skills
The written word is as important as ever in the Internet age — perhaps more important. Most communication careers require good writing skills; some focus exclusively or primarily on the written word.
Communication Production Skills
Some communication departments include audio/video production as well. It may be somebody else’s voice, or images, or music, not your own, but you are part of the communication process as you help them achieve the look and/or sound they desire.
Visual Communication Skills
Visual communication careers include graphic design, art, multimedia, and commercial/advertising photography. Bringing at least some skills in this area to the table is valuable for many other communication careers. So go ahead with a few of the art classes you’ve always wanted to take!
I started preparing this post with the impression that a communication major was kind of lightweight and not very useful. I am a bit of an old-school liberal arts snob that way! But I learned a communication major can be a very promising choice that leaves the way open to a wide variety of communication careers.