Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs are successful entrepreneurs; they were also college dropouts.
There’s great debate over whether experience or a university degree is more important to job seekers. Some argue that experience makes up for the lack of a degree; others say a degree provides something that experience can’t. Is one more valuable than the other?
No industry is immune to the issue. Of course, there are specific cases where the answer is obvious. If you’re a hospital looking for a surgeon, you’re (hopefully) seeking someone with a PhD in medicine. But Public Relations is an industry which regularly ponders the dilemma more than others.
Then there is the sub-question. Is the degree subject important? I’ve heard many an industry professional who completed a Chartered course bemoan their peers who entered the profession with “what may as well have been a degree in Archaeology for all the relevance it has.”
There aren’t that many opportunities here in Northern Ireland to study a specific PR/Comms related course. I completed the BSc Hons Communication, Advertising & Marketing at the University of Ulster. At the time it was one of the only degrees in Northern Ireland for people, like me, who knew this was the industry they wanted a career in. For that reason, competition for places was fierce and nothing less than straight A grades at A Level was going to get me a place. As the profession has become more well-known among the masses and therefore, more popular, course options have opened up and include numerous post-grad alternatives.
I followed my education with basic assistant jobs in agencies and completed many a task that fell shy of cleaning the toilets (but only just). Was one more useful than the other? I don’t think so. The theory and practical coursework completed at uni is still useful to me in my daily job; it was absolutely relevant. The work experience taught me how to survive and thrive in what can be a very fast-paced, cut-throat world. And most importantly of all, it cemented my love for the job, a passion that will see you through even the hardest of days.
So what’s more important – education or experience? The truth is that both have a place in a person’s career trajectory.
I plan to go back to education again at some stage, probably to hone the theory of the Digital Marketing world, because that is inevitably where the industry is headed. And although some aspects of it are learned ‘on the job’, it’s not something you can become great at without the knowledge.
And we all want to be “great”, right?