You Ask, I Answer: College Degree for Marketing Success?

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You Ask, I Answer: College Degree for Marketing Success?

Mark asks, “Do you need a college degree to succeed in marketing?”

Like any profession, success in marketing is about combining knowledge plus practical application to generate experience. How you obtain those pieces is up to you, but for many employers, a college degree is a heuristic they use to screen and judge candidates.

Generally speaking, you’ll see statements like “or equivalent years of experience” on more progressive job ads. You have to be able to demonstrate that you’re more talented than someone with equivalent educational background.

One final consideration: more and more of HR is automated. A degree is a simplistic way for systems to filter candidates.

You Ask, I Answer: College Degree for Marketing Success?

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In today’s episode Mark asks, Do you need a college degree to succeed in marketing? Well, like any profession, you know, success in marketing is going to be a combination of your academic knowledge, understanding the theory, the frameworks, all the pieces.

And combining that with practical application, there are plenty of people who have great theoretical background, and can’t do anything.

There are plenty people who have hard working skills, but have to reinvent the wheel constantly, because they don’t have the academic knowledge to essentially take proven shortcuts to make processes run better.

How you obtain that combination of academic knowledge and practical experience is up to you.

A lot of people, the vast majority of people in marketing go the college route, where they take some form of higher education, whether it be a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree post, baccalaureate certificate, all these different things, to get the academic knowledge and then enter the workforce.

Now, here’s the catch.

To the employer, that is a results only work environment.

Your academic background matters substantially less than can you get the job done, can you deliver the results.

But for the average hiring manager for the average HR person for the HR systems that are in place that have algorithms screening candidates, a higher education of some form is a heuristic it is a single data point, that it’s easy to make a snap judgment on and that snap judgment allows the person or more and more of the system to shortcut, right to say, Okay, this person has this academic background, they move into the the viable candidate pool, this person does not.

And the challenge with a lot of these HR is systems is that you don’t really get a chance to make your case because the system has already screened you out.

Right? You have already been removed from consideration.

And you don’t know why.

Right? You don’t necessarily see that.

Because none of the hrs systems out there will spit out a here’s why you are rejected, right? You would have to follow up with the company and maybe get an answer from them.

But they themselves may not necessarily know why the system did or did not choose you.

And if you check out the major vendors in HR, many of them use very sophisticated systems and algorithms for screening candidates to make Candidate Selection easier, particularly in an environment like we have right now recording this on the tail end of 2020, where you have many, many more candidates than you do job openings, right.

And so you will post up a job opening and get three, four or 500 candidates.

And the average HR manager does not have the time to do that for you know, the 10 or 15 or 20 job openings they have.

So the system will do the screening upfront.

Thus, having that degree does satisfy the system requirements whether or not you’re any good at anything.

I mean, heck, we all know people that we went to college with who were intellectually not as gifted, right? Who or maybe didn’t work quite so hard as they should have unless you count drinking heavily is working hard.

But at the end of the day, like the the old joke goes, What do you call the person who graduated last in their in their medical school class who call them doctor right? The person out there in marketing who has the degree even if they’re they got by with a 61.

Right, they are still they still have a college degree.

And in a system that is automated, that it looks at a very black and white comparison degree no degree, that person still gets the nod even if they’re completely incompetent.

more progressive firms will definitely put things like or equivalent years of experience in their job ads, they will say like a four year degree or equivalent experience.

So you have to be able to demonstrate in those ads that you do have the replacement experience for the college education.

And that can be a little bit tricky.

But more than anything, when you are you look at the candidate pool overall.

And you look at what’s out there, you can see that there is a very strong bias in marketing to have some form of higher education.

So let’s bring up this data.

So this is the data from up here.

This is the data from the iPads integrated post, post secondary education data system from the US Department of Education.

These are for college degrees in marketing, the percentage share of people out there and what kind of education they have.

So we see that the bachelor’s degree forms at 4.95% of all the post secondary level the educational status out there.

And that is that consists of 40,000 people per year, that has gone up substantially.

Since 2011.

crank this out, this data only goes to 2017, because the Department of Education does lag up very substantially and their data collection, and we can see that other outcomes master’s degree less than one year post secondary certificate etc.

Form substantially smaller amounts.

If you combine a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree here, 85%, and almost 7%, there’s 92 ish percent of people in marketing have some kind of higher education degree.

When we look at the non higher education degrees, we have an associate’s degree, which comprises about now three and a half percent.

And you can see that’s been on a sharp decline since 2013.

And one to two year post secondary education certificates, which are essentially non the candidate pool there, the number of people is very, very small.

Right? So what we see is that there is a very strong bias in the marketing profession for people to have that that substantial post secondary education Do you need it to be successful? It depends.

If you’re planning on working in a larger Corporation, you’re planning on working in a in a larger agency, you probably do need it.

Right, you probably do need it because you’re going to get screened out.

If not, if you work at a smaller agency or a startup or things like that, probably not, you won’t need it as much, right? Because those hiring processes tend to be more personal, they tend to be not as automated.

And you have the ability to at least plead your case, right before a hiring manager, I remember when I went to go work at my first startup in the early 2000s, you know, the hiring process was come in and sit in this shabby little office and, and, and just talk through the things that they had going on.

And it was a great opportunity to be able to explain my background.

I do have a higher education degree, but it was not relevant to marketing.

And we explain how that degree translated or could translate into success for the organization.

And it did actually a few years later.

But the point being, you have to find the type of company that is willing to accept a non traditional background, at a non traditional background where you don’t have what the system is looking for.

If you want to work within the system, the the bigger stuff out there, you need the degree.

There are other things that a college degree can bring.

And some people do experience things like alumni networks, and being able to to reach out to people who have that common experience.

I’ve never had to use that.

My networking has always been digital in the wonderful world that we live in.

But there are some people that they rely heavily on that.

And so that is a benefit potentially, that you could realize from a college education.

So in short, there’s no conclusive answer as to whether you need a college degree does it help you succeed? Yes.

Hey, does it help you pass muster from increasingly automated systems? Yes.

Does it preclude you from success? If you don’t have one? No, but it makes things harder, it makes things more difficult.

So should you go get one? Here’s the big question, what is the return on investment? Right? If If you go to say you know, a state school or you do two years of community college and finish off your last two years at a state school, and you can graduate with little or no debt? The answer is yes, it is worth it.

Because you will there there is a clear correlation between level of educational attainment and financial outcome right there is that is without question.

But if you go and get in, get a bachelor’s degree, and you come out with a quarter million dollars in debt, is that worth it? That is much less clear.

Right? In the long run, yes, but it makes for a very, very difficult time.

So if you can be savvy and get the education at a very low cost, then by all means, do so.


Another option for a lot of folks to consider less so during a pandemic but is getting higher educational attainment overseas somewhere at at a non American University for if we’re talking about America here, which has been my background.

There are plenty of countries that offer very good education even for non citizens at substantially lower costs and at the end of the day, you Have a degree and the degree is no better or worse than the degree from a college in the United States you’ve never heard of.

But it checks the box on what the system is requiring.

So that may be something to consider as well.

Looking for where can you get a decent education at a much lower cost? So the ROI of a college degree is less clear what with tuition and costs being what they are.

Have a whole lot more to say on this because it used to be my profession for seven years, but say that for another time, do you need a degree? No.

Does it help? Yes.

Should you get one only if you can make it cost effective? If you can get strong ROI by not graduating with a ton of debt? You have follow up questions, leave them in the comments box below.

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