Is a College Degree Required to Work at a Marketing Agency?

By | April 4, 2013
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College GraduationWith new technologies sprouting up daily, the way that people communicate—and therefore how marketers do their jobs—is continually evolving. As explained in the The Evolution of the Prototype Marketer, corporate marketing departments struggle to recruit professionals for career paths that did not exist three years ago, while academic institutions have difficulty keeping pace.

The SXSW session, I’m Into Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet, confirmed this notion with a lively discussion on how universities can better prepare graduates for career paths that aren’t yet defined (or even known). The presenters cited social media editors, community managers and programmers/journalists, as examples of roles that developed in recent years. This trend is expected to continue.

For me, this begged the question: What value does a college education have, if the skills you learn could become outdated soon after (or even before) you receive your diploma? Is it worth the $27,253 of debt the average college student accumulates? Or, could this time and money be put elsewhere to better prepare students for the future?

A Hypothetical Hiring Situation

To put the college debate into some perspective, consider the following hypothetical agency candidates:

Candidate A is a 22-year-old honors student from a respected four-year university. While she’s excelled at all of her class work, and held a few internships on the side, she holds only a basic understanding of newer, digital concepts (e.g. search, social, mobile, content, etc.). She hopes to extend her capabilities on the job, and has a track record as a fast learner. She’s also an active member of numerous on-campus clubs and associations, which have provided additional leadership and professional growth opportunities.

Candidate B is a 19-year-old high school graduate, who took a year off school to really immerse himself into the world of online marketing. His time has been spent meeting with marketing professionals to learn about their careers, reading relevant business and marketing books, engaging on social media, and completing online training (e.g. Google Analytics and AdWords, technology certifications, etc.). Because he’s followed along closely, he has a great working knowledge of digital strategies and execution, which he has put into practice for his own personal website.

In both cases, the agency had strong first interviews; both personalities would fit in well with the culture.

Who Would You Hire?

In an office debate, my colleague Mike Kaput (@MikeKaput) pointed out that one of the main reasons marketers need a college education is to “appease the gatekeepers.”

So, I ask you, as the gatekeepers for your agencies, who would you hire and why? How important is a college degree for marketing agency professionals? The debate is open in the comments.

(Note: I tend to lean toward Candidate B because he has a better understanding of real-world digital strategy, could hit the ground running much faster, and has demonstrated a willingness and drive to learn.)

For more on required next-generation marketing skills, download PR 20/20's free ebook, The Evolution of the Prototype Marketer: The Hybrids are Coming.