June 24th, 2018
On Thursday I was thrilled to find out I had passed my CIPR Specialist Diploma in Internal Communication with PR Academy. It was a big investment in my continuing professional development, both time-wise and financially, but I believe it was worth it.
Taught at master’s degree level, it was a six-month process, involving four full day classroom sessions, reading and completing an assignment based on a real-life work issue.
I thought it might be helpful to share my experience for those thinking of doing a professional qualification, so I asked the Twitter community for their burning questions, and have answered them here:
How did you find fitting it in with work?
For me it was all about planning. There was set reading to do from the book Exploring Internal Communication before each classroom session and there’s usually about three weeks between each session. I looked for opportunities to read a chapter at a time such as commuting to work or putting aside an hour on a Sunday morning.
The assignment is a management proposal, usually focused on your own organisation. You’ll need to spend a bit of time thinking about what challenges you might want to focus on and how you might be able to apply the learning from the course to it, but I found that I naturally did that while working, as it was always in the back of my mind.
The assignment itself does require time being put aside. Being self-employed, I did have grand ambitions of setting aside a Friday a week to focus on it but that turned out to not be realistic! I did end up doing the assignment over weekends, which included doing research, reading, critical analysis and writing of the report. However, it’s not an enormous word count (in fact the challenge was staying within the word count!) so once you’re clear on your area of focus you’ll quickly get into the flow of it.
But that’s not to say it’s easy. The qualification pushes you to think critically and to apply models and research to secondary research. But it was also really enjoyable. It had been a long time since I’d done any type of studying like this, and I relished the challenge.
How important is it to employers?
My cohort was the first one to do the new assignment – a management proposal rather than a piece of research. The purpose of this was to make it more relevant and useful to employers – it’s something you can actually take back to the workplace and implement. This change was made in line with feedback from employers.
From a personal experience, it’s hard for me to judge as I’m self-employed, but I did ask fellow students on my course, what their employers thought and here’s what they had to say:
“Primarily, I did the qualification for myself as I felt it was important to have a tangible qualification in my field. I also think it will look good on my CV if I decide to move on. I did have to put forward a business case to my employer, and they did recognise that as there was no in-house training on internal communication it was a good way I could develop my career.”
“In my experience many organisations are looking for candidates who are committed to Continued Professional Development and studying for the CIPR Diploma was a big plus for me in demonstrating this and securing a communications role. Passing the Diploma assignment enhances the professionalism and credibility of our team.”
I also spoke to Martin Flegg who completed the diploma a few years ago. Having just started a new role as Communications Lead, I was keen to know how important professional qualifications was to him when recruiting new team members:
“If I was hiring for a new internal communications team member, I’d definitely be looking for that rare mix of practical experience and professional qualifications and achievement. In my view it makes a candidate a more rounded proposition. I’d also be looking for ongoing
participation in CPD as further evidence of the candidates commitment to communications as a profession rather than just as ‘a job’. I think that hiring someone who pitches a CV which includes communications experience as well as professional qualifications is less of a risk, than someone who just has the experience.
“However, I do think more generally there is a lack or awareness and understanding among employers about what professional communication qualifications and Chart.PR represent and why they should be actively looking for these on CVs when making a hiring decision. It’s up to
professional bodies (and their members) to help create the demand, which I think is a long term project.”
I also wanted to add that as a committee member of CIPR Inside, we believe professional qualifications are essential to career development. CIPR and other professional bodies place a lot of emphasis on CPD as it demonstrates our ability to do our job and provides us with the credibility to be recognised as a value adding function.
This year’s VMA Inside Insight report found that 42% of respondents thought a specialist qualification in internal communication would help them perform better in their role. This was up from 35% the year. VMA commented that from a recruitment perspective, they see a balance of job requirements from employers, some who insist on a qualification and others who don’t.
I personally hope that continues to change as I think it’s an important component to becoming a credible and capable internal communicator. I was involved in CIPR Inside’s research last year into how CEOs value internal communication, and we found that there isn’t a shared understanding of what internal communication is amongst practitioners, and between practitioners and CEOs. I think qualifications like this help to create a consistent standard of professionalism and that’s really important if we’re to have influence with leadership and add value to our organisations.
Am I too experienced/senior to consider doing a qualification?
No. I’ve been in internal communication for 10 years, and others on the course have been doing it for up to 20 years. The course is taught at master’s degree level, so it’s aimed at the more senior IC practitioner.
The world of internal communication is always evolving, which is why I believe Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is so important. Despite regularly attending conferences and events, networking, reading books, signing up for workshops, etc, I realised it had been a long time since I’d done a professional qualification. For me, I felt it was a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge, learn new things and cement my credibility as an independent internal communication practitioner.
I think there can sometimes be a hesitation the more senior you are to sign up for courses like this as there’s a perception you can’t be seen to not know everything. The thought certainly occurred to me as an IC consultant.
However, I would banish any thoughts like those from your mind. Showing you’re committed to being the best you can be and that there’s always something new to learn, is a really positive mindset that we should be role-modelling. I think leaders will respect it, as will the rest of your team.
Is it suitable for independent practitioners?
I was the only independent practitioner on my course, and it was slightly trickier for me as the assignment has changed and is now a management proposal. Most people choose a topic within their organisations, however that option wasn’t available to me. I was lucky that a client was happy to let me use a piece of work I had done for them as the subject of mine.
If you are considering it, and you are self-employed, I would speak to a couple of clients first and see if they’d be open to you using them as a case study. If none of your clients are suitable for the topic you want to focus on, there’s nothing to stop you approaching an organisation that you think would make a great case study – but bear in mind they would have to be willing to provide you with information you can use as secondary research and open to you critically evaluating it.
It can definitely be done, and I wouldn’t let it put you off, you just might need to think a bit differently about how you approach it. I also found talking to Dr Kevin Ruck, the course tutor, very helpful when considering my options so you won’t be alone in deciding what to do!
Thank you to those who submitted questions. I’m more than happy to keep adding to this list, so please do send me your questions in the comments below or on Twitter.