How Important Is the College Degree of Your Next Marketing Executive?

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As a marketing executive recruiter, I often get asked: “What kind of degree should we be expecting in candidates when we’re looking for a marketing executive?” It’s a good question; a college degree can give some valuable insights into a candidate, but it’s also easy to be misled or put your focus on the wrong variable. When considering an applicant’s education record or setting degree requirements in your job description, you need to weigh a lot of factors in order to get any use of your evaluation.

First off, it’s good to remember that a college education is no guarantee of a strong candidate. If you’ve been in business long enough, you’ve no doubt encountered professionals in all kinds of vocations with a great variety of degrees that were unimpressive at their job.

Similarly, massive success in business and beyond is not gated behind a degree. History is full of successful entrepreneurs and leaders who have little or no higher education:

Still, a degree can be a good initial indicator of a professional’s qualifications. As long as it’s just one of several factors considered, there’s some value to be found in how and where an individual got their education.

The Factor That Should Always Come First

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It’s easy to understand why employers and hiring managers might look for a college degree among applicants for their marketing executive jobs. It’s a fast, easy way to weed out candidates and shrink a pile of resumes to a more manageable level.

But before you start considering or disregarding talent because of their level of college education, you should always evaluate another more important factor: the difference they’ve made for their employers historically. If a candidate has a long career of moving into new roles, improving themselves and driving meaningful, tangible ROI, then they should always be a consideration regardless of which graduation caps they’ve worn.

After all, you don’t want to be the one turning away the next Richard Branson or Bill Gates just because they had better things to do than stay in school.

What a College Degree Can Tell You about a Person

A college degree will rarely give you much insight into how good of a marketer someone is—even if the degree is in Marketing.

We’ve written before about how colleges are lagging behind in their ability to train marketers in the skills and knowledge needed to be successful in today’s marketing environment. Marketing is simply moving too fast for most institutions to keep up; if you started writing a marketing textbook today, it would probably be out of date by the time you got it published.

However, there’s more to being a great marketing executive than simply being a good marketer.

If someone is smart enough to get into and graduate from college, it indicates that they have a certain amount of intellectual horsepower, mental fortitude, discipline, creativity, ambition, and a love of learning. These are all key traits that almost any successful marketing executive will have in spades, and you should be looking for them during your marketing executive recruitment.

The Kinds of Degrees That are Most Valuable

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There’s no “ideal degree” that you should seek in candidates when looking for a marketing executive.

In very general terms, any college degree is better than no degree at all. A highly relevant degree will be a better indicator of qualification than something unrelated like Biology or History. A more advanced degree like an MBA is more valuable than a Bachelor’s, of course. And a degree from a more prestigious, exclusive school carries considerably more weight than a degree from one with lower academic requirements and standards.

Marketing and Advertising are the most obvious choices in terms of degrees. As a marketing executive search firm, we also frequently find outstanding candidates with an education in Media, Business, Analytics, Communications, and PR. And with marketing’s shift toward storytelling and content creation, professionals’ degrees like Journalism and English often fit naturally into the higher tiers of marketing careers.

Creating Realistic Expectations

If we all had our druthers, we’d probably all have a full team of experienced Harvard MBAs running our marketing. But in reality, most businesses don’t have the budget or the employment brand needed to bring in that kind of talent. It’s important to have a realistic understanding of the level of education your business is likely to have access to.

It’s still entirely possible to find outstanding marketing talent who graduated from a large state university, a modest-sized community college, or even has no formal higher education at all—as long as you’re working with a top marketing executive search firm. But don’t imagine you’ll have a long line of Ivy League business masters fighting for your marketing jobs if you’re not a large, prestigious brand or offering extremely generous compensation.

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