Noel Armstrong: How to ace your CIPR Internal Communications qualification

Congratulations if you have made the decision to study for your CIPR Internal Communication Diploma or the CIPR Specialist Certificate: Internal Communication (formerly the Advanced Certificate). This demonstrates a desire on your part to improve your skills, learn more about your profession and start to move from being a tactical communicator to a more strategic one. Continuous professional development (CPD) shows that you are taking your career seriously. Investing time in this area should lead to new business opportunities that will advance your career and enrich your life.

I wanted to write this post to share some tips on what you can do to get the most out of your course, improve your chances of passing and achieving top marks. This post covers networking, choosing a topic for your assignment, finding support, and managing your time effectively.

Network

One of the things I enjoyed most about the course was meeting other internal communicators. The people on my course (I studied with PR Academy in London) were so friendly and freely shared information and best-practice advice.

As the group got on really well, someone set up a WhatsApp group and this became a really useful channel for sharing ideas and tips, airing problems and concerns, sharing job opportunities, and sometimes just letting off steam about the pressures of working and studying. I’d highly recommend doing something similar. There’s a good chance that the people you’ll meet on your course will share great advice and some might become new friends or colleagues.

Choosing a topic for your assignment

I think it’s fair to say that choosing a topic for your assignment isn’t always easy. If you’re struggling to find an area to focus on you might like to consider the following:

  • What are the internal communication priorities for your own organisation? They might be around change, or measurement and evaluation, giving you a topic that will not only help you in your role, but also research and skills that will benefit your employer.
  • What are you passionate about? Several of the students I studied with had a passion for employee engagement and chose to focus on that for their assignment.
  • What are the topics that employers value, potentially increasing your job opportunities? Research seems to suggest that knowledge and skills around change communications, digital communications, and measurement and evaluation, are in high demand.

You don’t have to choose your assignment topic at the beginning of the course, but you should start thinking about it early on. If the points above don’t help, read widely (including books, journal articles and blog posts) and that should lead you to a topic that will hold your interest.

Finding support

I’ve already mentioned the value of creating a network with fellow students. Most of them will be happy to share ideas and tips with you. You should also use your workplace networks to help you with the assignment. There’s a good chance you might be running a focus group, conducting a survey, or carrying out interviews as part of your research, so don’t overlook the help that your line manager or colleagues can give you.

My main support came from my course tutor at PR Academy, Kevin Ruck. Kevin was happy to have two long phone calls with me to discuss initial assignment ideas and then my research. We also shared several emails during the time when I was writing my assignment.

Your tutors – like many people working in internal communications – are likely to be incredibly helpful and they also want you to succeed and pass your qualification. If you’re concerned about something or you need to discuss your course with someone, reach out to one of your tutors.

You will also find some incredibly helpful internal communicators on social media. If you have a question you’re keen to ask, why not post it on Twitter or on a LinkedIn group like the one run by CIPR Inside? There’s a good chance that several experienced internal communicators will come back to you.

Manage your time effectively

Your chances of succeeding on the course will improve if you’re able to manage your time well. If you are working in internal communications already, you’ll probably be used to juggling multiple tasks and deadlines. Treat this as another project and set out the tasks and timelines. Diarise the dates when you can get research or writing done. It’s also worth building in some reward points along the journey, for reaching key milestones like completing research or finishing the first draft of the assignment.

It’s worth pointing out that you have a whole year to complete the internal communication course, but many students complete it within six months (when I was studying for the diploma, there were hand-in dates at six, nine and 12 months). Choose a date that is achievable for you and set up your project plan accordingly.

It’s difficult to recommend the number of hours you will need to put aside to complete the assignment. However, one of the best tips I have for saving time is to look careful at the bibliographies within books and journals you’re reading. They will point towards further reading in the topic you are researching. You can spend a large amount of time searching for relevant reading, but usually the secondary research is right under your nose.

Finally, don’t sweat it. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy and if you want to achieve a high mark, you’ll need to carry out thorough research and put together a well-structured argument, backed by evidence. However, if I had the chance to go back and study for the diploma again, I’d take that over studying for 10 GCSEs or three A-levels. Be confident in your own ability – you’ve got this!

Noel Armstrong

@noeltarmstrong

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