Personal Development

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Choosing Professional Qualifications

You have decided that for you to enhance your skills or get the job you really want, you need to successfully gain a Professional Qualification. It may be that your boss has asked you to look at the options as part of your personal development plan or that your CV is lacking that edge to put you above other candidates vying for the same position you have applied for. Maybe you are looking to add to your personal reputation or status?

You have probably Googled who can offer the course that you want, you may have asked friends and colleagues for recommendations, or you may have looked at the relevant Professional Body or Institute’s website to see what qualifications are on offer and who can provide the course to you.

At this point many people become overwhelmed with the range of options and the jargon that the course providers use. Coupled with the fact that this is a significant investment of time and money, the risk of making a wrong decision can have long-term consequences.

Let’s look at some of the criteria you should use to make your decision on when it comes to what, who with and how to study, and most importantly, is this a good investment in your future?

What is a Professional Body?

Professional Bodies are the custodians of professionalism, quality and ethics in your chosen field of work. They do this by bringing together like-minded individuals to push forward the profession. The Professional Body, be it the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), the Institute of Sales Management (ISM), The Chartered Institute of Management (CMI) or the Digital Marketing Institute (DMI), will have a range of strands to this objective.

Members of the body, sometimes called the Institute, will receive a range of benefits. These can be very broad, and it is worth looking at their website to see what you get as a member. This can include networking events, magazines, online resources, career guidance services, annual awards of excellence events, mentoring etc to name a few.

As well as services aimed at keeping you up to date with what is happening in your profession, the Professional Body will also have some form of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) service. The aim is to help you keep up to date with how your sector is evolving. CPD is an important part of being a professional and many people look to the Professional Body for guidance as to what is topical as well as a mechanism to monitor your own attempts to keep up to date. The CIM and CMI for example expect you to undertake CPD in order to maintain your Chartered Status.

In today’s global economy it is very common for people to move from country to country or to work for multi-national organisations. Therefore, your qualification and the Professional Body awarding it should have global recognition. The qualifications offered by us a Professional Academy all have global appeal and in fact the CIM and the CMI are by far the most recognised qualifications in their field all over the world.

You should think of the Professional Body and your proud association with it primarily as an accolade to show that you are at the top of your game and continue to do stay there.

Who are professional qualifications for?

Professional qualifications are for anyone – and for everyone. We passionately believe that every one of us can learn, develop and improve, gaining the skills and confidence to achieve our goals.

If you want to develop as a person and as a professional, get better at your job and take your career to the next level, studying for a professional qualification is the best investment you can make.

Will the Professional Qualification help me achieve my goals?

There is a wealth of research and articles on the internet that provide evidence of personal income improvements based upon the achievement of various types of qualification. It’s simple, yes, they improve your income.

However, what is more important is that you understand what you want to get as a result of achieving the qualification. Is it a job promotion, new career or job, increased job satisfaction and capability or a better personal reputation/status? The nature of a Professional Qualification means that any of these goals are possible, you learn new career-based skills that make you more employable as a result.

Identifying your specific goals provide a focus when times get tough. Balancing study time with a busy job or family commitments can be hard, staying focussed on the outcome helps guide you through the time commitment decisions and motivates you to stay dedicated to a successful completion of the course.

At Professional Academy we fervently believe that everyone has the capacity to succeed in their chosen qualification and we are committed to helping you on that path, all we ask is that you also have the same level of commitment and dedication.

What are the benefits of a professional qualification to me?

You may be looking at progressing your career by way of personal development, pursuing a possible career change, or you may simply want to gain a better understanding of Sales, Marketing, Digital Marketing or Management.  The nature of the professional qualifications that we run is that they combine theory with practical skills and knowledge that can be applied to your specific area of business or specialism.  The learning process is ongoing throughout your studies, allowing you to implement what you learn straight away.  This combination of theory and “real world” application empowers an individual with the ability to “ hit the ground running” from outset in their respective field.

Accredited professional qualifications are the only sure way of demonstrating your knowledge and abilities to potential employers. By gaining an internationally recognised qualification, you set yourself apart from your peers and show that you mean business.

But it’s not just about improving your CV. Our carefully designed courses will give you new knowledge and skills you can apply directly in the workplace – and you’ll gain the confidence that comes from taking on a new challenge and succeeding.

How will my employer benefit?

Organisations are always looking for a return on investment when it comes to financing a training and development course for an individual. However, the financial quantification of the benefit is not always straight forward. Nevertheless, here are some of the areas in which an employer can look to reap the rewards of funding Professional Qualifications for their staff.

  • Improved productivity
  • Increased efficiency
  • Ability to contribute to strategic goals
  • Participation in organisation talent development programme
  • Succession planning
  • Enhanced role capability
  • Improved innovation ability
  • Ability to attract and recruit quality staff
  • Reduction in costly mistakes by under trained staff.

Contrary to popular belief, research demonstrates that staff do not leave their job once qualified, in fact it has been proven that they become even more committed to their employer!

Which level is right for me?

Depending upon your work experience and current qualifications, it is quite common for delegates to be able to start studying at a qualification level higher than the lowest level in the programme ladder. It is usually at the discretion of the study centre to decide the most appropriate start level for you. With so many different courses, modules and qualifications out there, it can be hard to figure out the best route to take. That’s where we come in. 

Book a free advice session and we’ll be happy to talk you through your options – online, on the phone or face-to-face. Tell us about your background, your current role and, most importantly, where you want to take your career, and we’ll help you identify the course and qualification that will deliver the greatest benefit.

Alternatively, you can take Professional Academy's quick and easy online entry level assessment tool, this will help you to determine which institute and qualification best suit your needs and professional development goals. 

What are my study options?

For a quick overview of what our study options are and what is included with each, please see our Premium and Lite course comparison chart.

The decision as to how you chose to study depends upon your location, there must be a provider within travelling distance of your home, but also how often you need to attend workshops.

Evening class options are much less popular nowadays due to their inefficient nature. Delegates are often tired after a hard days work, the sessions are disjointed from one week to the next, and the actual learning hours are short when you factor in tea breaks and the wind-up, wind-down process.

One or two-day intensive workshops are far more popular as they are more business-like and allow for a greater level of interaction. Topics flow from one to another easier and delegates have the time to work on course related activities with their peers. Limiting the workshops to one or two days has another benefit. It is necessary for delegates to spend time reading around the subject and review course material supplied. Although time consuming, this can only be done outside of the workshop. Tutor time is therefore optimised as is the time spent sat in a classroom!

Bearing in mind that most Professional Qualifications only consist of three or four units, travelling to the location for a couple of hours for a small number of workshops may well be a much better option if it means getting the quality delivery you deserve, especially if one of the days happens to be on a weekday and one on a weekend as is the case for most of the courses with Professional Academy.

Workshops will always have a good amount of time dedicated to understanding how to tackle the assessment. The benefit of which should not be underestimated. This can save you hours of time at home whilst you grapple with understanding the assignment/assessment and structuring your answer. Tutors are on hand and will guide you through this process during the workshop and you will most likely be given time to develop your ideas with your peers in the workshop too.

When budget or time available does not allow you to attend workshops you still have the option to study via a form of remote learning. Nowadays pure paper-based distance learning versions are rare, but may be available. A popular choice for distance learning is some form of online learning. This normally consists of a guided learning path whereby you follow each tutorial using the range of resources provided to you, including some “check your knowledge” quizzes along the way. The course should culminate in the submission of an assignment or sitting an exam. The biggest challenges with this type of course are staying motivated throughout the course and having someone available when you need a helping hand to answer questions on a topic you don’t quite understand.

At Professional Academy every course, whether it is a face to face version or an online version comes with your own personal tutor who is allocated to you when you enrol. They are there to answer your questions and most importantly review your draft assignment submission before you formally send it to us for marking. This type of course is referred to as a “Blended learning package”.

Many of our support tutors are examiners working on behalf of the Professional Body as well as working for us and all of them have a high-level knowledge of the subject you are studying and what it takes for you to pass the assessment.

An added bonus is that we have a team of customer service staff who can be contacted directly from the Learning Management Portal or simply by picking up the telephone.

If you are choosing an online course provider, look for someone who provides you more than just pdf versions of a traditional paper-based course. Look for a range of resources and for someone who will prompt you when deadlines are looming, or you need to take an action that you may have forgotten.

When it comes to remote learning it can be a lonely affair. Face to face delegates have the benefit of being able to share experience and knowledge with their peers in the workshop, remote learners don’t have that option. However, at Professional Academy we have made sure that every learner on every module has access to an online Forum within the Learning Management System (The Refinery) where you can post questions and indeed answer other learners questions. This added support can be a real benefit when you feel you don’t want to ask your support tutor or you just want to check that you are not alone when you feel your confidence is waning.

Where can I study my qualification?

We run workshop sessions across our UK and Channel Island study centres. Two-day workshop take part at the following UK locations for all available qualifications:

For a complete list of workshop dates for all of our study centres please visit our workshop page. 

I haven’t studied in a while – will I be able to do it?

Yes, you will! If it’s been a long time since you took an exam or submitted coursework, the idea of stepping back into the classroom can be daunting. Our carefully designed courses break things down into manageable steps, while our experienced tutors and friendly support staff will do everything they can to help you succeed.

Can I fit studying in with work and the rest of my life?

Traditional Further Education Colleges and Universities schedule their courses around the academic year which starts around September. However, developing yourself often can’t wait that long and you need to find a course that is available when you want it. Courses need to be flexible enough to fit around your life and work. Because of that there should really only needs to be two milestones. When do you need to apply to be assessed and when do you need to submit your assessment? Anything else just isn’t customer friendly.

Fortunately, Professional Bodies recognise that, and course providers therefore can build flexible programmes.

At Professional Academy, only the CIM courses have set assessment entry date and submission date deadlines and there are three of them per year. All the other courses we offer allow for submission of your assignment 365 days a year. We mark and internally verify them continuously throughout the year thus taking away any inhibitors to the pace you want to learn at. It is simply up to you, you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

Workshops are scheduled so that there is always one coming up in the near future at one of our study centres to suit even the most motivated learner and as there is no set order in which you need to take the modules/units you can feel confident that you can meet even the tightest of schedules.

But what if you need to slow down? That is no problem as well. All you need to do is unbook yourself from a workshop and attend a later one that will be available in your location. The online course is still available if you want to keep your hand in and when you want to pick the course up again your support tutor is there ready to help you.

We are often asked how long will the course take and how many hours do I need to set aside to study? This is a hard question to answer as it depends on the type of learner you are and whether you are attending workshops or studying remotely. Some learners prefer to read as much material as they can before they attempt an assignment, whereas others will read and work on their assignment at the same time. Some learners like to craft and hone every detail of the assignment before submission of their draft to their support tutor, others prefer to get it “nearly right” and wait for feedback before final completion. Of course, one way of getting up the “Learning Curve” as quick as possible is to attend the workshops where you are given all the tips and guidance by the expert tutor.

Whatever your learning style you should plan for about 30-45 hours of study per module as a minimum and decide how you would like to schedule this weekly. Three to five hours a week is a comfortable pace. Don’t forget, a two-day workshop counts as 15 hours of this time!

What happens if I fail?

Obviously, nobody can categorically state that you will definitely pass your qualification assessment and indeed who would want a qualification that everybody can get, you want something that sets you a level above other people. Professional Bodies have rigorous marking and verification processes in place to ensure the quality of those people to whom they award a qualification certificate or diploma to.

In addition, most Professional Bodies have grades of pass, merit or distinction. Good employers will not only ask for a particular qualification when they recruit staff, but may also take into account your grade, although if you get to an interview, your experience and personality should count for more than the grade you achieved.

At Professional Academy, although we can’t guarantee a pass, we can guarantee to support you until you do. We do this through our 100% Pass guarantee commitment. Pay once and stay with us until you succeed. All we ask is that you follow the course, submit your draft assignments and stay committed. Our results are proof that the process works.

Do I have to take exams?

Examinations often scare potential course delegates away from taking a course from the outset and some argue are not the best way to assess a person’s understanding and ability to put into action the skills they have learnt on a course. Apart from one or two units on the CIM Marketing courses, every module Professional Academy deliver is assessed by some form of assignment or work-based project. This usually entails writing a report based around how you would utilise the knowledge you have gained to address an issue or opportunity in your workplace. They are challenging, but rewarding and we are often told that the delegates employer has subsequently implemented the proposal in the workplace. Your Professional Academy support tutor is on hand to help you with this piece of work and also to review the finished article before submission. If you want to see an example of what one of the assessments looks like, let us know and we can email you one.

Before commencing your studies for a module or unit you can review the assignment and use it to guide your studies, thus allowing you to make best use of your time and stay focussed on what knowledge you need to demonstrate an ability to apply.

Can I afford to study?

Studying for a new qualification is a significant investment, but if you consider the personal and financial benefits that new skills, a better job and a higher salary will bring, both now and for years to come, the return on that investment is huge.

There are a range of options available when you want to enrol onto a Professional Qualification course. These will vary by the provider you are talking to, as will the scope of what is supplied for the money you pay. Pay particular attention as to whether Professional Body membership and assessment fees are included in the price you are being charged. For example, Professional Academy will collect monies on behalf of the CMI, ISM and DMI but you have to pay any fees charged by the CIM directly to them when you apply for membership and assessments.

At Professional Academy we accept purchase orders from companies and offer the usual payment terms that exist in a business to business arrangement.

Payments can also be made using credit cards on behalf of an individual or a business.

In addition, to help self-funding delegates we also offer staged payment plans whereby equal payments are taken monthly from a credit card after an initial down-payment has been made.

As not everybody wants to sign up for a full multi-modular/course programme there are also options to enrol on one module/course/unit at a time. This helps spread the cost, although individual course costs are slightly more expensive than buying the full programme at once. This option may however be appropriate if you only want to gain one unit as a qualification. This is usually called and Award by the Professional Body, allowing delegates to take a more granular and targeted approach to their studies.

What bundled benefits are on offer?

In addition to the main qualification course, it is not uncommon for a provider to offer additional services or products. For example, at Professional Academy, we also give you the ability to sign up for a NUS Student card entitling you to a range of student discounts.

The benefits are of course of value but stay focussed on what you will get as part of your core course, i.e. the range of online and offline services, the support you will get and the quality of the provision.

At Professional Academy we have two types of course, “Lite” which refers to our online/distance learning version and “Premium” which is our face to face option. However, we also provide the online service as part of the “Premium” option and in addition we provide a full book pack of core texts as well as printed versions of our purpose written study guides for every module.

How successful are Professional Academy students?

Professional Academy have a high first time Pass Rate (view our CIM Pass Rates), due to the comprehensive nature of all the study material we supply our students, along with the expertise and knowledge of our tutors who, along with being knowledgeable academics, are experienced business practitioners in their respective fields. 

We value our students greatly and take our level of service & and ongoing unlimited tutor support very seriously. Our interactive workshops have also proven to be a highly effective method of learning for our students, and enhance their overall experience with us. 

Even without the workshops (via distance learning) we provide all our students with all the necessary course materials, online resources and tutor support to be able to study effectively and achieve their desired qualification. You can hear how Professional Academy qualifications have helped people progress in their career in their own words via our testimonials page.

How Academic are the qualifications and are they up to date?

It is important that the Professional or Awarding Body of the qualification keep the syllabus up to date and current, otherwise they risk losing credibility. A full syllabus review tends to happen around every 3-4 years. That said, it is incumbent upon the course delivery centre to make sure that what is taught via its study material is current and relevant. Good centres will be continuously reviewing their content in all its forms (workshop material, online content, case studies and examples) to help ensure the learner gains the most up to date knowledge.

What sets Professional Qualifications aside from Degree’s or other academic courses is the practical nature of what you learn. Indeed, the end of qualification assessment usually revolves around the application of the knowledge you have learned. Rarely, if ever, will you be asked to regurgitate a theory or concept. This means that you can instantly apply the new skills you have learned as you work through the course. The focus is always on helping to make you better at the job you are employed to do rather than academically being able to be able to explain the roots of a concept.

What Qualification progression exists and what letters do I get after my name?

Professional Bodies structure their qualifications such that the higher up the career ladder you progress there is a matching qualification level. They tend to start at a level appropriate for someone new to a role up to a Senior Manager or Director with strategic responsibility. If the qualification has been OfQual approved it will also have a level number. Level 3 is often the entry level and level 7 the highest level. Level 6 can be loosely aligned to an Under Graduate Degree.

Depending upon experience you may not need to start at Level 3 and you should look towards the highest level as the pinnacle of success and one which will help open all the doors in your profession.

Alongside the qualification level there is usually a change in designatory letters you can put after your name. These range from Associate, Member and Fellow. Not only do these add to your personal status and reputation but they also help enhance the profession itself by proving that people working in this area of say Sales, Marketing or Management have taken seriously the skills needed to perform effectively.

We are here to help

Hopefully this information has helped answer all your questions regarding a course leading to a Professional Qualification. It has been written with the benefit of delivering these courses for many years as well as from the standpoint of a leading contributor to the strategy of the Professional Bodies. However, you may still have questions or concerns, if that is the case, give us a call. We are a friendly and supportive team. We are passionate about your success and we do our utmost to help you make the most of your decision to make your future a better one by gaining a Professional Qualification.