Careers in Event Management

Jill Thorton
Event planner Jill Thornton

Working as a professional event planner can be a very rewarding career, and it's a field where opportunities are expected to increase. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, career opportunities should increase for event planners by 33% between 2012 and 2022, which represents significant growth.

Career Options for Event Planners

Jill Thornton, Director of Conference and Events Planning for Reed College says, "Event planners are needed in all sectors of the workforce." She explains:

  • Hospitality industry: The hospitality industry has myriad areas in which event planners are needed, ranging from hotels and ballrooms to convention and exposition centers to sports arenas.
  • Nonprofit sector: Non­profit organizations such as the American Heart Association and the United Way typically have in-­house event planners and are always looking for volunteers to help them with their large fundraisers.
  • Event venues: Specialty venues such as wineries, botanical gardens, museums, art galleries, and golf courses often hold weddings, meetings, retreats, and parties, and so need event planners on staff.
  • Other employers: Corporate offices, parks and recreation departments, and colleges and universities also employ event planners.

To get a good sense of the types of companies that hire for event planning jobs and what kinds of positions exist, glance through current job openings on sites like theCreativeLoft and hospitalityonline.

Preparing for an Event Management Career

College Education

U.S. News & World Report indicates that a Bachelor's degree is generally the preferred education for entry into this field, but points out that "real-world experience may be the most important factor in getting a job experience."

U.S. News & World Report indicates that event planners often have public relations or communication degrees. Thornton recommends pursuing higher education in the hospitality field to those who want to become event planners.

She points out, "California State Polytechnic University - Pomona even offers a Master of Science degree in hospitality management," which is a good option for people who already have an undergraduate degree in any field and want to pursue graduate-level education in a field related to event management.

Join Professional Organizations

Thornton also suggests getting involved in relevant professional organizations, which are a great option for networking opportunities, resources, career information and more. She recommends, "College students interested in becoming event planners should look into the Association for Collegiate and Conference Events Directors - International (ACCED­I). This great organization offers a ton of resources and benefits to students."

Other helpful professional organizations for aspiring event planners to consider include the National Association for Catering and Events, the Event Service Professionals Association and the International Special Events Society.

Gain Hands-On Experience

Thornton states, "Hands­-on experience is extremely beneficial" to anyone who wants to become an event planner. She recommends, "You can create your own opportunities to gain experience by volunteering. There are many non­profits that are always looking for people willing to help."

While an internship isn't necessary for entry to the profession, successfully completing an internship in the field can help students gain experience and a competitive advantage. If you are enrolled in college and are interested in pursuing an event planning internship, speak with your academic advisor or career services representative to find out what internship programs may be available to you.

Common Event Planner Duties

"Event planning may seem like a fun and exciting job, but in reality it is often much more laborious than people realize," says Thornton. One of the most important things to realize is that event planning is not a job with a predictable daytime work schedule. She explains, "You must be willing to commit to long hours that range from early morning to late evenings and often on weekends and holidays."

According to Thornton, "Holding an intake meeting with the client is your first step. The answers to your questions will help you create an outline and begin planning. The more information you can get up front, the better."

Project Management

Once you get started, Thornton explains, "Essentially, you are a project manager. You will handle logistics such as budgets, facility booking, audio/visual needs, lodging, travel arrangements, catering, flowers, speakers, itineraries, entertainment, decorations, insurance coverage, permits, signage, directions, deposits, printed materials, and all additional details."

Each event is unique, so the specific tasks you perform will vary, but you will be responsible for ensuring that the final event meets the client's expectations with no problems or glitches - and with so many moving parts, that can be quite challenging.

Skills Required for Event Managers

A wide variety of skills are necessary to succeed as a professional event planner. Thornton states:

  • Successful event managers see the big picture, imagine the possibilities, anticipate limitations, create enthusiasm, and ensure that even the smallest of details is taken care of.
  • They wear many hats and must possess strong interpersonal and communication skills to deal with a wide variety of constituents.
  • Time management is critical.
  • Event planners must be flexible, creative, and quick on their feet. Even if an event has a great plan, inevitably there will be issues. A successful event manager must have the leadership skills and quick thinking to squelch fires as they arise, all while making it look seamless and easy.

Pay Expectations for Event Planners

As of December of 2014, reports that median compensation for event planners is $43,668 per year, with a range of just over $30,000 to around $67,000 per year. As with other occupations, pay can vary widely from one company to another, and people new to the field are likely to start at the lower end of the range.

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