Is this the right time to pursue further studies?

Tracy Luo November 25, 2015 4 mins read

Throughout the interview process, it is common for professionals who are unsure about the nature of their current role and the direction of their career path to ask us if they should study another degree at university. That way, when they graduate, maybe they can find a better job?

Naturally, it is the professional themselves who must answer the questions. However, when a candidate asks us, we must establish exactly what it is that they hope to gain from another degree. This will help them make a more informed judgement.

If the professional wishes to change the direction of their career path, then reading another degree can be useful. For instance, many candidates who work at the "Big Four" accounting firms wish to move to PE/VC, or certain positions related to investment management. In this case, a related degree (such as an MBA) would be able to compensate for the lack of work experience in areas other than financial auditing, as well as helping the person in question to analyze the current state of a company by applying different financial skills in a more systematic and thorough manner. A related degree would therefore be of great assistance to their professional development.

Meanwhile, should a candidate establish that, in order to receive a promotion within the company where they currently work at, they would need the support of a new degree, then pursuing further studies would be an appropriate choice. There are two common scenarios in the case of internal promotions.

One is that many companies, when considering executive promotions, will place an evident emphasis on professional qualifications or their academic backgrounds in the field of management. In corporate environments that uphold ideals of constant self-improvement and auto-didacticism, or in companies with rich technological backgrounds, candidates with abundant professional qualifications will get more opportunities than regular professional managers. There are companies where employees will indicate their academic background and title on their business cards.

Another potential scenario is that the next promotion will depend on the development of a high quality contact network, as is the case in many professions. In this case, the various clubs and member organisations to which you would have access as an MBA student would undoubtedly allow you to successfully expand your network.

However, we have also encountered professionals who hope to work for a leading company within a certain industry, but who are not confident that their current work experience and academic qualifications would be enough to get them the job. They are then happy to make up for what they perceive as lacking by studying another degree. In this scenario, pursuing further studies is not totally out of the question, but the opportunity cost is relatively high. A master's degree requires at least a year of full-time studies to complete and can be costly — even if you choose to study in your own country, as opposed to studying abroad. The requirements for a job are almost invariably higher after they graduate; however, the process of finding another job after graduation won't necessarily be easier than if they had continued to accumulate work experience within their chosen industry. Furthermore, as you enter a more mature phase in your career, one to two years of experience in a relevant position may already be enough to get you a job opportunity at a leading company within your chosen industry.

In conclusion, studying and working at the same or taking time off from work in order to do a full-time degree requires a lot of time, money and energy from the person looking for a new role. An extra degree can be a crowning touch to an already impressive portfolio, but it is not as important a factor as many candidates believe.

If you have a clear idea of where you want your career path to go, then pursuing further studies will undoubtedly help you reach the next phase in your professional career plan. However, if you are simply pinning your hopes on another degree allowing you to obtain "better" opportunities as defined by others, or to resolve your confusion about your career path, then perhaps what you really need, rather than launching into an MBA or the "qualifications war", is to communicate with others in your field to get to know the different career options that are available.

Tracy Luo's picture
Associate Director | Finance & Strategy Recruitment
tluo@morganmckinley.com

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