So the story goes as such. A well-meaning neighbor once asked a student of architecture what would she do after five years of her Bachelor’s degree? I want to learn how to be a pilot, she responded. It managed to convey the subtle message of it is none of your beeswax!
But there is something hidden behind the sarcasm. It is an uncertainty faced by many fresh college graduates. What next? What does one do after a college degree? Does one apply for jobs to start their foray in the real world or does one try to increase their resume mettle by getting a higher degree?
Students from the early years of the last century, however, where not really faced with this uncertainty. A BA pass used to be considered to be among an elite class, worthy of high positions in high offices. An MA pass was to be treasured.
Over time things started becoming, well what to say, a little too common. While education started becoming more affordable and in-reach, more and more treasured graduates started filling up office lobbies, waiting for their number in front of the interview panels.
Now we see highly educated candidates for jobs that don’t really require that high a level of expertise. Education Inflation, the technical term, essentially means that now you may have a PhD in Computer Science working as an application tester. Or a Master’s in Finance working as a store accountant. And a BA pass filling out forms for an entry level office help, whose job description essentially involves remembering to add an extra pack of sugar in Bada Saheb’s coffee.
According to the 2011-2012 census, in India, although the highest number of unemployed people belong to the illiterate population, the surprising fact is that, among the literates, the better qualified have the highest unemployment rate.
No don’t walk out of your lecture halls yet. Even though an excuse like this is hard to come by! There is also data to suggest that as economies start to decline, the ones with higher degrees are able to retain jobs as compared to their less qualified brethren.
College graduates do have an important decision to make. The question is simple.
Do I have a better chance at a company position if I get a higher degree or is it advisable to get myself employed now and use the next few years to gain experience instead?
The answer is frustrating. Almost anyone will say It Depends!
So what does it depend on?
Education or Experience: Which is better to improve your chances of getting hired?
Your field of interest
Of course, it does. There are degrees which are designed to give you a specific expertise and there are degrees that are just nominal.
If you want to cut open someone, legally, you better get a PhD or an MD in surgery, after your MBBS. But if your ultimate goal is to become a General Physician, then you’ve to evaluate whether it is better to get an MD or join a local clinic.
If you want to design buildings that are energy sufficient then you need to specialize in sustainable architecture. If you want to join the construction team that makes the building, you don’t.
If you want to be a University Professor, you need to have a PhD and a Post Doc. If you want to teach in a school, you don’t.
You get the idea.
What are companies looking for?
Most companies are not looking to hire a showpiece. They are only looking to find efficient individuals who are capable of benefiting their organization. Often they hire individuals whose degrees have little to do with the job at hand.
One needs to understand that in such cases the “job requirements” are representative of what sort of skills they are looking for. So if you seem to satisfy the skill, it may be well advised to apply and highlight your skills even though you may not have a picture on your wall wearing a robe, a silly hat, and a rolled up degree made of recycled paper!
And other times companies are very specific on hiring higher degree holders. The requirement comes from a vision of some kind of a role expansion in the future which may need the training and expertise that only an educational exposure can provide.
There are mathematics graduates who went on to have successful banking careers instead of a more academic route. And everyone probably knows that guy who probably got a degree in mechanical engineering and then went on to join the IT industry, becoming a Senior Project Manager at 30, instead of getting an MS or MTech and setting up a Naukri.com profile at 28.
And then there is the other guy who did the MTech in his core field and got hired directly as a Senior Engineer at NTPC.
It is all about what you want to do and how much you are keeping yourself aware of what companies want.
Where are you getting your degree?
An MS from Columbia College – Hollywood is not the same as an MS from Columbia University – New York. And hence quite obviously, you should factor in your graduating university when you weigh your chances of getting an edge at hiring. Seven out of the top ten university names from a 2015-2016 list of employability by college ranking coincide with the list for global university ranking, based on various comprehensive indicators including performance, research, faculty, citations and all the other good stuff.
Choice of specialization
You can focus your higher degree from the broadly general Master’s programs to more specialized and utilitarian ones. You can get a Master’s in Management Information Systems which can land you specific job roles as Business Analyst, IT Consultant, Database Admin or any such role that needs you to combine your management and technical skills.
You can get a Professional Science Master’s or PSM which is aimed to combine business and technical skills catering specifically to the job market.
You can get a Master in Real Estate Development and help us understand what was Ambani thinking when he made that godzilla…err, Antilla?
Maybe get the best of both worlds?
The best way to shine like an 18 carat diamond on your resume is to manage your training such that you are lacking in neither experience nor a degree. Internships are a great way to attain such an apparently impossible goal. You can get your credits as well as start getting noticed from inside the system.
In fact, a lot of internships can be used as excellent platforms for permanent positions if you know the right moves. Check out how to convert summer internships into full-time jobs/.
It is difficult and no doubt painfully frustrating to know the right thing to do. The answer at the end of this article is still It depends and only time can tell whether you’ve made the correct decision.
In the end, trust your instincts and try to learn from other people’s mistakes. That is the best way to save you time, money and effort.
And remember that it is not always clear who is more qualified or smarter – the higher degree holder or the one with the experience and no degree. It is always a good idea to learn to recognize a good opportunity when it comes by.
An experience, without a higher degree, may help you get hired but maybe at times be lacking in security. And a higher degree may just delay your entry into the already competitive corporate world where companies need the experience and have little time and patience to train you.
So the next time some nosy neighbor asks you about your future plans, insist on flying him for free, on your first flight post pilot training, and watch him run far far away – leaving you alone to choose the side you see fit best.