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Should I go to graduate school?

Crossroads ImageJake at Utah State University asked:

I am debating whether or not to attend graduate school? I am not convinced that my current career in human resources is for me, however I don’t feel like I know exactly what I want to do in grad school. How can I better discover my unique skills and interests so I can shape my career for the future?

Hi Jake

It is wise to approach graduate school with caution.  Getting a graduate degree can be a great option.  It can also be a big mistake. When you go to graduate school, you want to be sure you are doing so for the right reasons and based on sound expectations for what you will get out of it.  A graduate degree will not make you more qualified for employment or allow you to command a higher salary.  Some graduate degrees will; others will not.  I’d like to you to review two of my recent blogs on this topic:

Can’t find a job? Why not just go to grad school? 

How can I find the right career path for me?

Don’t rush into graduate school!

If you are uncertain about your current career path in human resources, try to identify the source of that uncertainty.

What do you like about it?  What do you dislike about it?  What do you want to keep and what do you want to avoid in your next job or career path?  What role in your career transition can a graduate degree play?

How much of your dissatisfaction is related to the industry or the work, and how much is related to the work environment or organizational culture?  Sometimes a change of scenery (doing the same kind of work in a different kind of place) is the right solution.  Sometimes a career change is the right solution. Sometimes you need a combination of both. And, sometimes a graduate degree can help you make the transition.

If you go to graduate school, you will be making a big investment of your time, your energy and your money.  Invest wisely!

Good luck!

matt-signature

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Can’t find a job? Why not just go to grad school?

gradschooltshirt (1)“The economy is bad, I guess I’ll go to graduate school.” 

Have you said this or heard someone say this recently?  I’ll bet you have.

I have heard this statement countless times from students facing the completion of their undergraduate degrees.

They don’t know what they want to do when they graduate, they hear news reports about high unemployment rates, and they figure that a graduate degree will allow them to wait out the recession, buy them more time to make up their minds and make them more marketable.

Ready for the cold, hard slap of reality:

A graduate degree  by itself – will not make you more employable. 

It will not –  by definition – allow you to demand greater compensation than candidates who only have undergraduate degrees. It will not guarantee you a job or necessarily make finding a job easier.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of graduate education.  I have a graduate degree, and I really enjoy working with graduate students. But, if you are considering graduate school, do so as a consumer.  Make an informed decision about what you want to study (and why), where you should go, and what you are going to do when you finish.

Considering graduate school?  Ask yourself the following questions and see if you like your answers:

Why do I want to go to graduate school?
What field do I plan to study?
What degree will I pursue?

Why this field and why this degree?
Where are the best graduate programs in this field?
How much money and time am I going to have to invest to get this degree?
What is the demand for professionals in this field with this degree?
How competitive is the job market in this field?

Where do professionals with this degree find employment?
What I can reasonably expect to earn?

And finally, after you have considered all of the questions above:

Given what I know now about degree programs and employment prospects, am I ready and willing to commit the next 2-5 years  to a graduate degree program?

Graduate school can be a great career step, but it is not a step you should take blindfolded or wearing rose-colored glasses.

If you are considering graduate school, you owe it to yourself to factor into your decision-making what you are going to do when you finish.

Otherwise, you stand a good chance of ending up over-educated, under-employed (in your opinion, at least), and regretting the original decision you made.

 

What should I do next? I am at crossroads early in my career and I have a lot of questions

GetToTheFuture-1347443320_600Nick, an alum of Indiana University – Bloomington,  asked

I’m a 24-yr old, working as a Commercial Lending Financial Analyst in Indianapolis and have been doing so for 2 years – I graduated with a Finance degree, but have realized that Finance is not what I want to do.  I plan to attend graduate school in Fall 2014 to obtain an MBA, focusing on Entrepreneurship and/or Corporate Innovation. 

Since there are 18+ months  between now and when I plan to start my MBA,  I would like to leave Indiana. I have no obligations (family, girlfriend, etc.), and I want to experience new places while young. I am considering leaving my current job and doing something else until I go back to school.   As you can imagine, I have a lot of questions: 

  1. Should I quit my job now or stick it out for the next 18+ months in a city that I don’t want to be in, doing a job that I’m not getting anything out of any longer? My family and friends seem to think loyalty to a certain company or job might outweigh my desire to experience new places, jobs, and areas of business.
  2.  If I do quit my job now,  what do I do during the next 18+ months to further myself, my grad school admission odds, and experience as much as possible?
  3. Should I volunteer and help the world globally or within the US? I’m completely willing and this sounds awesome, but if  it doesn’t further my career at all, I doubt it will look great on an MBA application.
  4. Should I obtain summer, fall, and spring internships in separate industries to try and find out what I want to do and gain valuable experience? Problem with this is that it could be construed by future employee prospects as not being able to settle down or commit to one certain job.

I’m open to any and all suggestions.

Hi Nick,

You’ve posed a lot of good questions.  Let me address them one by one.

Should I quit my job now or stick it out for the next 18+ months in a city that I don’t want to be in, doing a job that I’m not getting anything out of any longer?

Before addressing any other part of your question, I have to address the financial aspect:

Can you afford to quit your job and be out of work for any period of time?  If you cannot, don’t!

18 months is not a long period of time.  If you know for certain that you will be entering a full-time  MBA Program in Fall 2014, you are not a desirable candidate for employers looking for candidates to develop professionally. By the time you find and transition to another job, you will probably be about 12 months away from graduate school, which means that just about the time you will become really productive for your new employer, you will be submitting your resignation.  Remember, employers hire in order to meet the needs of their businesses, not so that job seekers can have jobs.  Your needs and priorities must align to some extent with those of employers; otherwise, employers have no compelling reason to consider you as a candidate.

You say you are not getting anything out of your current job.  You are earning a paycheck. You are gaining professional work experience in a business related field. You may be earning healthcare and retirements benefits. You may have an opportunity to do something new with that company that will make the next 18 months go by more quickly.  Explore all of you options.

Beyond that, if you can really do this job well on “auto-pilot,” it may offer you the opportunity to invest your extra energy in prep for the GMAT and work on your graduate school applications, and give you the financial stability you need to visit possible graduate school destinations.  Not being too invested in your current job can be a good thing!

Don’t make this decision in a bubble.

One more thing, I don’t think “employer loyalty” is necessarily an issue. You have been with the company for two years.  You have been loyal.  At the very least, you would owe them two weeks notice of your departure, but you don’t owe them any more than that (unless, of course, there is more to your story than I currently know).

If I do quit my job now, what do I do during the next 18+ months to further myself, my grad school admission odds, and experience as much as possible?

You hit on something very important here:  MBA admissions staff WILL look at what you are doing while you are applying to their programs.  Who you are as a candidate for admission is a combination of what you did as an undergrad both inside and outside the classroom, what you are doing when you apply, and everything in between.  As a candidate, you have to “make sense” to admissions officers.  Doing  the things that will “most enhance your candidacy” may not involve doing things that will allow you to”experience as much as possible.”  These are two very distinct and different things.

Whatever you do, you have to be able to explain it to admissions officers in a ways that highlight your qualifications effectively.  You have to be ready to answer the question: So, tell me why you quit your job 18 months ago to do what you are doing now.

Should I volunteer and help the world globally or within the US?

Volunteering is a wonderful thing.  You should volunteer because you want to volunteer, you think you can add value, you believe you can make a difference; because there is a need.  Of course, you will benefit immensely by volunteering, but you should volunteer because you want help. Your first priority should not be “what’s in it for me?”

Volunteer experiences can be extremely valuable on graduate applications.  Whether they are or not will depend upon how you position them when presenting your qualifications. Again, your story needs to make sense to admissions officers.

If they ask Why did you go on that volunteer mission? your answer should not be Because I thought it would look good on my resume.

Lastly, can you financially afford to take time off from earning a living to volunteer for the next 18 months?  Remember, you are going to have to pay for graduate school.  I don’ t recommend going into graduate school expecting to borrow your way through. Those student loans eventually do come due, and you cannot get around paying them.

Should I obtain summer, fall, and spring internships in separate industries to try and find out what I want to do and gain valuable experience?

This is a great idea in concept, but might be really tough to accomplish in reality.  Internships are typically reserved for students; not for working professionals.  If you are not enrolled in school, most companies will not consider you for internships.  If you can get these internships (a challenge), if these internships pay a reasonable wage (an additional challenge), and if they happen to be in cities that you wish to explore (a third challenge), then doing a series of internships to gain a diversity of experience may be a good idea.

Three “ifs” in one sentence equals an iffy proposition.  I am not sure how viable this option really is.

Nick, it might sound like I am only presenting obstacles to moving forward where you see opportunities to grow professionally. Reality lies somewhere between those two extremes.  When you make these kinds of career decisions, you have to look at all of the related issues.

Do a personal SWOT (Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats) analysis of your situation so that whatever you do, you go in with you eyes wide open.

Be really honest with yourself in answering the following questions:

What about my current job and career path do I like and dislike?

What career transition do I hope to achieve?  Why not just look for a different job with the same company, a different job with a different company, a different job in a different city?

Is graduate school the most logical next step? Why is getting an MBA an essential element?  How will it make you a more marketable candidate? 

You are right – with no outstanding obligations to family, girlfriend, etc., you in a great point in your life to try “something new.” Just do everything you can to make sure that your “something new” is something worthwhile for you, your present and your future.

Good luck!

matt-signature

Is a Master’s degree necessary in today’s job market?

Natalie at the University of Missouri – Columbia asked:

Is it necessary to pursue a Master’s Degree in today’s job market? In communication for Public Relations, to be exact.

Hi Natalie –

The quick answer to your question is No! You cannot say that in all areas and at all times, a Master’s degree is necessary to succeed in today’s job market.  But, of course – the quick answer is not always the best or most complete answer. Check out my post “What you going to do with that graduate degree?” for the long answer :-).

To your specific question as this relates to the field of Public Relations:  No, a Master’s degree is not necessary, but in some cases it can be very beneficial:

  • If your undergraduate major was Public Relations, you probably do not need a Master’s in the field to start your career.
  • If your undergraduate major was PR, English, Communication, Business (okay, virtually anything) AND you have public relations internship experience, you probably do not need a Master’s degree to start your career.
  • If you have been involved in your campus chapter of the Public Relations Student Society of America, have done PR for a student organization or non-profit group, and take a couple of courses in PR related topics (like crisis communication, social media communication, research, etc.), you probably do not need a Master’s degree to start your career.
  • If you have absolutely no experience or training of any kind in public relations and want some before starting your career, AND you can afford it financially, you might want to consider a Master’s degree before starting your career.
  • If there is specific training you want (or need) in order to become a legitimately qualified candidate, you may need to get a Master’s degree before beginning your career.

Remember this, though – a Master’s degree does not necessarily mean more money or easier access to employment in Public Relations (or many other fields, for that matter).

Do your research.  Make sure you understanding the hiring dynamics of the profession you wish to enter, and then tailor your career decision making and job seeking strategies accordingly.

When it comes to hiring time, PR employers are much more interested in your combination of relevant skills, experience and education, than they are in your level of education alone.

And, PR is a communication field. They expect you to be able to tell them why you are a good candidate and why you want the job. You have to communicate to them persuasively!

Good luck,

 

What are you going to do with that graduate degree?

A couple of years ago, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured a very interesting and insightful article, the content of which still holds true today:

Master’s in English:  Will Mow Lawns
Most programs don’t say where graduates get jobs, and future Ph.D.’s don’t demand the data

It is well worth the read if you are considering going to graduate school.

“The economy is bad, I guess I’ll go to graduate school.” 

Have you said this or heard someone say this?  I’ll bet you have.

I have heard this statement countless times from students staring down the completion of their Bachelors’ degrees.  They don’t know what they want to do when they graduate and figure that a graduate degree will buy them more time to make up their minds and make them more marketable.

Here is the cold slap of reality: A graduate degree – in and of itself – will not make you more employable.  It will not  – by definition – allow you to demand greater compensation than candidates who only have undergraduate degrees.  It will not guarantee you a job.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of graduate education.  I have a graduate degree myself. But, if you are considering graduate school, do so as a consumer.  Make an informed decision about what you want to study (and why), where you should go, and what you are going to do when you finish.

Considering graduate school?  Ask yourself the following questions and see if you like your answers:

Why do I want to go to graduate school?
What field do I plan to study?
What degree will I pursue?

Why this field and why this degree?
Where are the best graduate programs in this field?
How much money and time am I going to have to invest to get this degree?
What is the demand for professionals in this field with this degree?
How competitive is the job market in this field?

Where do professionals with this degree find employment?
What I can reasonably expect to earn?

And finally, after you have considered all of the questions above:
Given what I know now about degree programs and employment prospects, and I ready and willing to commit the next 2-5 years  to a graduate degree program?

Graduate school can be a great career step, but it is not a step you should take blindfolded or wearing rose-colored glasses.  If you are considering graduate school, you owe it to yourself to factor into your decision-making what you are going to do when you finish.

Otherwise, you stand a good chance of ending up over-educated, under-employed (in your opinion, at least), and regretting the original decision you made.

 

An Open Letter to College Students (and your Parents!)

All across the country, colleges and universities are deep in preparation for the start of a new academic year.

Returning students have long since realized that summer is over.  New freshmen are nervous, wondering how life as a college student will differ from their life in high school.

Seniors are beginning to contemplate life after college. Parents of seniors are wondering what their blossoming adults are going to do when they graduate, whether or not they are going to be able to get a job, and when they are going to start paying their own bills.

Surely, with all the money they have invested in their education, these soon-to-be graduates should be able to get jobs, right?  That’s the next logical step, isn’t it?  The university is providing the education; it should also provide a direct path to that first job out of college, right?  And that job had better pay enough (regardless of the field) so that they can afford their current lifestyle!  That’s the way it should work, isn’t it?

Unfortunately, unless you pursuing a degree that directly tracks into a talent-starved field (engineering, accounting, and many of the other Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (STEM) related majors) that’s not usually the way it will work for most students.

Finding a job – particularly a job you will like and that will match your skills and interests – is a process.  Like any process (for example, trying to lose weight), it requires planning, personal accountability, discipline and focus.

It takes a lot more than “want to” to get a job after college.  It takes planning and action.

It’s easy to say “I want a good job when I graduate.”  It’s hard to define what that means to you. And it takes planning and action to get that job.

Your career services office can’t get you a job, but they can help you get a job.

As the new academic year approaches, I want to take an opportunity to share with new and returning college students (and your parents) the following quick summary of what your college career services office can do, can’t do, will do and won’t do to assist students in making the transition from the college to career.

What Career Services Can and Cannot Do For You

Career Services staff can market their services to students and encourage them to take advantage of the career services available, but they cannot force students to use career services.

You’ve heard the old saying: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Well, most college career services offices provide a broad range of career services, but they cannot force students to use these services.  They offer services that are relevant to students at all stages of their education, so career services is relevant to all students.  Your college career advisers are ready to help you. All you have to do is ask!

Career Services staff can help students explore and evaluate their employment options, but they cannot place students into specific jobs.

It sure would be nice (and would certainly be easy) if students could walk into their college’s career services office just before graduation and choose a job from a variety of opportunities prepared exclusively for them.  Unfortunately, getting a job is not like ordering dinner or shopping for groceries.

By law, career services staff cannot select candidates or make hiring decisions on behalf of employers; employers have to make these hiring decisions themselves, and that means students have to be prepared to apply for jobs and present their qualifications in interviews.

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want someone else choosing a job for me; I would want to be a part of that process.

Career Services staff can  build recruiting relationships with employers, but they cannot force employers to come to their campuses or recruit for the types of jobs students want.

Employers recruit on college campuses only when they need to. If an employer can generate a sufficient number of qualified candidates for their job opportunities without physically coming to campus, they usually won’t come to campus. And, employers that do recruit on college campuses do not typically go to all college campuses, recruit to fill all types of positions, or recruit across all majors.

“Bulk employers”  – big national and multinational companies that need large volumes of candidates to fill large volumes of target vacancies – are the bread and butter of on-campus recruiting.

Lastly, on-campus interviewing is not the only tool employers use to recruit entry-level talent from colleges and universities.  As a job seeker, your job is to understand the hiring dynamics of the industries you wish to enter and adjust your job search strategies to those dynamics. Your career advisor can help you do this!

Career Services staff can help students identify and pursue jobs that match their skills and interests, but they cannot help students pursue jobs that match their skills and interests if students can’t (or won’t) identify their skills and interests.

This is the toughest part!  In order to find a job you will like and that will match your skills, experience and other qualifications, you have to spend some time identifying and articulating your likes and dislikes and your skills and interests.

If you can’t describe your likes and dislikes or identify your skills and interests, how will you be able to know when you find a job that is compatible with them?  By the way – this usually isn’t an easy process, and it does take time, so don’t wait until the end of your last semester to get started.

What Career Services Will and Won’t Do

Career Services staff will  advise and assist students in planning and crafting effective resumes and critique drafts of resumes, but will not write resumes for students.

Sorry, they can’t do this work for you.  Most career service offices have resume writing resources, resume samples  and advising services available, but you really should prepare your resume yourself.  All resume formats are not created equal, so don’t just download and use the first resume template you can find. What might make sense for an engineering student probably doesn’t make sense for an advertising student.  There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all resume. Your resume is a marketing document. Treat it like one!

BTW- Regarding that “$39.99 Resume Writing Service” you found online . . .  you get what you pay for! Don’t waste your money.  You can find good resume writing assistance online, but it won’t come cheap.

Career Services staff will help students understand and evaluate the pros and cons of different job opportunities, but they will not tell students which job offers to accept or reject.

Want help understanding the various advantages and disadvantages of different job opportunities? Want to know what questions to ask?  Want an unbiased perspective of your options?  Ask your career adviser.  Your career adviser doesn’t have a vested interest in which option you select. She just want you to make sound and informed career decisions; good decisions for you!

Career Services staff will contact employers on behalf of all students, but we will not contact employers on behalf of individual students exclusively.

Sorry, your career adviser is not your personal job search agent.  Career advisers won’t contact employers with your resume trying to convince them that you are a great candidate worthy of consideration.  They work on behalf of all students at your institution. They do a lot of employer relationship building in order to make employers aware of the recruiting services they offer and the talents and qualifications their students possess.  They reach out to a lot of employers, and a lot of employers use their recruiting services, but you have to apply for jobs, and you have to close the deal.

Career Services staff will help students evaluate whether or not graduate school makes sense as a next career step, but will not tell students whether or not they should go to graduate school.

“The job market still stinks, I think I’ll go to grad school to wait out the economy” is a lousy reason for going to graduate school, particularly if it is your only reason.

The grad school decision is an important one, and one you should not take lightly.  What do you want to study and why?  Where are the best programs of study in that field?  How will the graduate degree make you more marketable to employers?  What types of employers will find you more valuable with a graduate degree?   These are all really important questions.  Your career adviser can help you answer them.

A graduate degree, in and of itself, is not going to make you more desirable to employers.  It will not necessarily mean that you will earn more than someone with just a bachelor’s degree.

The decision to go to graduate school is a big one; career advisers can help you make a good decision because, again, they don’t have a vested interest in whether or not you go to graduate school.  They just want you to make good decisions; informed and sound decisions that makes sense for you.

Okay, enough of the heavy stuff.

The start of a new school year is full of excitement, energy, uncertainty and hope!  There is no place on earth as vibrant as a college campus at the start of the fall semester – everything feels possible; almost everything is possible.

Turning those possibilities into reality takes a lot of work, perseverance and intent.  It doesn’t just happen.  (Okay, sometimes it does, but people sometimes win the lottery, too!)

When it comes to exploring and pursuing your career options, connect with your College Career Services office.

Good Luck!

Matt Berndt
The Campus Career Coach

One Final Note:  If your college doesn’t have a career services office that does the things outlined in this blog, share it with your school’s president and ask why?