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Young Graduates: Master’s Degree vs. Work Experience

By Joy Ehonwa.

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Getting an advanced degree immediately after a Bachelor’s used to be the dream of many a young graduate, and it was a lucky Corps Member who, when asked about post-NYSC plans, could announce, “I’m going for my Master’s.”

Does a Master’s degree still give you a better chance at getting a job and ultimately building the career of your dreams? Today, the dynamic of the Nigerian job market is so different that the answer isn’t as straightforward as it used to be.

The decision to make yourself more marketable in the long run by getting an advanced degree may seem like an obviously brilliant one on the surface, but the number of unemployed Master’s degree holders in Nigeria today suggests that more factors come into play than many realize.

Should you pursue a Master’s after graduation, or get some experience first? When it comes to the question of which pays better, a great number of Nigerian professionals answer without missing a beat, “work experience.”

HR Consultant Gbubemi Atimomo says, “Experience definitely, at least 2-3yrs worth. Getting a post-graduate degree without experience doesn’t really boost one’s job search chances, except the degree is in a highly technical area.”

Indeed, graduates pursuing careers in certain fields, such as medicine, engineering and academia would benefit from getting an advanced degree as soon as possible. Also, some high-level marketing and business consulting positions require candidates to have an M.B.A. In most other fields however, an extra certificate is not going to matter as much as on-the-job training.

Banking Operations Manager, Timothy Igbinosun, expresses this rather colourfully, “Employers want to break even and have no time to teach you anything. Not in 2012. They need you to hit the ground running. 10 degrees without experience will require them sitting you in a hotel for 6 months teaching you off a blackboard…and you still won’t learn jack until your first day at work! When it comes to the labour market, always ask, ‘What will be cheaper for the employer?’”

In other words, you’ll need to determine if delaying your entry into the job market and incurring the costs of a master’s or M.B.A. degree will pay off in this economic climate.

 Overqualified- Yet Not Really

Some graduates have found to their chagrin that many employers are turned off by their higher education. They apply for jobs and are considered over-qualified- but actually only in terms of remuneration. The truth is that in many industries, trading in potential work experience for additional education could leave you short of certain skills and networking. “For the arts, work experience. Art is mostly a self taught thing and the info/resources are out there. In fact, apprenticeship would be better than a master’s” says Timendu Aghahowa, a writer and editor.

Financial Implications

Another factor to keep in mind: more education usually means you spend more. While this may not be an issue for graduates with parents or family members willing to pay for their Master’s, it does pose a problem for those who essentially have to fend for themselves. It would not do at all to invest what little money you have as a young graduate, and reap no dividends.

Zee, an unemployed M.sc holder, speaks from experience, “As much as people believe a Master’s degree is the ultimate, it’s quite a pity it’s not. Many employers are interested in the value you can add to their organization, and not what you have on paper.”

Still, she goes on to make a point that is not often considered. “There is no hard and fast rule to these things as sometimes the two work hand-in-hand. A very young graduate (20-25) with a master’s degree is usually more marketable than one in the same age bracket who has work experience and no master’s. On the other hand, a young graduate (26-32) with a Master’s and no work experience may not be as marketable as their peers who have work experience. So what actually counts is the Master’s and work experience in relation to the age of the young graduate.”

While some may not agree with her, most will concede that it can be tempting to circumvent the job hunt, at least for a while, and go back to the security of academia.

Are you still in doubt? Seek advice from mentors in your industry about whether education or work experience will do more to advance your career.

 

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Joy Ehonwa

Joy Ehonwa is an editor and a writer who is passionate about relationships and personal development. She runs Pinpoint Creatives, a proofreading, editing, transcription and ghostwriting service. Email: pinpointcreatives [at] yahoo.com

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