Masters by name, masters by nature?
Do HR professionals who study for career oriented Master’s degrees really have more control over their future success?
The lay of the professional landscape has changed beyond recognition since recession hit the UK back in 2008. Fewer jobs mean far greater competition and, as a result of that, more and more HR and L&D professionals are turning to education as a means of improving their skill sets and prospects. Postgraduate studies and, in particular, Master’s degrees are more popular than ever. But do they actually make a difference?
It’s one thing to think that you’re ‘investing’ in your future and, if you’re not a Chartered Member or Fellow of the CIPD, you might well already have completed a CIPD Advanced Diploma. But qualifications don’t come cheaply and, if they’re not going to have a significantly positive impact on your career, then they might end up seeming like a bit of a waste of time. So how do you go about figuring out what’s the best thing to do next?
‘One way is to look at it from an employer’s perspective,’ says Colin Gordon, Head of MOL, which is one of the UK’s leading providers of Master’s degrees in Strategic HR Management. ‘If you take two virtually identical candidates – both perfect cultural fits, both have amazing CVs with Chartered or Fellow CIPD status or an Advanced Diploma, both seem more than capable of handling a strategic role, but one of them has a Master’s degree in the subject and the other doesn’t… Well, it’s easy to see who’d get chosen.’
It’s an obvious, but convincing view. Yet, is it really as simple as that? Is the theory learned on an MA even really all that relevant to the actual world of everyday work?
‘Absolutely,’ insists Colin. ‘It couldn’t be more relevant – our programme is a great example as it’s very much designed for people already in the industry who want to add value to their organisation. It explores contemporary strategic issues and we continually review our content to make sure it’s at the leading edge of industry developments. I’m not saying it’s a sure fire strategy for immediate career success in these times of tentative growth. No two interviews are alike and every employer has their own idiosyncrasies. But what an MA in Strategic HR Management does do is give you transferable skills and a qualification to prove that you have those skills. And that’s something every employer worth their salt will respect.’
One of the key factors to be considered when contemplating a Master’s degree is cost. Last year, the government lifted the cap on postgraduate qualifications and the cost of studying for one has increased across the board. And, if a Master’s degree isn’t going to guarantee you an immediate job, then won’t you run the risk of being financially worse off than before you started your studies? Colin suggests that it’s a risk worth running.
‘It’s possible to find a programme that doesn’t cost the earth still. Ours, for instance, is incredibly reasonably priced – for a small additional fee, you can top-up your existing qualification and gain the additional benefit of upgraded professional status. Plus payments can be spread across the duration. OK, there’s a chance you might not get a job immediately, but you will absolutely have the edge over your competitor candidates and that goes a long way. I don’t just mean in terms of your CV either. Attaining that qualification will make you feel more employable. So, when you go into an interview, you’ll do so with greater confidence than you had before.’
The latest figures published by the government show continued employment growth in the UK, but that growth is still slow – the employment rate between June and August 2013 was at 71.7%, up just 0.3% from the period covering March to May. It’s to be hoped for everyone that the trend continues, but in the meantime, it might be well worth your while to consider how you could stand out from the stiff and still very numerous competition. Will a Master’s degree make you the master of your own destiny?