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The 'value' of postgraduate study can be a tricky thing to define. This is partly because it's something you'll need to decide for yourself.
You may wish to study a Masters because you enjoy your subject and want to explore it in greater depth. Or you may be planning to progress to a PhD. You may even be looking to gain an extra qualification whilst making a longer term decision about your future.
These are all perfectly good reasons for postgraduate study.
But, for many students, a Masters is a means to quite a specific end: greater employability and job prospects.
If that's true for you then you won't be the only person judging the 'value' of your Masters degree. The opinions of future employers will matter too.
This page will help you understand what employers look for in postgraduate qualifications. And make sure they find it in yours!
Knowing that a Masters degree could boost your employability and earnings is excellent news. But there’s one more thing you'll need to really make the most of postgraduate study.
Whatever your subject, you need to know that your extra qualifications and training will matter to a prospective employer. If necessary, you also need to know how to ‘sell’ your degree to them.
Thankfully, research suggests that employers are increasingly aware of the value of postgraduate study. More importantly, they are factoring this into hiring decisions.
In fact, the UK Commission for Employment and Skills predicts that roughly 15% of jobs (1 in 7) are likely to need a postgraduate degree by 2022.
Knowing that employers care about postgraduate qualifications is great if you're considering a Masters. But how much of an impact will another degree have on your career? Check out our guide to Masters degrees and employment.
One way to think about employers' attitudes to postgraduate qualifications is to separate them into groups.
This can help you identify the kind of employer you might apply to work for and how they might view your Masters degree.
For the sake of simplicity, we might divide postgraduate employers into four general types:
Generalist – These employers are indifferent to postgraduate study. They don't consider extra training when advertising and shortlisting for a job. That doesn’t mean they won’t recognise a Masters degree. It’s just that they aren’t looking for one. It’s up to you to make the value of your extra qualifications clear and sell them at the interview stage.
Lots of small businesses fall into the Generalist category. Their workforce probably isn’t large enough to include specialised roles for which a Masters might be essential. They’ll assess candidates and their qualifications on a case-by-case basis.
Preferential – These employers aren’t advertising for a postgraduate-level role. But they do recognise that a candidate with a Masters degree may have helpful skills and experience. Your postgraduate degree might make you more likely to be shortlisted, or to earn a higher starting salary.
A good example of a preferential employer might be a newspaper or media organisation. They may consider any graduate applicant, but value the skills possessed by someone with a Masters in Journalism.
Targeted – Some employers will actively seek to hire postgraduates. This doesn’t mean that they’ll only consider someone with a Masters. But they may express a preference when advertising positions. A postgraduate degree might also help offset a lack of experience when applying for this kind of role.
More specialised organisations such as marketing companies can fall into this category. They may need to fill niche roles such as digital marketing or event management and value someone with a suitably specialised degree.
Essential – A postgraduate degree is a basic requirement for some jobs. This could be because of professional regulations. Or it may be that companies need advanced expertise for entry-level positions.
A good example of this kind of employer might be a pharmaceutical company. Many of their positions will depend on specialised knowledge, for which an MSc degree would be essential. Regulated professions like education also tend to need postgraduate teacher training qualifications (though some candidates do apply with a specialist undergraduate degree).
Real employers won’t always fit perfectly into these categories. But you can use them to think about the sorts of jobs you’d like to do.
This should help you consider the potential value of a Masters degree – and how you’ll express that in an application or interview. Which brings us to…
Employers are becoming much more aware of postgraduate qualifications. But, at the end of the day, it’s up to you to communicate the value of your degree.
It’s not enough to simply point to another year or two at university. You’ll need to make it clear why a Masters degree has made you a better candidate for a specific role.
Thankfully, postgraduate study isn’t just another year or two at university. You’ll have overcome challenges and undertaken kinds of work that aren’t required at undergraduate level.
This means that ‘selling’ a postgraduate degree – whatever your subject – isn’t actually that hard. Provided you go about it in the right way.
Here are some ways in which you can do that:
Refer to course content – Don’t let your Masters just be a set of letters on your CV. If you want to express the value of a postgraduate course, you should be able to say something about its contents.
This is especially true if your course is professionally orientated. Or if it includes relevant technical skills. But it also applies to more academic subjects. Your MA in Literature may not seem relevant to this customer relations job. But your choice says something about you as a person. And who’s to say your interest in human ideas and values isn’t relevant to a job that involves understanding and working with people?
Communicate transferable skills – All postgraduate degrees develop key skills. Many of these are ‘transferable’. You’ll study independently. You'll take responsibility for your own learning. And you'll learn to clearly explain and defend your own ideas. By the end of your course you’ll also have researched and written a substantial thesis.
It doesn’t matter if you did these things on an MA or an MSc. Whether you’re a historian or a physicist, you’re also a project manager and a capable independent worker. You've got the skills to identify problems and the initiative to solve them. You'll also be a good communicator: a capable writer and, perhaps, a budding oral presenter.
Mention extra training – Many postgraduate degrees actually include dedicated training modules. You might be given guidance in research methods, use of advanced IT equipment or specialist research facilities.
Think how these could be useful to you in the job you’re applying to. Even if they aren’t directly relevant, the fact that you’ve successfully completed this training shows your ability – and willingness – to ‘upskill’ professionally.
Highlight extra-curricular experience – There’s more to studying a Masters than just studying a Masters. As an experienced student you’ll have a great opportunity to become more involved with your university. This might include work for student societies. Or you might help mentor undergraduate students. You may even take part in departmental research events.
Make sure to mention these to employers. It may not seem relevant that you helped provide essay clinics. Or that you were the treasurer for a sports society. Or that you helped on the welcome desk for a conference. ... Until you realise you’ve gained some experience of personnel development, administration and event management.
Of course, there will be more to your application and interview than your Masters degree. And you should be careful not to spend too much time on one aspect of your CV.
But highlighting the real value of a postgraduate course (and relating it to your other skills, experiences and goals) can help you stand out.
One way to ensure that employers take note of your Masters is to boost the value of your degree whilst you're studying. There are all sorts of ways to do this, from internships to networking and training. Why not take a look at our guide to making the most of a Masters?.
Last updated - 03/03/2016