New Grads Go Forth and Conquer Print E-mail

It’s that time of year again – commencement, convocation, matriculation, graduation – call it what you will. It is still a new beginning or step forward for thousands who have dedicated a lot of their time and money (or someone else’s money) to earning that college degree. Some have jobs lined up but not all. The class of 2011 is exiting into a job market still stagnate at near double-digit unemployment.

Since 2008, many universities have seen enrollment in graduate programs increase as experienced professionals took the opportunity of a lay-off to go back to school to attain advanced degrees. With brand new master’s degrees in hand, those people are now graduating out into a market that is worse than when they began their graduate work. So how does that new degree translate into the job search?

Employers are looking for “purple squirrels” – candidates that match long lists of qualifications exactly. In this current market, they are finding those candidates because there are so many people available or searching. If you’ve earned your advance degree, you now have one more of the qualifications employers may be seeking which is to your benefit. Good for you!

Keep in mind employers have a long list of needed qualifications – not a short one with “graduate degree” at the top. The degree is usually further down the list in importance. Employers tend to seek experience first, then an advanced degree. Having a master’s degree or higher is a good advantage in the job hunt for those who already have experience. It supports the experience with formal training at a higher level. Make sure you mention it in the summary of your resume in addition to capturing the value of your experience.

Where an advanced degree may actually hurt is when it has been achieved directly after the first four-year degree. Essentially, the job seeker is then highly schooled but inexperienced. There is also a perception of higher salary requirements for candidates with advanced degrees and in some fields, the salary level is set by whether a candidate has an advanced degree or not.

A prime example of this conundrum is the education field. A new teacher can start teaching after a four-year degree. If instead, he continues his education immediately to attain a master’s degree, his starting salary will automatically go up. Sounds good for the new teacher, but think about it from the employers’ perspectives. Hire a brand new teacher with no experience and get a teacher with a bachelor’s degree for one salary or hire another brand new teacher with no experience with a master’s degree for several thousand higher. Which is the logical choice in this crunch time of budget shortfalls? The teacher without the advanced degree will be more attractive.

Consider the same candidate – a teacher with a master’s degree – but add in a new element, experience. If you are the employer and you have two candidates: one with an advanced degree and three years experience, and one with just three years experience and a four-year degree. Which will you hire? You will probably hire the candidate with the advanced degree. The master’s degree becomes most valuable when combined with experience.

If you have added an advanced degree to your resume in addition to experience, keep in mind it is still secondary. Most new grads with a first degree only have the education to offer employers but you have more – you have experience and a second degree. Make sure you highlight the education well, but keep it in the proper location toward the end of the resume. It now supports your experience and will be an added value you can bring to the employer.