Thursday, June 25, 2009

don't go back to college in a recession

It's very tempting to go back to college with all the doom and gloom around us. It may seem daunting out there with limited options on the job front and this could last a few years until the economy picks up again. So, it seems logical to upskill. To finally get that Masters or Phd or MBA. So why not study your way through the bust?

Well if you truly want a degree for the joy of learning, or if you know for a fact that you need a Phd to progress (if you are in academia) then yes, it makes sense. But if you're doing it to impress employers so that you can snag a great job when things pick up, it's probably not the wisest choice.

Consider this scenario:
Fast forward to 2011. You are the hiring manager for a juicy management role. You have your pick of great CVs. The first interviews go well, you find all the candidates have something to offer, but you choose two to come back for second interview. Both have similar experience, except one has recent experience and one has just finished a Masters.

The guy with the Masters in Business certainly knows the jargon. He has worked for some interesting companies and had been promoted to management, but like many others, he lost his job in 2009 and decided to study for two years. He has just finished college but has no recent management experience.

The other guy just has a BA degree. He lost his job in 08 but found another one, even though it took him 6 months of driving a taxi until he found a management position again. In the past two years he has gained practical skills and can cite recent problem solving skills on the job. He is obviously a resilient chap.

Who do you go for?

Most hiring managers I know would go for the one with recent experience, who rose to a challenge in adverse times, took whatever job they could whilst they focused on getting a better job, over the one who muscled it out in a safe college environment.

As many interviews are now scenario based, you are very likely to be asked questions along the lines of: Tell me about a recent experience where you had to manage a conflict in your team? or How have you recently influenced your manager?

Notice that the emphasis is on demonstrating recent practical experience. Some companies will even ask that you confine your answer to the past 18 months or 2 years. Not ideal if you've been in college all that time. It's worth knowing that some third level institutions are now receiving up to three times more applicants than this time last year,so you will probably find that it's not so easy to get in afterall.

Of course employers appreciate higher level qualification but they generally prefer that you study part time for post graduate status whilst you grow in the work-place.

So hang on in there!

Take whatever job comes along to keep the wolf from the door. Get a decent career counsellor/coach to advise you on your career options and devise a job search plan to keep you motivated whilst you seek out a more suitable job to progress your career.

Seek and ye shall find!


  1. Thanks for that Caroline - it is helpful and gives a whole other perspective. I was one of the ones you are talking about - studying my way throgh a recession - now I am not so sure I do have the opportunity to keep working a do a p/t course,
    Thanks for the food for thought

  2. great blog Caroline - can't wait to read more!

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  4. Mary Hanafin disagrees with you: