Master the job market: Give your career an edge with further qualifications

Whether training for a specific career, indulging in academic research, or simply sitting tight to avoid the fierce graduate recruitment market, more and more university leavers are choosing to extend their studies. The Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu) expects that of the near 300,000 students who graduate this summer, 30 per cent will enrol on a postgraduate course – an extra 30,000 students on the recent average.

Universities are already reporting sharp rises in the number of applicants for their postgraduate courses. Warwick University says applications are up 35 per cent on last year. The University of Hertfordshire, which already has a high proportion of postgraduates, has seen a 25 per cent increase. At Manchester Metropolitan, some 920 graduates re-enrolled in 2008, compared with 672 in 2007. The university expects some 1,500 of its graduates to enrol on postgraduate courses this year.

Would-be bankers are among the graduates choosing to lie low. "I always had the plan of doing a Masters but the recession really gave me the boost to do it," says Philipp Jeremias, 25, who is doing an MSc in international finance at Leeds University. "If you get a job, you can't be sure that you're going to be there for long."

But despite this trend, most tutors and careers advisers would warn students against blindly following the flock into further study. "Obviously there are certain professions that demand a postgraduate qualification," says Mike Hill, chief executive of Graduate Prospects, which runs the UK's busiest graduate careers website, Prospects.ac.uk.

"But on taught Masters, there are two main reasons for doing it: one, you have an intellectual itch and you want to scratch it. By all means do it, but before you do, get some careers advice as to how it might benefit you." The second reason to do further study, he says, is to specialise – for example, the English literature graduate doing a Masters in publishing.

Again, in this case, where a specific career outcome is the target, Hill encourages students to ask the hard questions: how much will the course cost? How much will it add to your relative earning power? And how long will the return take to pay off? The bottom line remains the same: will a further qualification help secure that job?

"My advice would be to see your careers service, talk to them about what you're thinking of doing," says Hill. "What are the vacancies? What are the career paths? If you are thinking of doing postgraduate study in a focused area, do some work experience and talk to the relevant firms about it. Before you commit to a number of thousands of pounds, find out what's involved."

Hill also says that employers' attitude to candidates with postgraduate qualifications has changed little. At most, it is another way of "sifting" applications. But another piece of paper will not be enough to secure that all-important job. "If you just have a Masters, you will not stand out against the person who has done three months' work experience," says Hill. "The ideal thing is to have the Masters and the work experience."

The same is true of further academic research. Ross Renton, head of recruitment and access at the University of Hertfordshire, says that now is as good a time as any to spend a year further exploring a subject you are passionate about. Besides: subjects such as history can teach crucial transferable skills that are vital when it comes to getting a job, he says.

But Renton agrees that, on its own, the value of a Masters is debatable. "The individual also needs to have the soft skills – so they're able to talk about their studies at interview," he says.

One of the most popular postgraduate options in recent years has been the law conversion – a two-year programme taking in the graduate diploma in law (GDL) and the legal practice course (LPC) – which puts graduates with general degrees on the path towards becoming a solicitor.

Giles Proctor, head of Kaplan Law School in London, says that in the current graduate recruitment climate, given the choice between jumping into a job or "sitting it out", his advice would be to sit it out. "The GDL and the LPC can be a safe haven," he says. "You've got two years – but you need a purpose. You have to have the will and the desire to do law."

And this desire is vital: the profession is highly competitive and is set to become even more so as graduates in search of high salaries and prestige turn away from the City.

Due to the recession, law firms have been asking graduate trainees to defer their contracts for a year or even two years. But this does not mean that postgraduate study in this area will be wasted. Opportunities are still out there.

"Firms are cutting back but they're not stopping recruiting," says Proctor. This is in part because of the expected workload in the run-up to the Olympics; but it is also because of the experiences of the last recession. "We're seeing a more measured approach to recruitment in recession this time."

Proctor also says that the simple act of choosing to commit to postgraduate study is a powerful gesture: "If you actively do another degree, you're making a positive choice. Firms like that."

Further study can give direction to graduates with general degrees, and take them into unexpected fields. City University in London is popular with postgraduates and is one of the top institutions in the country for getting its students into employment. Alongside its respected postgraduate courses in journalism and health care, City has a thriving cultural leadership programme, aimed at those who want to be involved in arts organisations, from the visual arts to heritage.

"It opens up their vistas on what they could do with their general arts degrees," says Nicola Jennings, director of the cultural leadership programme at City and a tutor on the MA cultural policy and management degree. The course may be taken full-time for one year, or part-time over two years and is, according to Jennings, very professionally orientated: "You're getting an overview. You learn a lot of factual info, but also leadership models and management skills, and your skills develop as a communicator and a writer.

"But most importantly of all, you gain a ready-made network. You meet 20-or-so people in a similar situation. That's a huge benefit."

'A PGCE needs the same skills as any graduate scheme'

Monica Sarpong, 23, is doing a PGCE specialising in business and economics at the Institute of Education in London, having studied business and public policy management at Aston University.

"My Dad was a bank manager, so I'd always envisioned my life as an investment banker or a branch manager. After university I applied to most of the banks I was interested in, and had interviews. But because of the credit crunch, they were laying people off and couldn't even take graduates on.

A friend of mine was doing a PGCE in primary teaching and was finding it very exciting, so I thought, 'Why not?'

I'm so happy that I have now gone into teaching. The course is very exciting. Our tutor plans many activities that make you into a well-rounded teacher and the course is very accessible.

My advice to anyone in a similar position would be to really consider teaching. You need the same skills and qualities you would on any graduate scheme, but with this you really get to see your results, and it constantly stretches you.

Also, the money is better than it used to be and there is the chance that you will get a job very easily if you listen to what your tutors have to say.

I eventually want to be a head of department or head of a school. I want to stay in teaching for ever."

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Year 1 Teacher

£12 - £90 per day: Randstad Education Hull: Randstad Education require a year ...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried