Tag Archives: results

The myths surrounding postgraduate study

Recently, with other members of the AGCAS (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services) postgraduate task group, I’ve been conducting research to explore some of the myths surrounding postgraduate study.  With widespread media perception of a depressed graduate market and a devalued first degree it is understandable that many students embark on postgraduate study in the hope that it will offer them a competitive advantage when applying for jobs.  I’ve interviewed some of our graduate recruiters to see if they agree.

Do employers have a separate entry point for postgraduates?

One of the first questions asked was about separate entry points for postgraduates.  I know that this is of real significance to some postgraduates, after a Masters and a three or four year PhD you don’t necessarily want to apply for something that you feel you could have applied for four or five years before.  The reality is that there are very few employers who offer specific entry points for those with postgraduate qualifications, unless you have significant work experience and can therefore be considered as ‘experienced hire’.  I think it’s important to consider the additional skills that you have gained from postgraduate study and how you will sell these to an employer.  You will no doubt find that your application is far more competitive than it would have been a few years ago.  Although a postgraduate qualification may not be recognised in the application process, one graduate recruiter did tell us that, ‘being able to draw upon a wider range of experiences during the recruitment process can only strengthen a candidate’s application’, whilst another said that he, ‘would expect someone with a PhD to bring something additional to the table and expect to give them more responsibility more quickly given their additional experience’.

Do postgraduate students get paid more?

For many, postgraduate study is a significant financial investment, so it’s not surprising that you expect to be paid more.  Salaries vary widely depending on the company, the role and the organisation. It is unlikely that your postgraduate qualification alone will command a higher salary, although there are exceptions.  One recruiter told us that ‘salaries are determined by the particular role and location, not the candidate or their education’.

Are there any advantages to employing postgraduates?

We asked employers if they saw any advantages to employing postgraduates over those graduating with a first degree.  Most employers do recognise that postgraduates, particularly those that have undertaken research, may offer a ‘broader toolkit’ of skills, but the qualification itself is not enough.  Those with postgraduate qualifications are expected to be given responsibility faster and achieve promotion faster, but one employer stated that, ‘once you start a job the question is whether you can do that job well or not’.  Another told us that, ‘other than a 2:1 degree classification, experience in related work fields to the area applied for is seen as more valuable than further education’.

Does a postgraduate qualification make up for not having a 2:1?

Finally, I see many examples where graduates have embarked on a Masters degree to compensate for a poor first degree.  So, how did the employers respond to this?  Unfortunately, most of the graduate recruiters that we spoke to do have a minimum entry requirement of a 2:1.  There are some employers that will accept applications below this entry requirement, but only with evidence of extenuating or mitigating circumstances.  One of our recruiters commented that, ‘we will accept applications from people who do not meet our academic requirements provided that there is a strong justification for why we should consider the application’.  One example of this maybe significant and related professional work experience.

So, why do postgraduate study?

This small study has highlighted an ambiguous reaction to postgraduates in the job market.  If you’re thinking about postgraduate study I think it’s important to be clear about your motivations.  A passion for your subject and a desire to further your knowledge should be high on your list.  It maybe that the qualification is essential for your future career, but if not, then there are no guarantees of improving your employability.  Of equal importance is taking advantage of developing new skills and more importantly being able to articulate these skills to an employer.  Your breadth of examples could offer you a real competitive edge in the application process, but don’t assume that the employer knows what you’ve been doing for the last four years – you need to tell them!  Work experience is also key, with PhD internships becoming ever more popular.  To be competitive think about the package that you’re offering:  academic excellence, skills and experience.

The original article will appear in the next edition of Phoenix (AGCAS), October 2012.

Dr Samantha Cathro, Postgraduate Careers Adviser

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

Help – I’ve been forced to take a year out!

It’s that time of year when many students receiving their degree results have to make a sudden change of plan.  We’re busy right now at the Careers Service seeing people who are rethinking what seemed like career certainties just a few months ago, either because they didn’t get the class of degree for which they’d hoped, or occasionally because they achieved a much higher degree result than expected and they hadn’t applied for any jobs.

Whichever position you find yourself in, it can be a daunting prospect to be graduating into months of completely unstructured time, but this doesn’t have to be a disaster.  Employers are very interested in how people cope with setbacks, as well as how they demonstrate resilience and move on, so the focus should be on treating the unexpected time out as one big potential learning experience.  It could even leave you with a stronger CV than the one with which you start your unplanned year out!

Try to maintain a sense of purpose

What employers will be looking for when you do start applying for graduate jobs is a sense of purpose: that you were able to set goals for yourself, plan ahead and structure your time.  It can be incredibly difficult to motivate yourself when you have empty days looming ahead of you after the bustle of university life, but it’s important to have targets both in the long term – the job you want – and in the short term.  What will you be doing each day to keep moving forward?  How will you organise your days?  It’s crucial to have something to aim towards so that you can maintain your motivation.  Staff at the Careers Service are happy to talk through your ideas and help you to plan ahead, and we are open throughout the summer if you would like to come in for a chat.

Get some work experience

A great use of a year out is to find work experience and sample some different jobs and organisational cultures, as this could help you to make much more informed career choices further down the line.  More work experience can also help to mitigate against the effect of a 2:2, as it can flesh out your CV and show that you are completely capable of doing the kind of work you want to do.  The media has done a great job of convincing people that there are no jobs out there, but we know from talking to employers that this isn’t true.  You will, however, need to be persistent to get your foot in the door.  You can start by looking at the vacancies advertised on the Careers Service web site, and there are several national newspapers that have excellent online job databases, such as the Guardian.

You will also need to make speculative approaches in person, by phone & email and in writing to employers that interest you.  To do this effectively, make sure that you have done your research before you make contact.  Read the company’s web site carefully and make sure that you are clear about the kind of person, skills and experience that they are looking for, as well as reading related publications and web sites to fill in the bigger picture of what is going on in the sector that interests you.  There is information on the Careers web site about how to make a good speculative application.

Finally, try to make use of any contacts that you have to find out about any work experience opportunities.  Talk to family and friends about who they know or get back in touch with any previous employers who could be useful to you.  You can also use the Careers Network of Bristol graduates who are all willing to answer questions about their work and career paths and, in some cases, may be able to offer work experience in their organisations.

Other options

Many students also consider volunteering opportunities, if finances permit, getting involved in a range of projects where you can develop and use skills that employers will value in your applications.  These can be local to your community or they could be an opportunity to travel abroad.  If you’ve always wanted to travel then this could be your ideal time to do it, as long as you can provide evidence of learning and development along the way by taking short-term work or getting involved in development projects.  However, don’t forget that applications for graduate schemes open in the autumn in the year prior to you starting work, and sometimes even earlier, so you will need access to a PC to submit yours on time.  You will also need to be available for interviews should your application be successful.  If you don’t get organised for this crucial period then you might be looking at even more unscheduled time out, so it will pay off to have a plan you can stick to.

Follow up and support

However you decide to use an unscheduled year out, do remember that you can continue to use the Careers Service for a further three years if you are a University of Bristol graduate.  We can provide advice, information and guidance in person, by telephone and also by email, so there is no need to panic if you are on the other side of the world and need someone to give you feedback on your CV!  Just remember to keep track of what you are learning from your experiences, and you should be a solid candidate for the jobs you start applying for in a few months’ time.  Good luck!

Dr Tracy Johnson, Careers Adviser