The turn of the 21st Century has seen many job requirements take the Masters and PhD scope. This has led many young persons into the fallacy that enriching one’s CV with such papers is a sure guarantee to the dream job. Some knock it, others fail and spend their life ruing their career pursuits. Collins Mwai looks into the issue of Masters versus degree vis a vis the job demands;-
What is the key to the dream career path we all seek to achieve? For some, it is in talent and ability. For others, it is in passion. Still, for the likes of Solange Umwali, a third year university student, academic papers is the key. So they dream and talk master’s degree and doctorate of philosophy (PhD).
Umwali has one resolve now; to enrol for a masters course as soon as she completes her undergraduate degree next year. “I want to be marketable and get ahead of my class and agemates in the job market,” Umwali says.
In recent years, master’s programmes have had an increase in the number of enrolments, with students pursuing them for different reasons. Some want to improve their skills, and others to obtain academic certificates to impress employers.
Whatever their reasons, masters degree has come off as a strong competitor against experience in job qualification. It is such a phenomenal that some individuals will want to pursue it even before exploiting their degree transcripts on the job market. The intellectual investment might have paid off for some, but, for most, it remains just a silhouetted pursuit
“A degree is now regarded as a basic qualification; I will stand a higher chance in the job market if I have a masters at my age. It will only be two more years and it will put me ahead,” Umwali says.
Jean Bosco Rwelinyange, the head of human resource department at Cogebanque, says employers look out for experience and performance and not so much the academic credentials.
“Employers look for experience and performance to justify it; those are the most important things in a resume. At times I have seen people with an undergraduate degree and even less out-perform masters degree holders,” says the human resource manager, who boasts of more than 20 years experience under his belt.
He adds that over time when working in a field, employees gain experience that cannot be simply substituted by a masters degree.
“Experience enables one to fit in an organisation, prepares one for further learning and provides lessons that are not learnt at the university. That is what the interview panel looks for as opposed to lots of academic credentials.”
“When you have been in an organisation and gained some experience you become certain if you would like to remain in the line of work and advance with a Masters degree,” Rwelinyange says.
He advises that fresh graduates should take at least three years before they can enroll for a masters programme.
“The first year is for formalising yourself with the organisation and work, the second year for strengthening yourself in the industry and the third to gain a bit of experience and be sure you want to last in the field,” he says.
Options are there
Other than a Masters degree, Rwelinyange says one can consider other options like a second degree.
“After careful consideration one can opt to take a second degree rather than a Masters to fit in a line of work or to perform better,” he says.
Mount Kenya University Deputy Principal of academics, Francis Mwangi, feels that masters and experience shouldn’t be compared on a scale.
“Both are important for career progress. Nowadays a degree is like a requirement in most industries and after that progress is necessary. Employers look for experience when hiring; so it necessary to have both, ” Mwangi says.
He also says it also greatly depends with the career aspirations of an individual. “For those who would like to end up in academia some day, a Masters degree is mandatory.”
“Prior experience before enrolling for a programme is an advantage since you experience both worlds and will easily balance between theory and practice. Most programmes don’t require a student to have experience, which makes it easy for anyone to enrol. However, some such as Executive MBA require experience at a managerial position. ”
Patrick Nsenga, an employer at an ICT solution providing firm, says Masters degrees are nowadays overrated and most people acquire them only to get promotions.
“As an employer, I see lots of job seekers with the impression that a Masters degree guarantees them a job when placed against an undergraduate degree holder which is not the case,” he says.
“ A 25-year-old holder of a Masters degree has no much difference with one who holds a degree only. You can tell from their performance and the way they handle different situations.”
Nsenga says as an employer he is more impressed with job seekers who have at least some experience, even if they got it through volunteering or running a family business.
“Presented with two job seekers; one with a degree and a failed business start-up experience and another with a masters and no experience, most employers would go for the degree holder. It is by executing what you studied that you become indispensable in a field.”
Professor Timothy X Brown, a visiting professor at Carnegie Mellon University, Rwanda, advises that before enrolling for a Masters programme, there are factors that one should consider.
“‘Are you ready for it’ and ‘will it add value’ are two questions that students should answer when enrolling for the programme, Prof. Brown says.
“At times you are ready for it but it does not add value since you will still get a low entry position at an organisation. For technical courses you may not be ready for it and going into a field for practice is the only way to get you prepared for the masters.”
The professor with more than 25 years experience, says the reasons learners should enrol for masters programmes should be to advance their skills to enable them handle more complex tasks.
“A masters degree is where you advance the basic skills you learnt in your undergraduate studies and take them to a more advanced level to perform more complex tasks,” he says.
When selecting an institution to take their masters in, most students look for the most convenient institution. But Prof. Brown discourages this mentality.
“You need to reach for the most challenging campus you can get accepted to. That will make you learn and grow more. You get out what you put in, if you do a masters degree which is in essence just a few more courses beyond your undergraduate degree, you will just have a glorified undergraduate degree. You should feel that a masters degree is not quantitatively different (a few more years in school) but qualitatively different,” the professor says.
Nicholas Kizza, a photo and video editor. ‘Experience is the way to go simply because someone with experience have vast knowledge about the job and will always have an alternative incase of a technical problem. He also doesn’t need training, hence saving the company costs.’
Geoffrey Tumushiime, a technician. ‘Someone with masters has a conceptual and academic mind to analyse issues. One with experience will have the expertise to actualise jobs using their experience and learning from mistakes. So in an academic setting, a masters can do and in technical issues, I need experienced people with at least a degree.’
Emmanuel Mbonabucya, a corporate. ‘Experience matters more than masters. I have seen people with no or little academic qualifications perform better than those with PhDs. I, for one, would not recruit someone with masters who can’t deliver but one who can do wonders.’
Agatha Mbabazi, a graduate. ‘It’s unfortunate that there is no school for experience. I wish to be given opportunity to work so that I can gain that experience everyone is looking for.’
Lydia Mahoro, an accountant. ‘Experience is crucial when considering someone to employ. What is the importance of recruiting someone with masters but has no practical knowledge of their job? If experience was not important then it wouldn’t be among the job requirements.’