Ask The Headhunter: The Ultimate Test of Any College Degree

BY Paul Solman  May 28, 2013 at 11:11 AM EDT

By Nick Corcodilos

The connection between advanced degrees and jobs isn’t always clear. Photo by flickr user jeco

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979, and has answered more than 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community over the past decade.

In this special Making Sense edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards, or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I am making a career change and I plan to pursue a master’s degree. Any suggestions on how to proceed after I earn it, or tips on selecting the best grad programs?

Nick Corcodilos: Before you invest in any kind of education program, be absolutely sure why you’re doing it. If you think it’s going to help you win a job or change careers, think again. I can’t tell you how many people I know who invested in an advanced degree and found it didn’t serve their career objectives very well.

Advanced degrees are not tickets to jobs, not by a long shot. I’ve had clients turn down candidates with MBAs in favor of candidates with measly liberal arts degrees. Why? Because a good liberal arts grad can think, write, speak well, learn quickly and prepare a plan to get a job done. (See “Making The Liberal Arts Degree Pay Off.”) The question the employer tries to answer is, does the advanced degree mean better performance on the job?

Now, I’ve got nothing against advanced degrees. I have one myself. I believe in learning for its own sake, but I caution you: The connection between advanced degrees and jobs isn’t always clear. A good, basic bachelor’s degree delivers much more mileage than you might think, and the expense of a new “education vehicle” is often unjustified. When I ventured outside the field I was educated in (I have a masters in cognitive psychology), what mattered most was my ability to learn the work — a skill I acquired as a liberal arts undergrad.

In some fields, an advanced degree is the coin of the realm. You must look at the standards in your line of work, and decide what will pay off for your career.

(If you’re an undergraduate reading this, you might wonder what employers expect. Please read Vinh Pham’s excellent article, “Advice to A Young College Student.”)

But here’s the bottom line and the most important advice I can give you. The ultimate buyer of the degree you’re considering is the employer that hires you. The ultimate test of the degree is whether it’s worth something to the business. So, decide what kind of work you want to do. Then, go ask the employer you want to work for what kind of training and education will help you do it better — before you enroll in a program. In other words, is the degree worthwhile to the employer? You might be surprised at what you learn.

I think every college student (and the parents who may be funding the degree) needs to consider these questions.

For discussion, Nick would like to hear from you: If you have an advanced degree, has it paid off for you? How? If you don’t have an advanced degree, have you ever won a job while competing with more highly credentialed job applicants? If you are an employer, just how important are graduate degrees to you when you’re hiring?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2013 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark. This entry is cross-posted on the Rundown — NewsHour’s blog of news and insight. Follow Paul on Twitter.