Four years ago, when I received my acceptance letter to a graduate program at a prestigious business school, I was elated. The school is known for being highly competitive, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I would get in.
At the time, I believed grad school was my ticket to a better life. I had received my bachelor’s degree in psychology, and I had heard many horror stories about psych grads who were working multiple retail and restaurant jobs just to get by. I was terrified of trying to find a decent job with a BA in psych and five figure student loan debt hanging over my head.
I can’t tell you what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gone to grad school, but I can tell you that grad school isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Here are seven things I wish I’d known before I started grad school.
1. A master’s degree is not always greater than a bachelor’s degree. Entry-level HR jobs often require only an associate’s degree. If I could do things all over again, I probably would complete my associate’s in HR, get a few years of work experience under my belt, and then go back for my bachelor’s. I probably wouldn’t get a master’s again. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVED my grad school classes and I received an excellent education, but my degree was insanely expensive.
2. Experience matters A LOT more than your overpriced degree. Hiring managers aren’t going to ask you what you learned in school. They’re going to ask you about your work experience and how it directly relates to the job you’re applying for.
3. “You’re overeducated and under-experienced” is going to become something you hear all the time from recruiters. If you thought your master’s degree could help make up for your lack of work experience, guess again. In some ways, a master’s degree actually makes it MORE challenging to find a job. When I was trying to find my first full-time HR job, I was often told that I didn’t have enough work experience to qualify for HR Generalist roles. So I started applying to HR Assistant jobs and was told numerous times that I was overqualified. Recruiters don’t want to hire someone who’s overqualified because they know that that candidate will quit the second they find a higher paying job.
4. No one in the real world cares about research or best practices. During school, you’ll learn all about how everything should be done…and once you get out in the workforce you’ll realize that no one does things the right way. Instead, they’ll use old methods that clearly don’t work simply because “it’s always been done that way” or “this is what other companies do.”
5. An MBA is more valued than a master’s in HR. HR folks like to talk about how they want to “become strategic business partners” and “have a seat at the table”, but a master’s program in HR doesn’t do the best job of preparing students for this. MBA programs cover finance, strategic planning, information systems, economics, and all of that other boring stuff you need to know if you want to become a “strategic partner”.
6. The prestige of your school often doesn’t matter. If you have several years of HR experience already and your goal is to become the Senior VP of HR at a Fortune 500 company, then a prestigious degree will (maybe) benefit you. But if you have zero HR experience and you’re just trying to get your foot in the door, taking out another $40,000+ in student loans on a master’s degree might not be worth the expense. Going to a prestigious school can also worsen that “overqualified” problem we talked about earlier. You may benefit more from going to a cheaper school and taking out less money in loans.
7. Your interviewing and networking skills matter a lot more than they should. During my staffing courses in grad school, we frequently discussed the two best predictors of future job performance: intelligence and conscientiousness. Interviews are actually NOT good predictors of performance, yet the majority of companies use interviews as their ONLY selection method. As mentioned in #4, no one in the real world cares about best practices.
What do you wish you had known before you started grad school?
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