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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Is More Education Better?

I finished my BA back in October 2006 and received it in Human Resources Management. I haven’t worked since but am contemplating it now. I know that while I have the degree I lack real world experience and as such have been looking for an entry level HR job with moderate success. My question though goes to education.

My friends and family have encouraged me to begin looking at getting my Masters degree. I am not opposed to the idea but I’m unsure as what to get it in. Human Resources is the field I want to work in. Eventually I would like to focus on Benefits or perhaps become a Generalist but I would like to make Human Resources my career. Should I attempt to get my MA in Human Resources even though I have my BA in it already or should I look to something outside my field? I’m getting conflicting opinions from those around me. Some people are telling me to stay in the field I love while others are telling me to get a degree in something else (MBA?) to show that I’m well rounded. What are your thoughts?

Okey-dokey, here's the first question. If you graduated in October, 2006, why haven't you worked since? You may well have good reasons--you've been staying home with the kids or you're recovering from cancer are both good reasons. Bad reasons are I hate to get up in the morning, my parents let me live with them for free and I've been too busy building my tattoo and piercing collection to get a job.

I don't know where you are. Let's assume that you have a good reason and your desire to get a job now isn't just because your mother says she's kicking you out in three months and she doesn't care if you have somewhere to go or not.

Should you go back to school now and get a master's degree? While a fresh degree can be helpful in getting a job, I think it's better to gain experience. You say you want to work in Benefits or be a Generalist. How do you know if you haven't tried it? You may find out that benefits can be extremely complicated, plus everyone hates you because while you're trying to do the best you can with your limited budget, the employees see their rates rising and their coverage dropping and you are blamed for it.

Not that this is a bad thing. I work with some fine benefits people. (I've also worked with some extra incompetent benefits people, but those people would probably say they've worked with some extra incompetent Evil HR Ladies. Let's just say we didn't see eye to eye and move on, shall we?) But, since you haven't worked in benefits, you don't really know if you would be a fine benefits person or an incompetent one.

So, what does this have to do with school? You want to set out to "master" an area where you are a very beginner. I don't generally think it's a good idea to do this. And I speak as someone who went straight from undergrad into graduate school, with only a summer in between where I sold truck bumpers (true! Just ask me about bumpers.) There were 12 people who entered the political science Ph.D. program with me that fall. Do you know how many of those completed their Ph.D? Two. And it wasn't because 10 of us were dummies. It was that 9 of the 10 of us had come straight into the program with our bachelor's degrees thinking this is what we wanted in life. We were wrong. The two that finished had a little bit of life experience and had decided that this is what they wanted. And they got it.

My point (and I do have one), is that while a master's degree is good, experience can help you decide what you really want to do with your life. You may get a job and find out that you really love something other than what you thought you did. I found out that I love HR, but I didn't even consider that as an undergraduate because the only HR person I'd ever come in contact with was the girl who did the hiring at Kmart. (See, I've had varied experience--truck bumpers, blue light specials. What more could you ask for?)

So, how to get a job when you graduated 1.5 years ago and haven't worked since? Well, here are Evil HR Lady's suggestions for getting back into the workforce, tweaked especially for you.

1. Do you know how to type, use Excel, Power Point and Word? If not, learn them RIGHT NOW. You will need these skills no matter what you do. Learn them and then apply at every temporary agency in your town. If you really want to check out HR, ask that you work in an HR department.

2. Do a little web surfing and find out if you have any HR call centers in your area. (I don't know where you live, so this may or my not be a viable option.) If you do, go there and apply. These are generally inbound call centers that are filled with entry level people (like you) who take calls and answer questions regarding benefits and policies for other companies, all based on a script. You don't have to know a lot to begin with, but you'll learn a ton.

3. Network, network, network. You never know what is available right under your nose until you start sniffing a little bit.

4. Don't be afraid to take the administrative assistant position in an HR department. You have a degree, but you lack experience and you've waited a long time since that degree was granted, to try and find a job. Don't whine about filing and power point presentations, that's what being at the bottom of the ladder is all about. Just learn, learn, learn.

5. After you've held a job for at least two years, then decide if you want to go back to graduate school. You'll get into a better school with some experience, and you'll be less likely to be wasting your time and money.

Of course you'll decide that HR is the best possible area to be in. It's filled with exciting days and lots of free trips to the Caribbean. (Just to go down, fire a bunch of people in the morning and take a flight home that evening, but at least you drove past a beach, right?)


Anonymous said...

From an HR person who previously hired several entry level HR people (as assistants), my best advice for this person is to find something. Quick. I would also urge her to be upfront in the cover letter about why she hasn't worked since graduation because that gap, in itself, will turn off many potential employers. Without an explanation, it looks like she had no drive, no ambition, or no real reason for a job.

Anonymous said...

Personally I did the experience route first and wish I hadn’t. It is hard to go back to school after being out for awhile. It is easy to get trapped and keep putting it off. When you finally do decide to go back, it can be hard to juggle to work/school thing. Not everyone can handle a FT/PT, PT/FT or even PT/PT work/school dance. And as life circumstances change, trading work for school isn’t always an option. As for the choice in a degree, I am biased towards the MBA. HR people are notoriously bad for not getting the business side of things, so having a Masters in business is going to give you a leg up. It will also help you get an operations job if you decide HR isn’t your thing.

Lacy Noethlich said...

I appreciate your feedback Evil HR lady, thank you. I know you didn't have a lot of information to go on but I just wanted to fill in the gaps for people who were curious.
I haven't worked since getting my degree because financially I didn't need to. My mother passed away, my debts were paid off and my husband was able to support our family. So I stayed home with kids. I hate telling people that I stayed home with children while job hunting though, I think it gives them a bias whether they want it or not.
As for why HR. We'll I'm 28 and have been in the working world since I was 16. Both my parents were in HR and I learned a lot at their knees. I also have worked in an HR department before, as a file clerk, specifically for benefits. So I'm not ignorant of what is required to be a good benefits person, I already can explain a 401K or medical policy like no bodies business.
But I realize that my initial email did not give you that information so you really could have been talking to a 22 yr old whose parents are kicking her out ASAP and she needs a job.

The Engineer said...

I started my Masters degree and then got a job with a few classes left to complete. Going back to school to get additional education is hard, inconvenient, and difficult. (did I mention that it was challenging?)

Despite that, I am glad I did. My understanding was much greater with several years of work experience. I was also much more sure that this was the field for me. It also separated me from the faculty long enough to realize that they have goals very different from the students (i.e. they really don't care if you graduate, as long as they get to publish) and some don't really understand how to relate theory to reality.

That said, my graduate courses are far and above those which have assisted me the most in day to day work. Engineering requires so much 'foundation' coursework that it leaves little time for the undergraduate student to synthesize the concepts into actual application. The upper division classes provided more opportunity for this.

I am also a big believer in internships during the undergraduate program. Experience enhances understanding.

The Engineer said...

I should add that I don't believe that there is such a thing as too much education. As long as you realize that not all education is going to enhance your earning potential. (cue joke about humanities students.)

Jackie Cameron said...

I worked with HRM Masters Students in a mentoring role on their learning records and plans which is required for professional membership here in the UK. Some had previous work experience - others came straight from undergrad courses. I myself studied part time for a Diploma in HRM. Why am I telling you this? I guess because it really works for some people and is a waste of time for others! I learned loads from my studies which I still find myself calling on today. I started studying when I was 36 - I was not ready to do so before that. My 23 year old daughter has just gone into HRM ( no influence from me - honest) and is getting first hand experience of the day to day stuff. If she needs to study to get up the ladder where she is now she might do but it's not what she plans.
Some HRM jobs here in the UK ask for a professional qualification at entry level so if you want to work for organisations like that you will have to study. Others don't - there is always a choice ( unless things in the US are quite different from here)
Best wishes with whatever you choose to do.

Anonymous said...

"I haven't worked since getting my degree because financially I didn't need to." Wow. Just, wow. Some advice to Lacy: those words should never cross your lips again. You'll need to find a good way to spin this...have you done any volunteering since you've been raising children? Are they school-aged and are you active in their PTA? There must be something you've done with your time in the last two years. Find a way to spin that into some sort of involvement because "I didn't work because I didn't need to" is going to have any responsible recruiter showing you out of their office. Something to also think of...benefits have changed a lot in the past five years, so you might want to look into joining SHRM (a waste of money, but decent resource) to see what you've missed.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the comment that you should not tell a recruter that you did not work because financially you did not need to. However, after my husband's company transferred us to a different city, I chose not to work and stay home with my kids. After about a year of that, I decided to return to the working world. I found that telling prospective employers that I stayed home with my children was not an issue for the employers or the recruiters.

In fact, it has helped me to find a company where my being a working mom is no big deal, and me needing to quickly leave due to a call about a sick child is met with an "Ok, hope he gets better soon."

While I, too, chose not to work because financially I did not need to, I chose to return to work because what I make outweighs the cost of my not working, and I was very open about that with recruiters and prospective employers. Desiring to financially improve is always something understood by a businessperson. And they could all appreciate why I was returning to the working world.

Anonymous said...

Education is a good thing to have behind you, but like everything it have its pros and cons. Take myself for instance, I have a Masters (MBA) I cannot find a descent paying job. I have been looking since I was laid off in May 07. I get frustrated because I personally believed that degrees is not worth what it is chopped up to be if you are not working in the field with that employer. My background is in HR. I have over 7 yrs in HR but my Masters is over looked. Therefore, I had to borrow money in order to take classes to obtain a PHR/SPHR to be more marketable. That is telling me, even though I have a Masters and experience in HR my degree without the certification does not worth anything. Employers does not care any longer. It is all about profit. The reason I say this is because I went on an interview for a payroll position, which I also have experience. I was grilled for this position with over 30 questions. When it was my turn for questions, one of the questions I asked was why did the other person leave the position? Their answer was because of poor performance. Then my question to them was, if you gave that person the same amount of questions and an exam, how could you not tell that this person was not going to perform a good job? By this time I knew I did not have the position. I could tell from the time I enter the door and the hand shake I was given. By this time, I felt I can be honest about my questions and play any games. I can always tell by their hand shake. Anyway Lacy, do the education for yourself, this way you would not be disappointed if you cannot find a position your field or for the degree you earned.

Description said...

I totally agree with you.

Also Sitting idle will neither enhance nor do any kind of value addition.

Person should always start working once he/ she completes MBA . An ideal start is always in the related field but if anyhow conditions are not suitable or a person could not find the job in the his/her respective field then person should look at other domains whe he/she can learn the business aspect and how industry reacts to change.

Also visit my blogs


Lacy said...

I'm not sure where people got that I hadn't worked for 5 years but unless this is 2011, that is not the case. I quit my last job, the file clerk position in 2006. May. I finished my last courses for my BA in October of that same year. That would mean I've been out of the work force for less than 2 years. And, for the record, I keep myself up to date with current HR trends and laws through websites such as this as well as trade publications both online and in print.
And while I'll happily tell you people that I have children and didn't need to work financially I would never dream of telling my interviewer either of those items. Also, while I have been active on my daughters PTO board I wont tell them that either because I dont want them to have an unneeded bias regarding children. Or my motivation for working.
Just so you all know, I have interviewed for and accepted a position with a large company. When they asked about why I wasn't working for so long I told them I had taken a personal sabatical after working for so many years and also needed to tie up some loose ends from my mothers death, both of which were also true.
I thank you all for your comments, there are certainly lots of bits of information here that gives me some food for thought. I would like to also add, again, my initial question was about should I get my masters in HR or should I get it in another field, not how I should go about finding a job, my current work status or anything else.

Wally Bock said...

There's a reason to go job hunting now that I don't think anyone has mentioned. If I read your question and posts correctly you have a BA and NO experience. One reason to go get a little is to see if the reality of HR lives up to the promise. Some things that look interesting and challenging from the school side can seem very different when you get into the day to day work. If you work in HR and then decide it's the right place for you to pursue a career, great. Go back and get that degree. It won't be easy, as many have said, but you'll get more out of it with some experience. Also you may find that HR is the right thing, but that the Master's isn't what you need to get. Certifications might be more helpful. Or, of course, you could find that HR isn't what you thought it was an move on to trying something else.

CJ said...

Temp assignments will not only bridge the job gap, but offer a wealth of experiences in different environments, often leading to permanent assignments. It's a great way to re-enter the work world.

Jodith said...

I can attest to the fact that being an administrative assistant can bring some extremely valuable experience. I worked for two years as the AA for the head of HR at a local university. I learned a huge amount about HR during that time. To the point that in my current job as and Executive Assistant for a small non-profit, I am also acting as their benefit administrator (you wear many hats in small non-profits *laughs*). At this point, I know more about HR than most of the management at the agency.

So, if you're new to the field, I would encourage you to look at an admin position just to get a leg up and some valuable knowledge. Although, I don't think I'd tell the interviewer that you are looking for a career in HR. Two others that I interviewed with were turned down because of that. My boss wanted a career admin, not someone who would work a year or so and then be looking for promotion.

Anonymous said...

Lacy don't listen to them. 1 thing you will learn fast is that in the workplace the uneducated will always be envious of those of us with advanced degrees. You can tell who they are as they always harp about how great experience is and how they could have got an advanced degree too (ie. this blogger claiming she could have got a Phd). You can work for the next 40 years of your life, but once you take a break from college it's hard to get back. Get you Masters!