Some subjects like law, teaching and engineering have a clear and well-publicised postgraduate path to professional qualification. In other areas, the benefits of postgrad study might not be so obvious to those employers unfamiliar with the higher level of skill, discipline and specialist knowledge needed.
In reality, all masters courses require essential skills and traits that are important in the workplace. The knack is making sure that recruiters recognise what you've got to offer that gives you an edge over graduates, and how committing to further study has helped you to become an even stronger applicant.
Top five tips
1. Reconnaissance is never wasted
Find out more about the employer offering the role you're interested in. As a postgrad, you've some extremely marketable skills – but context is key.
Take creativity and enterprise for instance. Both are highly valued, but you need to present them to employers in a way that helps them to see what you would bring to the workplace. Identify examples of times when you've used these skills that suggest how you might apply these in a professional environment. Have you come up with the way of making the most of an opportunity or found a creative or enterprising solution to a problem? A little research into the culture of the company and the industry will help you to frame your skills in a way that clearly demonstrates how they will be beneficial to the employer.
2. Technical knowledge and skills
When a vacancy is advertised with a set of technical skills that you’ve studied for, emphasise the commitment you have made to expanding your skills and knowledge. Not only are you at an advanced level, but you are also right up to date with the latest thinking – two bonuses to sell to potential employers. Go you!
3. Highlight practical experience
Some employers will value experience over advanced qualifications. Show you have got both. Don’t be shy about highlighting your responsibilities during work experience, placements or jobs that you’ve had while studying. These all help to illustrate your practical application and ‘real world’ understanding plus that advanced knowledge when compared to a new graduate.
4. Show that you can hit the ground running
During your masters you have acquired a whole set of skills, soft or otherwise, that will help you to quickly adapt to and make a positive contribution in a workplace. Making this clear will show recruiters that, at the same time as having more in-depth knowledge, you’ve also developed skills that match or go beyond those of your counterpart with a year’s experience of full-time work and no postgraduate degree. It's a reassuring thought for an employer that you’ll be able to jump straight on to the learning curve without being spoon fed, so highlight these strengths where you can. They might include:
- Flexibility – you can adapt your working methods and the role you take to the task in hand, whether that’s working independently or as part of a group.
- Time management – you’ve the responsibility and flexibility required to produce results against deadlines without being continually chased.
- Critical thinking and problem solving – you have developed the clear expression of ideas, intellectual curiosity and personal responsibility that comes with critical thinking, problem solving and analysis.
- Research and writing – when buried under work it’s easy to forget how much good writing and research you've actually done. Being able to research, analyse, condense and report can be advantageous in a variety of contexts.
In many cases postgraduate job either is, or is likely to lead to, a senior role within a company. Particularly if this is the case (but you should mention them anyway), showcasing project management experience and presentation skills you have gained through your masters and any extracurricular activities will appeal to recruiters. Our article on proving you're more than an entry-level hire gives tips on developing and demonstrating your leadership and management ability.
5. Commitment and enterprise
When asked ‘Why did you do a masters?’ it's unwise to say it was because you didn’t want to get a job or were living next to the world’s best kebab shop [there's a time and place for full disclosure].
Show the commitment and motivation behind choosing to learn, develop further, and embrace new challenges. If you chose a different subject or went to a new university, make a virtue of that willingness to explore a new environment.