Market your postgraduate degree to employers outside academia

Does your Masters/PhD give you an advantage?

For graduate level jobs or higher, you can make your postgraduate degree work to your advantage.

However, it’s not just a case of adding the qualification to your CV and assuming that employers will realise the value of your postgraduate degree - you need to market the benefits to an employer.

A 2010 report from the Council for Industry and Higher Education (now the National Centre for Universities and Business), on what businesses think of postgraduates, makes it clear that for employers, 'a postgraduate degree in itself isn’t an indicator of a high calibre candidate or one who has leadership potential'.

This doesn’t mean that employers think that all postgraduates are low calibre candidates, without leadership potential! It’s just that, along with any other candidate, you have to give them evidence of your suitability and potential – simply saying you’re a postgraduate doesn’t convince them.

  • What have you got to offer?
  • What does the employer want?
  • First impressions - meeting employers
  • Applying for jobs

What have you got to offer?

If you are applying for jobs using the knowledge or technical skills from your Masters/PhD, of course these will be relevant to the employer, but other similarly qualified postgraduates will probably offer similar knowledge and skills.

Whether a job needs a postgraduate degree or not, what is likely to set you apart is the ability to demonstrate an increase in personal capability, developed during your postgraduate degree.

Instead of jumping straight to descriptions of modules or projects undertaken, step back and think of how you have changed over the course of your postgraduate experience:

  • What challenges have you overcome? This could be coursework or project work, but also personal challenges.
  • What have you done for the first time?
  • What have you learnt about yourself?
  • What new strengths have you discovered?
  • In what ways has it been tougher than the final year of your undergraduate degree, or your previous job?

These achievements are often the key to the real benefits of postgraduate study or research, whether to you personally or to a potential employer.

Use the to help you think of examples of skills to demonstrate to employers.

Our guide, 'How to reflect - make sense of what you've done' has more information on extracting the raw data of what you've done in your life and turning it into a persuasive argument for employers.

What does the employer want?

Pick out what the employer will value:

  • Highlight keywords in job adverts
  • Don't dismiss terms which sound like HR jargon (innovation, team player, results-driven, great at building relationships). They're often pulled directly from the criteria they will use to select interviewees.
  • Talk to employers at careers or networking events. Ask about their most successful employees: what do they do which makes them stand out?
  • Investigate employers' websites.
    • Any careers section should give you clues but also look at their 'About Us' sections - mission and vision statements tell you where they think they're going and what they'll need from employees to get them there.
    • For private sector organisations, an 'Investor Relations' or similar section can give you clues about their future direction and who they will need as employees.

Once you know what they want, you can present employers with evidence to show you understand what they need, and that you can meet that need even if they don’t specifically say they’re looking for a postgraduate.

For more advice on how to demonstrate you understand what the employer wants see our guide, 'How to write CVs and applications, as a postgraduate'.

First impressions – meeting employers

Employers often meet postgraduates at careers events, whose first words are 'I'm a postgraduate ...' immediately followed by:

  • What jobs do you have for postgrads rather than graduates?
  • Do you have a separate entry scheme for PhDs?
  • Or even: Do you pay higher salaries for postgraduates?

This creates a first impression that postgraduates are only bothered about 'What can you do for me, because I'm special?'

Can you blame employers if some of them are wary of postgraduates?

However, you can change that first impression if you:

  • Ask questions about what the employer is looking for.
  • Show an interest in the employer.
  • Find common ground where you can offer something they value.

Hook them first with your enthusiasm for the work, your interpersonal skills, your relevant knowledge and experience. Then when you tell them that you've also studied or researched at postgraduate level, it should come as a welcome added bonus.

Applying for jobs

Your main emphasis should always be on how you are suitable for a job, particularly your relevant skills and experience. Make it easy for employers to find the evidence of how you meet their requirements and your relevant skills, knowledge and experience.

Depending on how relevant your degree is to the position you are applying for, you can choose where to position it and how much detail to include.

Should you hide your postgraduate qualification to avoid being seen as overqualified?

  • Most employers won't reject you simply because you've got a postgraduate degree, even if they don't actively target postgraduates. Those who advertise for graduates are normally perfectly happy to recruit postgraduates as well.
  • For jobs where postgraduate qualifications are definitely not needed, you can change the format of your CV so your relevant skills are on the first page and your education and postgraduate degree are on page two of your CV. You could also not mention it in a covering letter.
  • If you've been a full-time postgraduate student, it's very difficult to hide your postgraduate degree completely, without leaving gaps in your CV or lying, which is definitely not recommended!
  • It's also worth considering whether you would really want to work for someone who would reject you because you had a postgraduate degree, no matter how attractive the job is.

Our guide, 'How to write CVs and applications as a postgraduate' gives more help on the best format to use, depending on what you are applying for.