The dilemma, post-graduate vs graduate jobs

27 June 2017 | Careers Advice | Thomas Peacock

Deciding what to do after you have handed in your final assignment is never easy. Choosing between one or another graduate scheme, comparing the pros and cons, is difficult at the best of times. However, this can be more challenging when having to also choose between graduate schemes and further education.

I was fortunate to be offered a position on a prestigious graduate scheme at the end of my degree. This came with a number of benefits, one being the opportunity to complete a master's degree part-time. However, I was also offered a place on a fully funded Ph.D programme. With both options leading to contrasting career paths, these were the steps I took to help me decide what was best for me.

What are the short and long term benefits?

Completing a graduate scheme at the beginning of your career comes with some advantages. Beyond simply benefiting from a competitive salary, you begin to develop the required skills, by rotating through different roles and networking, needed to increase your competency in a field of work. Graduate schemes that offer placement rotations are highly desirable because they provide a realistic look at one or another career path. Because they also facilitate involvement in different projects, they contribute positively to building your career capital.

Networking with colleagues and senior managers is an important aspect of gaining the most from placements. Take the opportunity to talk with senior managers who are positioned to give guidance and advice regarding career development opportunities and, just as important, what not to do. As the job market becomes increasingly competitive, it is essential that you capitalise on opportunities such as these to develop your career.

Although it might not be your first choice, studying for a masters’ maybe necessary, particularly if getting onto a graduate scheme proves to be difficult because of some combination of your degree subject, classification and university reputation. Notwithstanding this, pursuing a postgraduate education can lead to an equally satisfying career in academia or, it can make you more attractive to potential employers. When possible, it is a good idea to read for a masters at a university with a better standing than where you did your degree.

Enrolment onto a Ph.D. programme can be as challenging as getting onto a graduate scheme. Through a doctorate you will have opportunities to share your expertise at national and international conferences and research meetings. Becoming recognised as an expert will add to your career capital, period. In broad terms, after a Ph.D. your options are to continue onto a post-doctorate position or progress into corporate life where you may or may not directly use your expertise. A point that is often overlooked is that there is far more to gaining a Ph.D than just acquiring knowledge - the research and problem solving skills that you develop are highly sought after.

What are the drawbacks?

Finance is inevitably a consideration when choosing between post-graduate and a graduate scheme. When you have been living on a student budget for three to four years it can be tempting to go for the option that immediately pays the most. However, depending on your career path over the preceding years, the payoff may surprise you; a 2013 study conducted by the research provider Vitae, showed that those who completed a PhD had a 72% higher earning potential than those who only had an undergraduate degree.

Let’s face it, on graduation the vast majority of graduates chase a graduate scheme from one of the major players, such as Barclays Bank, Google, P&G, Exxon/Mobil, the BBC. Doing so is extremely competitive and if successful it can offer a false belief of ‘making it because you have one foot in the door’. If unsuccessful graduates will, in their view, step down to the next set of sought after schemes, repeating this process either until they are successful or they make a default decision to become a postgrad. Whatever the case, it is important that you remain proactive about developing your career.

Finally, as a graduate it is important to consider all your options. Endeavour to make the decision that is right for you. Whatever your chosen path, it is important to be always proactive with your career development.

Craig Poku

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