The benefits and limitations of furthering your education

TAKING a masters in finance or management can be tempting for many graduates, especially given the need for a competitive edge in today’s tough City jobs market. The data lends some support to this view. At Imperial College Business School, a respective 87 and 88 per cent of 2011 masters in finance and management graduates were employed within three months of completing the course. Typical starting salaries can also be attractive.

But a masters degree comes at a price – typically between £15,000 and £30,000 for one year of study. Given this considerable investment of time and money, it’s important to consider the advantages – and the opinions of employers – before taking such a significant step.

Susan Roth, director of specialist masters programmes at Cass Business School, says that the purpose of a masters is to prepare students for their chosen industry, allowing them to “hit the ground running.” But they’re not training courses for a specific job. According to professor Andrew Clare, associate dean for Cass’s masters programmes, “the courses equip students with the broad skills and principles they should be able to apply in many situations in their chosen careers.”

Masters aim to give students a grasp of the principles and practical application of financial and managerial knowledge. They might teach you about corporate finance and valuation, or the finer details of Islamic finance, for example. But business schools are clear that this can be only a background to your later success. A masters is just one potential component to a lucrative career in the City.

From the perspective of employers, opinions are mixed. Rob Fryer, graduate recruitment manager at Deloitte, says that, while “having comprehensive work experience or a masters can help differentiate a candidate, Deloitte does not attach more importance to one over the other.” Once on the job, a masters may help you climb the ladder faster. But this will only be true, says Fryer, “if the knowledge you have acquired is applied correctly to support job performance.”

PwC similarly does not look specifically for masters students when recruiting. The training PwC provides itself makes it unnecessary. Richard Irwin, head of student recruitment at the firm, says that “our business wants talented, entrepreneurial, commercially savvy people. You gain skills and experiences like this in all sorts of ways, not just through academic study.”

But Iosif Tsaparas, a new associate at Deloitte who graduated from a masters degree last year, explains that his masters course had wider benefits. There were “networking opportunities,” he says, alongside intensive interview preparation and easy access to recruitment events. Although Deloitte or PwC may not favour masters graduates, for Tsaparas, the ability to effectively sound out the market before he applied was a boon.

Banks, too are looking for well-rounded individuals who are smart, hard-working, and dedicated. According to Terence Perrin, head of UK recruitment at BNP Paribas, this can be shown not only by academia and work experience, but also by “participating in societies, having work published, or taking an internship.” Taking a masters degree could make achieving these requirements a lot easier.

Despite the benefits, the decision whether or not to enter further education should never be obvious. An applicant applying for a technical quantitative role may well benefit from a masters in finance, while an applicant for a role more dependent on relationships – like sales – will probably not. And how you spend your time during your degree course will affect your situation as much as the resulting academic letters after your name. There is no shortcut to achieving what employers are asking for.