Credibility Without The MBA


Dear Laurie:

Do Human Resources professionals have any credibility or job opportunities without graduate degrees? I recently graduated from a state college with a strong HR program, but I only have an undergraduate degree. Should I think about getting a graduate degree right away? Will I be able to find a job in HR without a graduate degree?

What are your thoughts?

Recent Graduate

Dear Recent Graduate:

Congratulations on making it through a very impressive and rigorous program. Like most recent graduates without a firm job offer, your expectations for a new job are probably all over the map. You don’t want to take a job that is beneath you, but you realize that student loans start coming due approximately six months after graduation.

  • If you are looking for an entry-level HR job, you should have no problem finding a position in a major market like Chicago or New York City. Start by identifying the companies and industries that interest you, check the job boards, and leverage your network at the university.
  • Most entry-level HR jobs are administrative in nature, even for those job seekers who have an undergraduate degree. I recommend that you meet with peers who have been through internships at major companies. There may be a company out there that will hire you as a Generalist or Recruiter without any corporate experience, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.

Let’s get to the meat of your question about credibility. Let’s face it: Human Resources professionals are often knocked down a rung on the corporate ladder when they have no further education beyond an undergraduate degree. You will be working with people in other departments who are accredited, degreed (several times over), certified, and recognized as experts within their fields. Also, they all think that they can do your job as an HR professional! A graduate degree demonstrates — to some extent — your advanced knowledge of business and Human Resources.

Returning to school for a graduate degree or the much-lauded MBA is an investment, so many HR professionals often join the workforce to gain ‘real world experience’ and then use a company’s educational reimbursement program as a way to pay for the advanced degree. I might recommend that you work, gain your certification as a PHR or SPHR through SHRM, and then go back to school for your graduate degree.

I feel that you need the experience of working in a corporation — not just interning — to gain firsthand knowledge of how the real world (as my parents would say) works. Also, you cannot advise your client groups on talent development, coaching, leadership, and the finer points of management if you haven’t been able to apply your knowledge.

Find a job. Go to school. Have someone else pay for it. That’s what I say.

Good Luck!

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