What You Need to Know Before Hiring a Candidate With a Master’s Degree

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Jul 27, 2018

Students from the undergraduate class of 2018 are now either transitioning into the workforce or are on their way to grad school to continue their education in hopes of better job prospects, more money, or simply a delay in the realities of the “real world.”

In our Class of 2018 Job Outlook Report, we explored the professional aspirations and expectations of the class of 2018 — including industry, role, salary expectations, and grad school ambitions. We also evaluated the realities of entry-level hiring from the perspective of recruiters. The data offers insight for those looking to hire candidates who have earned master’s degrees.

Filling Entry-Level Roles Is Becoming More Challenging

Young people today are the most educated generation in U.S. history, but is college equipping students with the skills they need to succeed in the real world?

Compared to three years ago, 79 percent of recruiters agree it is more challenging to fill entry-level roles now. The reason may be that entry-level applicants aren’t qualified and lack essential soft skills.

Most students surveyed from the class of 2018 feel their interpersonal skills are top-notch, with 87 percent confident they have what it takes to ace a job interview and get the job they want. But almost all recruiters surveyed (94 percent) said they receive entry-level job applicants who are not qualified for a position. On average, 34 percent of all entry-level applicants are not qualified. Additionally, a recent study by WorkplaceTrends found that nearly half of HR leaders said colleges aren’t preparing students for the working world, and more than a third agree colleges are the most responsible for getting an employee work ready.

Recruiters Are Seeing More Candidates With Master’s Degrees  

While 18 percent of employers reporting that they lowered education or skill requirements for certain positions to overcome the increased challenge of hiring, recruiters and hiring managers might consider looking for candidates with master’s degrees who may have a higher level of ability.

According to our report, 54 percent of companies have seen an increase in the number of applicants with a master’s degree for entry-level positions compared to three years ago.

Despite the extra expense of going to grad school, many students are considering it to enhance their job prospects and income potential. Among the college seniors who are considering going to grad school, the most popular reason was to pursue a career that requires a graduate degree, followed by earning more money and enhancing their ability to get a job.

The increase in applicants with a master’s degree may be because more students are viewing it as a backup plan if they don’t find a job or salary that meets their expectations. Fifteen percent of college seniors who are planning on pursuing a master’s degree admitted doing so to give them more time to determine what they want to do. For college seniors who can’t lock down the job that matches their personal passions, many would look to grad school as a backup plan. In fact, among college seniors who are not immediately planning to attend grad school following graduation, they would consider going back for an advanced degree after an average of nine months of job hunting. But 52 percent say they would not consider the possibility, even if they were unable to find suitable employment several months after graduation.

College Seniors Expect to Earn More Money With a Master’s Degree

If you have open positions and require that the candidates have a master’s degree, be ready to offer them more money, as this was one of the top reasons they went to grad school. On average, candidates expect to earn 50 percent more with their master’s degree. Almost all recruiters (95 percent) say they expect their company will pay candidates who have a master’s degree more than those who do not have a master’s degree for the same position. However, only 25 percent of employers expect to match postgrad expectations and pay at least 50 percent more, and more than half of recruiters expect to only pay up to 24 percent more.

According to a study by Georgetown University, college graduates with a bachelor’s degree earn an average annual salary of $61,000 over the course of their career, while those with a master’s degree earn $78,000 annually; however, this likely differs depending on the student’s major and industry.

The Top Majors and Occupations That Hires Earned Master’s Degrees

A majority (72 percent) of recruiters believe applicants with a master’s degree would likely be overqualified for an average entry-level position. If you are looking to hire a candidate who has earned a master’s degree, certain majors and occupations may have a larger pool of qualified candidates. We looked in our database — which analyzes more than 61 million applications and 3 million job postings a year — at the percent of recent hires who earned a master’s degree, and identified the top five majors that go on to grad school: HR, healthcare administration and technology, education, software engineering, and public health and health policy.

We also looked at the top five occupations where 20 percent or more of the applicants earned a master’s degree. These included the following professions:

  • Computer and mathematical — 24 percent
  • Education, training and library — 23 percent
  • Architecture and engineering — 21 percent
  • Community and social service — 21 percent
  • Management — 20 percent

What’s More Important in Entry-Level Job Applicants Than Their Degree

Even if an applicant has a less relevant degree, 79 percent of recruiters say that a student with a profound passion and interest in the job is much more likely to secure the position than someone with a more relevant degree who doesn’t have that same interest (21 percent).

However, beyond a candidate’s college major, recruiters look for past work experience and strong communication skills in entry-level applicants. Additionally, recruiters rank referrals, references, and extracurricular activities as important factors to consider. Interestingly, GPA and the university’s prestige rank low on this list, suggesting work-related skills and abilities are more important than other accomplishments on a resume.

Confronting the Skills Gap

The responses from our’ survey revealed that even in a tight labor market with unemployment rates at a historic low, students see value in completing a master’s degree. The experience and skills recruiters are looking for in candidates are constantly evolving; continued education and certification programs could help meet these evolving needs and ensure students are set up for success in the working world. With that in mind, recruiters and hiring managers could be increasingly looking for master’s-degree holders, or candidates who completed other forms of training and education to bridge the skill gap and overcome the talent shortage.


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