The paper chase

Recruitment agencies say higher qualifications do help to some extent. For example, candidates with a master's degree can differentiate themselves from job seekers with only an undergraduate degree, as it shows a high level of competency. For candidates who want to upgrade from a diploma to degree, it is certainly a plus point for higher-level jobs where the entry qualification is a bachelor's degree.

But recruitment experts also agree that hiring managers may not view paper qualifications as the most important prerequisite, especially when the pursuit of a higher degree is gaining in popularity.

Soft skills such as leadership abilities, emotional intelligence and work experience may be even more important. Candidates with transferable skills such as writing, arithmetic and presentation skills are valued by employers.

Facing up to reality

Even with higher qualifications, employees will not see immediate returns - salary increases and promotions will only follow after they are able to demonstrate better performance from their newly acquired knowledge.

According to Mr Josh Goh, assistant director for corporate services at The GMP Group, it is vital to think about your career goals and aspirations before embarking on the paper chase. He says: "It's pointless to accumulate paper qualifications if you are unsure about your career goals."

Mr Goh warns that it is a misconception that higher paper qualifications are a "guaranteed ticket" to a more senior position or higher paying job.

"Employers consider the repute of the qualifications of job seekers, and also their work experiences and past achievements.

This will directly affect the marketability of the candidates," he says.

What's your value?

The supply and demand for particular graduates in the labour market will also affect the market value of a degree, whether it is technical or academic.

Kelly Services Singapore's vice-president and country general manager Mark Hall says: "While having a higher education is likely to give a candidate a leg up on the corporate ladder, different sectors have specific criteria when it comes to hiring. For some positions, companies may want a developed skill set and on-the-job experience, while others may be looking for graduates with the right attributes to be trained on the job."

When it comes to applying for a new job, Mr Goh adds that the performance of a candidate during his job interview is also a "decisive factor". He notes that "some employers also place a premium on intrinsic traits such as positive attitude and passion".

Mr Hall concurs, given that some companies conduct tests to check a candidate's ability and aptitude during the interview process, and this can affect their evaluation of a candidate.

But of course, further education has its advantages. Over at Robert Walters Singapore, its human resources division manager Gwen Lim says that a post-graduate degree can help increase your profile in the academic and vocational areas.

Mr Goh says that a Master in Business Administration, for example, might be insightful for a technically trained engineer or IT professional, and give a more balanced perspective on how things work in an organisation.

He adds: "This could also be useful for candidates who want to pursue a more senior and strategic role. For some strategic positions at the senior management, employers do sometimes specify that a post-graduate qualification is essential."

For those upgrading to a degree, Mr Hall says: "Employees who pursue their education further also prove that they are ambitious and committed to their career path and this will broaden their opportunities available in the job market."

Mr Goh adds that some employers tend to view these graduates in a favourable light, because they possess both diploma qualifications and real hands-on work experience.

Beyond academic qualifications

Nevertheless, Mr Hall says that diploma holders remain in demand, as they possess the hands-on skills and work-place experience from internships done during their course.

As Ms Lim notes: "Career progression or the rise to a management position requires more than just academic qualifications.

Candidates need to display leadership abilities, excellent communication skills and quality work experience."

Ultimately, a post-graduate degree is merely a means to an end, and not the end in itself, says Mr Goh.

Taking up the paper chase based on the perceived glamour factor or compensation packages of jobs in a particular industry will only be counter-productive, as passion is needed to do well in a job. Passion should also be the guide when selecting a field of further study, he adds.

And if you are thinking of taking up a second degree, it is important to ask: does the additional qualification have any relevance or add value to your current and future jobs, or both? Most importantly, does it address your competency gaps?

His advice to employees: "Plan your education and career path by first understanding your personality traits, passion and the qualifications that you will require to reach that career goal."

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