Undecided whether to do a master’s degree? Here’s my experience

You’re approaching your final year of university. It won’t be long until you’re due to enter the “real world” of full-time work. You have no idea what you’re going to do upon graduation. All your friends have plans – one wants to go into law, another is going to become a teacher and another ~ somehow ~ landed a graduate position at a corporate company amongst thousands of other candidates – but you don’t. You have an inkling about what you want to do, though; “I kind of like the sound of HR”, “I think I want to go into speech and language therapy”, “I could go into events”, but what should you do in order to get there? Do you complete a year of unpaid work experience? Do you spend hours, days or even weeks on end sending out job applications, only to receive declinations from most? Do you study for a master’s degree related to the industry you’re interested in? This battle when approaching the end of your degree is one of the hardest to overcome; I know because I’ve been there. I’ve already written a blog about how I changed my career prospects after completing a PR & Marketing Internship for a luxury brand in the summer of 2017, but this blog is for those who are considering postgraduate study upon completion of their bachelor’s. In response to interview-style questions as asked by me (lol), here’s my master’s degree experience.

What did you study your master’s degree in?

I studied my master’s degree in Global Marketing Management. I chose this course because, upon completing said internship, I began to develop a passion for marketing. Of course, I researched the course’s content before I came to the conclusion that it was the course for me (I also considered Forensic Psychology, Audiovisual Translation and Computer Science as I enjoyed my linguistics-based bachelor’s degree modules in Forensic Linguistics, Bilingual Language Use and Syntax so much and thus contemplated careers in forensic linguistics, audiovisual translation and computational linguistics, too!). The course offered 7 content modules covering the likes of e-marketing, brand management and performance management and required us to complete either a dissertation of at least 16,000 words or a “consultancy project”, a report based on an organisation with which you would need to partner for fieldwork access. I opted for the dissertation for which I explored the extent to which TfL respond to consumer complaints on Twitter in line with linguistic theories of politeness (because I had to incorporate my passion for linguistics into it to make the completion process somewhat easier) and the advice of marketing professionals on handling social media complaints.

Did you enjoy your master’s degree?

100%. I know some of my friends didn’t enjoy it so much either because it covered content they’d already studied in their business-based bachelor’s degrees or because it required so much research and writing (which, to be fair, they’re right about; 6 modules required a presentation and a 3,500-word report, 1 module required a group presentation, a podcast and a 1,500-word report and our dissertation proposal required approximately 4,000 words; along with our dissertation, that’s a total of 42,500 words, for crying out loud!), but I loved it. I didn’t mind the amount of reports not only because writing is a hobby of mine, but because it allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the content we covered in each module. I enjoyed every module because all the content was entirely new to me and the nerd in me loves to learn something new. I learned how to be an effective marketing manager and how to thrive in such a career. Hence, I think it’s safe to say that I got as much out of my master’s degree as I could.

Dissertation submission day (a.k.a. the best day EVER)

Do you think doing a master’s degree has helped you to get where you want to be?

Yes. Not completely, but yes. I say “not completely” because I am yet to land my first “official” marketing position, but everything I’m doing now, I’m doing with the intention to get there. I only graduated with my master’s degree in late January 2020 and, around the same time, the role of Assistant Store Manager became available at the store I was working at part-time whilst completing my master’s and thus began working at full-time upon submitting my dissertation. I saw this post as a great opportunity for me to begin developing my managerial skills on a greater scale; while I gained so much sales, some team leader and little marketing experience alongside my degrees, the purpose of studying for a master’s degree in Global Marketing Management was to enable me to become, well, a manager. Although marketing is the industry in which I intend to land such a role in, I always seize every opportunity that becomes available to me to enhance my skillset and experience. Plus, I don’t think I’d have been offered the position if it wasn’t for the portfolio I’d created surrounding everything I’d learned as to what it means to be a good manager throughout my master’s degree as I’d never been one before and our store is one of the company’s flagship locations. I’m sure that holding this position will be pivotal in allowing me to progress to the next stage of my career.

Should I do a master’s degree?

That’s the real question. If you’re not entirely sure about what you want to do upon your bachelor’s graduation, should you do a master’s degree or pursue one of the other avenues like unpaid work experience or the never-ending job hunt for the “ideal” position? In my honest opinion, you’ll just know whether a master’s degree is the right path for you. If, like me, you’re academically driven and you’ve not studied the subject before, then it probably is. I’d never ~ properly ~ studied business or marketing before – not at GCSE, not at A level, not ever – for which reason I decided that studying the subject in a university environment, which I was already used to, was the best course of action. The truth is: all your options have their benefits. In some ways, gaining unpaid work experience – whether it’s for a week, a month or a year (has the Friends theme tune interrupted your reading process? If it hadn’t, it has now) – is similar to completing a year-long master’s degree but without taking out another hefty loan (wait, now it sounds better…) because you’re there to learn; the main downfall is that you might have to juggle another paid job on the side to get by. Likewise, job searching after university is not a bad idea; hell, it sounds pretty standard, right? As an unemployed graduate, however, it can be extremely tedious and, if you’re seeking a position in an industry unrelated to your degree, you might find that you need x amount of work experience in such. But, you never know: you could be one of the lucky ones.

Master’s graduation ceremony

How should I prepare if I want to do a master’s degree?

If you decide to study for a master’s degree, I recommend preparing in the following ways:

  • Do some pre-master’s research. It’s important to be certain about the course you wish to study. Research the course’s content and module’s on the university’s website, compare it to other universities’ courses in the same field and research the subject in general on Google or via any contacts you may have. This will provide you a greater insight into the subject and whether the course is right for you. My course even offered an introductory module when I signed up on the university’s online portal which yours might do, too.
  • Be organised. It’s even more important to be organised throughout your master’s degree. Remember, it’s postgraduate level for a reason. In some aspects, it’s going to be even harder than your bachelor’s degree; you might find that you have more deadlines in closer proximities, the requirements for assignments more difficult and the further independence from your professors slightly unusual. If you’re in need of some organisation tips, I’ve written a blog all about how to be more organised at university as both a bachelor’s and a master’s student.
  • Enjoy it! The most important way to prepare is to ensure that you enjoy the subject. A master’s degree is a commitment much like your bachelor’s degree. There is no point in committing to another one-to-two years at university if you’re not going to enjoy the subject. Once you’ve done your research into it and decided that it’s right for you, try to commit to your lectures, deadlines and meetings with your dissertation supervisor as much as possible, all while making the most of it!

All in all, I really enjoyed my master’s experience. Like I said, I learnt so much about a subject I had very little knowledge in beforehand, I was lucky enough to make some wonderful friends with whom I could enjoy postgraduate life with (I’ve also written a blog about how to enjoy university as an off-campus student if you’re living at home throughout your master’s degree) and I think it has enabled me the ability to progress more quickly. If you enjoy studying and are considering a career prospect in a field new to you, then a master’s degree might just be the way forward.

As usual, I hope this helps and I welcome all questions in the comment section below or via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Graduating students, I wish you the best of luck and, if you’re going to do a master’s degree, have fun!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav

How to: build a (modern) CV

I built my first CV at the age of 14. In Year 10, we were provided the opportunity to complete a two-week work experience during term time and the position I’d landed for the second week (I worked at two local theatres in the first week and in the women’s department of Bentalls Kingston during the second) required a CV as an application. I’d booked an appointment with a lady from the work experience department at school to help me build my first CV who was very helpful in explaining to me what information to include, how to format it and how to make it stand out from other applicants. Ever since, I have been keen to remain knowledgeable on how to build a successful CV, especially as what is perceived as such by employers is everchanging. Further, not only did I gain a fair amount of work experience alongside my studies from sixth form through to postgraduate and was therefore eager to improve my CV every time it needed updating, but, as an Assistant Store Manager, I have also assisted in the reviewing of CVs and even conducted interviews upon reviewing such myself. Based on both my own research on CV-building and experience in recruitment, I wanted to share some tips for students and recent graduates on how to build an effective CV.

1.    Keep it simple

According to James Reed, author of The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview (2019), a recruiter spends just – in case you hadn’t figured from their book title already – 7 seconds looking at a CV. Why? Think about it: they can have hundreds of applicants to review in a short space of time before they start inviting some for interviews. So, in order to ensure that your CV passes the 7-second test, my first suggestion is to keep it simple so as to not overwhelm the recruiter. By this, I mean:

  • Include a short objective. If a recruiter only takes 7 seconds to scan an entire CV, keep your objective short. In just two-to-three sentences, you can explain a little bit about yourself, your current position and your goals. This information will be enough for the recruiter to know whether you’re the kind of person they’re looking for and decide whether to continue looking at your CV.
  • Use headings. Headings make it really clear to the recruiter where to look for information regarding your personal profile, experience and qualifications. For instance, on my CV under my name, contact details and objective, I have the headings “Experience”, “Education”, “Key Skills” and “Websites”.
  • Keep a uniformed colour scheme. For the modern CV, it is absolutely acceptable to use some colour to make it appear more attractive and to highlight certain information, but try not to go overboard. If you’re going to use a colour scheme, keep it uniform and professional; don’t use neon or unreadable colours, for example.

2.    Use or follow a template

The modern CV is far different from the traditional one; it’s extremely rare that you’ll come across a CV nowadays that uses the Times New Roman font, follows a one-column structure and sticks to one font size. Instead, recruiters love a CV that – as mentioned above – has a bit of colour, includes columns or text box-like sections and somewhat reflects your personality. If you’re unsure on how to structure your CV, there are an abundance of templates available to use or follow online. For instance, when you select the “new” document option on Microsoft Word, a search bar appears which enables you to search for online templates; a simple “CV”, “resume” or “modern resume” search will generate plentiful templates. Likewise, graphic-design tool websites like Canva too have hundreds of templates to choose from; you might be required to sign up, but a free account offers you many benefits.

3.    Keep it relevant

Oftentimes, candidates will try to include as much information as possible from every aspect of life in an attempt to land the interview. However, if you’re applying for – say – a Sales Associate role, is that one cake sale you assisted in setting up in Year 8 really relevant? Probably not. If you’re in such a position where you have no work experience (we’ve all been there), think about what is more relevant and helps to define who you are, such as any qualifications you’ve achieved or any extracurricular activities you’ve committed to for longer than a one-hour cake sale. If you are experienced and are seeking something new, include relevant descriptions of your previous roles to the one you’re applying for; if they’re all similar, you might want to consider summarising your key responsibilities across all your past roles in one place so as to avoid repeating yourself.

4.    Try to keep it to one page

Again, think about it: if a recruiter spends an average of 7 seconds looking at a CV, they’re certainly not going to look at more than one page per applicant. If you use or follow a template, as I recommended above, it is entirely possible to keep all your experience to one page. This is where the “keep it relevant” tip becomes even more relevant for more experienced candidates. Like I said, I’ve had my fair share of roles since I was 16 and have several headings on my CV, but I’ve managed to keep it to one page because I’ve only kept what’s relevant. For instance, under the “Education” heading, when I completed my A levels, I had my A levels and GCSEs on my CV; when I completed my bachelor’s degree, I had my bachelor’s degree and A levels on my CV (I removed my GCSEs to save space); now, since I completed my master’s degree, I have only my bachelor’s and master’s degrees on my CV and have removed my A levels to save space. Also, I removed my first ever job not long after gaining a few more titles; it was important to have on my CV when I applied for my first “official” job, but now, who needs to know that I worked as a dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant for three months? (Oops, now the whole world knows…)

5.    Be honest!

We’ve all heard the “everyone lies on their resume”, like when Joey Tribbiani claims that he can tap dance, ride a horse and drink a gallon of milk in 10 seconds which he ~ successfully ~ proves (one thing I haven’t mentioned on my blog yet is how much of a Friends fanatic I am – you’re in for a treat!), but – on a serious note – it’s not worth it. Why lie when you can be honest about your actual skills, hobbies and interests and experience? Once again: we’ve all been in the position where we feel as though we have ‘no’ experience to showcase, but you’ll always have something, like your A levels, extracurricular activities and any voluntary work you’ve completed. If you really have ~ no ~ experience (although you probably have more than you think), there are always opportunities available. If you’ve never partaken in an extracurricular activity, you can join or create a society at university that interests you. If you’d like to complete some volunteer work, you can ask your university or around your local area. If you’re passionate about something like writing, art or textiles, you can create your own portfolio. Anything that presents who you are and why you are right for the role is enough to make you the ideal candidate!

Joey Tribbiani Friends GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Credit: giphy.com

As usual, I hope you found my tips useful and, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask in the comment section below or by contacting me via social media or email (you can find my contact details here).

Good luck and have fun with your CV creations!

Love,

Soph, Little Pav