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Take initiative and get more from your Masters degree

By Peter McInnes - Posted on 7 February 2013

Your Master’s degree sends strong signals about the career direction you want to pursue. However, academic learning needs to complement professional development through activities within, and out-with, the classroom that demonstrate potential.

 Our Director of MSc Business and Management, Dr Peter McInnes, explores the types of activities that change the way employers see your qualification.

Imagine you’re interviewing someone for a position in your organisation. The CV shows that the candidate has a Masters from a reputable university, but as you pose your first question you’re thinking “in what ways has your postgraduate course enhanced your potential as an employee, as a manager, and as a future leader? What evidence do you have of the qualities you’ll bring to my organisation?”  While I hope you never face the nightmare of opening questions like these, how would you respond?  Sure, you can tell them your course taught you about current practice, and to complete work on-time and to a good standard, but so can others.  For me, showing the qualities you have to an employer lies as much in the things you did outside of the class, as it does the things you learnt in it.

So what kinds of activities count? There is, of course, no right answer to this, but it’s helpful to look at the type of qualities you’re trying to demonstrate to employers. However, as pursuing professional development through these types of activities is a central focus of the degree I manage, the MSc Business and Management (MBM), exploring a couple of recent examples might provide some insight.

Business Competitions

Our students regularly compete in business competitions. However, it’s not for the glory of winning that they take part, but for the kind of messages that such participation signals.

We look at what the competition is about in terms of its focal industry and/or the particular skills that will be drawn upon in competing.  Get this right and you’re showing employers what you can do and what you’re interested in. Equally, you talk about the research and analysis you did, and the teamwork and communication skills involved in competing. And, even if you didn’t win, you can talk about what you learnt about yourself and what you would do differently the next time.

In summary; team-working, analytic skills, initiative-taking, communication skills, interest in a topic or industry, self-reflection and learning are all attributes that employers are hungry to see.

The “Dùbhlan” Challenge

In Scotland’s native tongue, Gaelic, dùbhlan means “challenge”, or “that which encourages someone to do something they would not otherwise do.” This became the code word used by the group organising a two day adventure race for their fellow students in the MBM cohort recently.

The group spent months planning, investigating possible places and activities, and negotiating with companies to support their ideas. Their classmates, of course, knew little of the group’s efforts as they embarked on two days of puzzles, physical challenges, paddling canoes etc.

As everyone enjoyed an evening barbeque in a nearby country park the benefits to the cohort were plain for all to see, but what did Dùbhlan do for the organizers? Well, it made them lots of great friends for one thing, but it also gave them a story to tell employers about self-motivation, team-working, persistence!, effective delegation, negotiation and deal-making with outside companies. Personally speaking, if a candidate with these qualities came in front of me, I’d hire them.

So what do these activities tell us? Well, in summary, they show:

  1. You’re interested
  2. You can achieve the challenges you set for yourself
  3. You can bring people together
  4. You know how to deal with people, particularly at more senior levels
  5. You’re thinking about what you’re doing

Whatever you do to improve your extra-curricular experience, make sure you’re doing the kind of things that you’ll look back on in future years and think “wow, I did that”.

What activities have you done to complement your studies? How have you sought to get the most out of your Masters degree? Let us know by commenting below.

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