Work experience vs postgraduate study – which will get me a job?

If, post-graduation, you don’t have the security of a job in hand, deciding whether to embark on postgraduate study or whether to try and secure work experience related to the career you aspire to instead, can feel like a gamble. Both are sensible options, but neither come with a guaranteed job at the end and neither come cheap; with rumblings in the press this week about the potential slashing of state support for all students entering fourth-level education in the Republic as of next year, the issue is a pertinent one.

There is no set answer, and both postgraduate study and work experience can undoubtedly be extremely valuable and enriching. But whether one is more useful than the other at this juncture will depend on the job, or the sector, you ultimately aspire to.

As a general rule, it’s unwise to embark on postgraduate study if you really don’t have a clue where it could take you when you’ve finished. Similarly, working as an intern in the area in which you ultimately want to forge your career is great – but doing something completely unrelated is unlikely to score you many brownie points with a potential employer.

If you are converting from one discipline to another, then a postgraduate conversion course is usually a prerequisite. In some sectors – engineering, for example – postgraduate study will form an integral part of your professional development. In others, such as publishing, fourth-level education may be attractive to employers, but it won’t necessarily impress them any more than bags of related work experience.

Talk to employers in the industry you want to move into about what sort of experience they look for in graduates, and what significance they place on postgraduate study. Will it make your application stand out? Will it give you a head start when you begin your career? Is work experience as valuable? Finding the answers to these questions could help you make the right decision.

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