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February 1, 2011 10:02 AM   Subscribe

Does having more than one graduate degree really make you look bad on the job market, if they're not related?

This is anonymous because my situation is so specific to me.

I'm 33 and a strategic business analyst. I'm in the process of completing my MBA with less than a year to go. The MBA has been very useful in my career progression - I've received a promotion since I began the program and have been able to use many of the things I've learned to make myself more valuable at work.

Unfortunately my company is going through a dramatic upheaval and it's likely that I'll be out of a job in the next year.

In those circumstances I'm obviously starting my job search now, while I'm still employed.

One of the big things I'm worried about is the fact that I got my MA in Latin American literature immediately before I started the MBA program. I'm afraid that it will make me look like a pointless degree collector, instead of having gotten the degree for a number of logical reasons as part of a plan that included my MBA.

I have always been interested in Latin American literature and wanted to attend the program to acquire a more systematic view of the material than can be obtained from just reading on my own. I also did not have a very good undergraduate GPA and hoped that doing well in the MA would make it easier for me to get into the MBA program since it would demonstrate my ability to perform at the graduate level. Lastly, it had been five years since I had graduated from undergrad, and I wanted to get back into school with something at which I felt I could excel. I paid for it myself, although after my first semester I was accepted as a GA and got grants that paid for most of it. I didn't really spend more on the degree than other people spend on their hobbies, so I didn't ever feel that I was wasting my money. It was just that instead of going to concerts and buying expensive outdoor sport equipment I was writing seminar papers and doing conferences.

I don't know if those were good reasons, but they were mine.

Now I'm going back on the market, and I'm wondering if I should just leave the MA off when I send out my resume. Does it really look that bad to have multiple graduate degrees that aren't in a specific career path? I talked to a headhunter the other day and she said that it made me look like a more rounded candidate and demonstrated my ability to manage my time well and my drive since I worked full-time in a position of considerable responsibility while I was getting the MA. However, I'm getting more and more worried because everywhere it seems like what I did is classified as 'degree collecting' and conveys completely the wrong impression about my performance, ability and professional seriousness.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not in your industry or anything remotely like it but to me a MA in Latin American Literature plus an MBA is very, very different from an MA in Latin American Literature plus an MA in another academic discipline.

You have one academic degree and you'll have one professional degree. I would listen to the headhunter, she probably knows what she's talking about.
posted by mskyle at 10:07 AM on February 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about it. One of my best friends from law school had a PhD(!) in ancient XYZ literature, and then got a JD, and worked at one the Wall Street-type law firms. At my law firm, the current and previous heads of one of the departments each had PhDs in random things before becoming lawyers. As mskyle said, it's not like you're collecting MFAs in studio art--if you do well in your MBA program, that's all anyone in business is going to care about.

Moreover, can you spin the MA as something you did to develop fluency in Spanish, which dovetails perfectly with your interests in business development in Latin America, blah blah blah? I think this is an area where I would feel wholly comfortable massaging why I got an MA in a language-related field--but it doesn't work, obviously, if you're not interested in Latin American business.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:18 AM on February 1, 2011

Stupid edit window not existing and stuff: one of the BEST Wall Street-type law firms. Point is that this person excelled on the basis of strong performance in law school and no one cared about the detour through a multi-year PhD program in something not only unrelated, but entirely unrelatable. There was literally no way in which this person's study could have any application at all to legal work.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 10:21 AM on February 1, 2011

If the MA is not relevant to finding a new job then don't make too much of it, if it is then do, as well as the MBA. however I would suggest you focus on the reason for doing the MBA and particularly you should play up the benefits that doing the MBA allowed you to bring to the job you have been doing. This enables you to both play up your willingness to make an investment in your professional development, highlights your new skills and demonstrates their real world application. I don't think the MA will be an issue but since you can show the MBA was directly relevant (and since it was most recent) it looks entirely rational.
posted by biffa at 10:22 AM on February 1, 2011

No. MBAs are frequent add-on degrees. Google JD MBA or MD MBA for examples.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 10:23 AM on February 1, 2011

Don't worry about it. I have a JD and concurrently earned a Masters in Theological Studies just because it interests me. It's always been a benefit in interviewing -- it makes me stand out from the crowd a bit, gives people something to talk about in the interview, etc. I like to have in mind some things I studied in my MTS that are particularly relevant to my professional life or to the job in question (the sermon class was the best prep for public speaking imaginable!)

Talented, interesting people very often have a "useless" advanced degree (if they could fund it) that they earned because it interested and challenged them. I think you'll find pretty broad understanding of this impulse and you'll be surprised by how many business executives, lawyers, and even doctors have a "random" advanced degree unrelated to what they do.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:32 AM on February 1, 2011

"I'm afraid that it will make me look like a pointless degree collector, instead of having gotten the degree for a number of logical reasons as part of a plan that included my MBA."

It won't. At worst, it'll be solid evidence of your having actual human interests. This is not a bad thing.
posted by astrochimp at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2011

I have an MA in Philosophy and in my career field (archaeology) and I stopped adding it to my CV years ago, mostly because all it got was a response like "That's ... nice.. umm why?" and I got tired of explaining it. Leave it off if it you think it will hinder you. No-one will be the wiser.

But it can make you look more interesting, on paper anyway.
posted by elendil71 at 10:35 AM on February 1, 2011

can you spin the MA as something you did to develop fluency in Spanish, which dovetails perfectly with your interests in business development in Latin America


And what your headhunter told you.

As long as neither degree is from a diploma mill, it can't help but to make you an attractive candidate to a company that deals with Spanish-language markets or customers, of which there are many.
posted by dfriedman at 11:16 AM on February 1, 2011

What Admiral Haddock said: this is all about the story you spin. I'm guessing from the title your fluency would be in Portuguese, not Spanish (or both), and that Master's got you some added language skills, time on the ground, and first-hand cultural experience.

Joining it with the MBA means you have American (guessing) business training and experience on-the-ground in Latin America. If Latin America means Brazil, well, I wanted to tell you something that was in this week's Economist: Brazil needs more managers, especially with technical training, but many otherwise talented people are intimidated by having to learn Portuguese, apparently.

Stick your story in your cover letter if appropriate, otherwise "storyboard" it for your interview.
posted by whatzit at 1:15 PM on February 1, 2011

I don't know if those were good reasons, but they were mine.

They are outstanding reasons!

I am envious! I have a professional master's, but I would love to add an academic one!
posted by jgirl at 7:22 PM on February 1, 2011

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