The most marketable graduate education, according to HR recruiters

Recruiters from five top companies explain what they expect from candidates in terms of education and experience. Find out what matters—and what doesn’t—when they evaluate people to join their teams.

Brand matters, somewhat

It might surprise you that although having a degree from an elite, brand-name school implies a certain level of status and qualification, it doesn’t always guarantee access to the most desirable jobs.

The brand is not the “silver bullet,” said Kelly Bartkiewicz, regional talent director of North America at Mars Incorporated. “Yes, we may target certain schools, but as far as having the right candidate for the right role, it really comes down to best fit.”

Even at companies where name brand schools matter, they don’t always bear as much weight as one might think. “The school is important. We expect a high-caliber candidate from top programs. But we want to hire the best and brightest people. It depends upon the individual and the program attended,” said Patty Pogemiller, national director of talent acquisition and mobility at Deloitte Services.

Do rankings matter?

When it comes to rankings, if you follow the best-of graduate school lists in U.S. News & World Report, Bloomberg, Forbes, LinkedIn and Kiplinger’s—you might believe that these top-ranked schools are the best ones to consider when applying to graduate school.

But where one school sits on a list might not matter to your future employer. “We use graduate school rankings as one part of our school selection methodology, which is focused on identifying or validating our core school partners,” said Ruggiero of American Express. “We don’t use these rankings when evaluating individual candidates.”

Raymond Ho works in the American Express Tower in NYC.  Matt Rainey for American Express

Raymond Ho works in the American Express Tower in NYC. Matt Rainey for American Express

At Mars, the ranking lists are used to target schools, Bartkiewicz said. “We use them for national rankings; they’re not the sole factor but just one of the criteria we use. It’s not a deciding factor for a candidate.”

Hospitals have a different perspective—there’s often high turnover and tremendous competition to fill much-needed positions. At Houston Methodist, a high-ranking school might help score an interview but it doesn’t guarantee a job.

“It could get you in the door for an interview,” said Tom Vernon, system director of talent management and organizational development at Houston Methodist, “but the rankings by themselves aren’t going to have much weight in our decision making.”

“It’s important to think about rankings in two different ways,” said Pogemiller at Deloitte. “It’s a data point where we are going to recruit because we can’t go to every campus. And we look for the best programs for the positions we’re interested in hiring.”

Traslavina at Whole Foods, has a different approach. “We look at our All Stars program—team members who excel in many different attributes and fields, and ask, where did the top performers at Whole Foods go to school? That’s more relevant to me in terms of selection,” he said.

Some careers need an advanced degree

There’s no question that a graduate degree is often required in fields such as medicine, law, financial advising and educational administration. And in business, you should expect to earn that MBA if you want to get ahead.

American Express “recruits talent for entry-level manager roles,” said Brian Ruggiero, vice president of global campus recruitment at American Express. “A graduate degree plus work experience is mandatory for roles in this program, which include jobs in finance, marketing, strategic planning, risk and information management and servicing strategy.”

And at Houston Methodist Hospital, “a nurse can go down several paths with a master’s program,” said Carole Hackett, senior vice president of human resources.

When certifications are better

In technology positions, certifications are often more useful than graduate degrees. IT project managers at Whole Foods complete “many certifications,” said Andres Traslavina, lead global recruiter at Whole Foods, and “that probably counts more than a graduate degree.”

' WholeFoods Market

At Mars, certification in HR programs from an organization such as the Society for Human Resources Management would bear more weight than an advanced degree.
On the other hand, in the growing field of computer engineering is requiring candidates to have advanced degrees.

Graduate degrees do not always bring higher salaries

In some cases, such as education or government jobs that have defined pay grades according to level of education, a graduate degree may clinch a higher salary. But experts agree that the degree alone does not determine pay. There are many other factors.

At Deloitte, those with MBAs and law degrees who walk through the door “client ready” and with knowledge that they put to work immediately at Deloitte will start off with more money.

Mars relies on industry benchmarking when considering a role that requires an advanced degree. “It will have higher compensation based on the industry itself and then we target that particular role at 75th percentile,” Bartkiewicz said.

The right combination

For each of these companies, recruiters clearly want to find candidates with experience, knowledge and initiative and—perhaps most importantly—are compatible with the organization’s culture, people and clients.

At Houston Methodist, “everyone takes a test to see if they’re a cultural fit, in addition to having skills and knowledge,” Hackett said.

“You can have the best credential from the best school but you won’t necessarily be a fit,” said Pogemiller of Deloitte. “A lot of times we’re looking for the people who have a different perspective and are unique.”

At Whole Foods, “real experience and the real world are very different than school,” Traslavina said. The right chemistry is important. “We can look at your resume and see you can do marketing,” he says. “But through screenings we see the passion of the person.”


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