In the last 10 years that I have been working (I love how elderly I feel when I make this reference :D), mostly with young (er) people, I have observed a curious phenomena. A young person gets their first job, and the first thing they do is enroll for the next certificate, be it an MBA, a professional course etc. This means that they immediately have double commitments; a day at work, then at around 4-4:30pm they have to leave for class till 8pm. Their Saturdays are also taken up by these classes, not to mention the annual leave days, which have to coincide with exam prep.
I am convinced that this is not the wisest career move.
See, anyone who has worked for a period of time will tell you that advancement at the workplace wholly depends on what you do at said workplace. An additional degree or a non-compulsory professional certification is unlikely to have a significant impact on either your delivery at the workplace or even your paycheck. In fact, going back to school immediately may cost your career.
Secondly, I believe that earlier on in your career, focus and immersion are important. Our universities do not do much in terms of workplace preparation. For you to learn fast enough on the job to contribute, you need to be fully focused. You are learning totally new skills, this is no different from other non-work skills. It often means spending more than the mandated 8 hours thinking about work, reading up practical material and consulting with colleagues. In addition to this, success at today’s workplace demands that we are multi-skilled. Most of my non-finance skills were learned after hours and on weekends, because my employer was paying me to do finance stuff during the work hours. These non-finance skills have paid off the most for me, because anyone can do finance.
Thirdly, how sure are you, that the certificate you are going for will serve you well in your career? For most people, the first job is a “tries X” job. You want to get a feel of whether it is for you, or not. For example, if I had started school 3 months after getting my first job, I’d have probably gotten an MBA, but it would not have served me well, or would have anchored me to a boring career path. Take time to clarify your interests before investing in further education.
Going back to school immediately robs you of these opportunities to develop yourself non-academically. It also may send the wrong signals to you employer, when you start asking for time off to do exams right from the start. You barely know enough about your job to start making a significant contribution to the organization. Not to mention you having to leave meetings early to go to class, missing deadlines because you had to study, or the most common, rushing through tasks because your mind is elsewhere.
Finally, if your boss and colleagues know you are juggling both school and work, they are likely to pass you up for the interesting and challenging assignments, even in the nicest of organizations – especially in the nicest of organizations. You after all, have your hands full.
I do not have a one size fits all recommendation on when one should go back to school after starting work. I however feel that the best time would be when you have grown enough in your career to have other people reporting to you. Then it may be time to get advanced education.
How did I do it?
After working for about 4 years, I got fascinated by the CFA because so many people had failed the exams. At the time, I was managing a real estate investment company, and a CFA was not going to help my career in any way. I had no interest in investment banking. But I was curious, and frankly, needed to prove to myself that I am smart :-(. So I registered, prepared (barely), sat the Level 1 exam and passed. It was however the most stressful education experience of my life, and I have not managed to convince myself there is value in sitting the other two levels.
Since then, I have done a 6 months leadership course, and I am finally saving up for a Master’s Program , hopefully in Development Finance, starting in January 2018.
In 2006, I did not even know that Development Finance is an area of study, or that it would be of interest to me.