Mastering to manoeuvre
So just how useful are specialised master's level business degrees in employment terms? Recruitment consultants say such certificates are a huge asset, but add a caveat: Not if the employee is insufficiently well-rounded.
'Specialised master's business degrees are a big plus, and a great advantage for any candidate,' says Pallavi Anand, director for Hong Kong at Robert Half International. 'When you want to move up the corporate ladder, then that's when that specialised master's degree comes in handy.
'However, we also recommend that the candidates make sure that they get some work experience... In the corporate world, a lot of emphasis is placed on valuable practical experience - you only get that when you work.'
Anand advises potential participants to assess programmes closely to find the right fit. 'You should know what you want to do. The financial industry, for example, is a huge area with a multitude of roles,' she says. 'Graduates tend to lack focus. They tend to pick career paths for the wrong reasons - because they have heard that it pays well, or because they have heard it is glamorous.'
Companies recognise the value that employees with specialised skills bring, says Jeremy Andrulis, talent and organisation practice leader at consulting firm Aon Hewitt Hong Kong. Such employees can develop the next generation of services and products, manage difficult customer issues, and serve as experts in developing junior employees.
'However, organisations face challenges in providing long-term career opportunities for specialist roles, given the limited number of expert positions available at senior management level,' he says.
Andrulis says that employers are addressing this challenge in two ways. Firstly, they build specific 'expert' career development tracks, based on the value that the experts provide to the organisation. For example, insurance companies may view their top actuaries as experts in 'risk management' and not just actuarial science. This allows them to create additional job opportunities for them in other departments that require risk management skills. Secondly, they create project career tracks that use valuable specialist skills for specific internal or external assignments.
Organisations are also increasingly working to enhance the core management skills of their employees. This includes managing financials and operational risks, as well as leading and motivating people, forming teams, creating partnerships, delegating responsibility, building accountability, providing coaching and giving feedback, says Andrulis.
Professor Chak Wong, of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), who has worked in banking and recruitment with firms such as Goldman Sachs, UBS and Barclays, says potential candidates should carefully scrutinise the wide differences between master's programmes, noting that they should pay particular attention to the course content, aims, structure, delivery, faculty quality, and the time investment required.
As a seasoned recruitment manager, the professor says that he places far more emphasis and value on the qualities of the job candidate than on the degree that person might be carrying. 'I want to find someone who can work in real world conditions, not just a person with a degree,' he says.