Those who pursue qualifications while performing strongly at work have the best chance of propelling their careers forward REACHING CORPORATE heights will be easier and quicker for upwardly mobile management candidates who prove their mettle by pursuing postgraduate qualifications while also tackling the demands of a job, Hong Kong employers say. In the banking and finance sector, postgraduate qualifications such as an MBA (Master of Business Administration) or CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) will also help a candidate get a foot in the door ahead of other applicants. But in the final analysis, promotional prospects and higher pay scales require more than paper qualifications and, in many cases, experience accumulated on the job will ultimately count for more. Employees or job candidates with the right personal qualities may still command attention without an impressive string of letters behind their names. This is because learning on the job - particularly in a people-orientated service position - remains as highly prized by some employers as the discipline and diligence required to continue postgraduate studies while in a full-time job. Postgraduate studies are 'definitely useful', according to Wellcome's Diane Chiu, who has three degrees that have helped propel her to a post as marketing director of the regional retailer. 'An MBA helps develop analytical ability,' said Ms Chiu, who attributed her latest promotion to her current post in December at least partly to the MBA she received from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. 'Studying for an MBA involves examining a lot of case studies worldwide and real-life case studies that involve interacting with different senior executives in different industries. 'While the industries may be unrelated, management problems and techniques are more or less the same, regardless of the industry.' In addition to coaching students in management skills across a wide spectrum, an MBA provided alumni with an invaluable future network of personal contacts, Ms Chiu said. 'The network of friends I made has become very useful. I have done several joint promotions with former classmates, and the network is not limited to classmates who graduate in the same year but extends to the entire alumni. 'I studied on my own, but for discussions or homework a group of us usually got together on a Sunday. 'Be prepared to devote your whole weekend to the MBA, and get up at 4am on weekdays to do some studying before you go to work. 'Remember, what you put in, you will get out. I have just been promoted to marketing director of Wellcome and the promotion was the result of multiple factors. 'The MBA was one of the qualifiers because, although I now actually have three degrees, it was the MBA that helped me explore my potential and helped me to be recognised.' Acquiring postgraduate qualifications while on the job demanded discipline and determination - qualities that were in great demand by employers, said Charles Monat, founder and chairman of insurance brokerage Charles Monat Associates. 'It's a plus for someone on the corporate ladder because it shows they went the extra step,' said Mr Monat. 'Getting an MBA or some alternative postgraduate qualification also demonstrates initiative and diligence, which are qualities that go a long way to getting the attention of employers.' Particularly praiseworthy in this regard, according to Mr Monat, is an employee who makes the effort to get an MBA through a correspondence course such as that offered by the University of London. 'I find that admirable because it takes extra effort and determination and requires long hours studying at night or over weekends - and that is what demonstrates the quality of being prepared to go the extra mile that most people do not go,' Mr Monat said. The result for the employee was increased esteem and effectiveness, and for the employer, extra productivity due to the wider knowledge and problem-solving approach taught in an MBA course. 'My business is insurance and financial planning and advisory work. In this area, another course of postgraduate study that is popular is a CFA [Chartered Financial Analyst]. Some people also study towards becoming a Chartered Life Underwriter,' Mr Monat said. The MBA curriculum, in contrast, provided 'a track to run on, a method of tackling challenges and resolving them', he added, rather than content-specific material that might be obtained from more specialised courses. 'An MBA is useful because it widens the horizons of the student who is trained in different disciplines during the study,' said Anthony Lau Siu-wing, chairman of Hong Kong-listed freight-forwarder, BALtrans Holdings. 'We have grown the company from a small office of 35 people 25 years ago to the stage where it is present in 18 countries but we are not as big as our rivals and are still in an initial development phase. 'That means we need employees with a broad knowledge and a wide skills base and taking an MBA definitely enhances these qualities.' But being a team player and showing an ability to tackle a wide range of responsibilities were key personal qualities that ranked as highly as paper qualifications, Mr Lau added. 'In our line of business, if you have an MBA it unquestionably helps to get through the door to secure an interview,' said Stephen Gollop, chief executive of independent investment advisory firm Bridgewater. 'A CV that includes an MBA is a major start because we do turn down a lot of applications without an interview.' But even though having letters behind their names would catch the attention of a prospective employer in the investment advisory business, candidates still had to demonstrate the necessary personal qualities for the work they were required to do, Mr Gollop said. 'But having said that, candidates with an MBA do seem to have a better understanding of the environment we are trying to target in our business.' However, Mr Gollop said that those already in the workplace ought not to pursue the qualification in the belief that it might accelerate their promotion or salary, as learning on the job was more likely to advance career prospects. For content-specific training, Bridgewater periodically brings trainers into the office from Britain who provide guidance to front-office staff on how to manage client expectations, and how to understand their requirements and tailor the correct financial solutions. When an employer was besieged by job applications, a resume with postgraduate qualifications would definitely attract their attention and help the candidate gain an initial interview, said Amy Cho, managing director and regional head of business development at Pictet (Asia). And all other things being equal, if two applicants were interviewed for a management position that involved execution of strategy, the applicant with an MBA would be more likely to get the job, since the training it provided was focused on management activity, Ms Cho said. 'But while an MBA might be more valued in some areas than others, it will not be the key to getting selected for a job,' she added. 'There is no fixed rule, but generally I would say that an MBA does not help at an entry level. At this level, I will be looking more at personality rather than degrees.' Therefore, taking an MBA might be a smart mid-career move that lends an employee who has already accumulated valuable job experience an additional degree of accomplishment. 'My advice would be to gain work experience first and then take the time off to do an MBA,' Ms Cho said.