Is an advanced degree in HR a competitive advantage? (Analysis)

Different degrees position practitioners in different ways
By Claude Balthazard
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 09/01/2009

Whether an advanced degree in HR confers some kind of advantage in the marketplace prompted a broad range of opinion. One-quarter (24.8 per cent) of respondents to the latest Pulse Survey felt an advanced degree gave a significant advantage, 28.6 per cent felt there was a small advantage and 29.3 per cent saw no particular advantage. Interestingly, 52 per cent of respondents agreed an advanced degree in HR might be overkill. Given such a diversity of opinions, the comments were very useful in teasing out the main themes.

Many comments placed experience and advanced degrees as competing assets. Clearly many respondents felt advanced education cannot substitute for experience, and experience is ultimately a more important factor than academic credentials in shaping one’s career progression in HR. But the question was really about competitive advantage: Does an advanced degree confer some kind of advantage on top of experience or does it provide an opportunity to acquire the right kind of experience to progress to a more senior position? This is where things get interesting.

A number of comments suggested an interesting phenomenon — an advanced degree is likely more useful to those in more senior HR positions in large organizations, but an advanced degree gives no real advantage to most entry-level positions and may even be a disadvantage at times. This suggests those who go for an advanced degree right off the bat may find it difficult to land a job that makes use of the education, and it may be difficult for individuals with advanced degrees to leapfrog over these starter positions. So advanced degrees might work best when individuals have accumulated some experience before they get the higher education.