Dissertation Research Conclusion...

It probably comes as no surprise that the pursuit of education is beneficial in the job search. Suggesting that a job seeker "return to school" to get further education is a frequent recommendation found in most job search books, magazine articles, and blog postings that target the unemployed. Recent studies (Damast, 2012) reinforce this idea by advancing the point that corporate America likes workers with advanced degrees since they "bring something extra" to a company. Yet hidden in the results of the two lengthy research surveys (one with 33 questions and one with 56 questions) were insights and nuances that both contradict some age-old truisms but can also help a job candidate or a career coach refine a person's educational strategy.

Basic demographic information elements, such as gender, age, and race were gathered in the job seeker's survey. While the challenges of racial or sexual discrimination in the job search are a worthy topic for further research, those two elements are not likely hurdles in deciding whether job searchers should pursue further education. However, age is a significant defining factor when a job candidate is being considered. Howe (1993) identified this by stating that employers wanted workers with higher degrees, often a problem for the older displaced workers with insufficient years to recover the cost of advanced education. Ignoring the potential for age discrimination for the moment, recruiters often assess the value of a candidate's education based on a combination of relevance to the industry or job, the perceived quality of education, and the currency of the education. Aligned with this thought, in this study, the job seekers were asked to infer how their lack of education might influence their job search, recruiters were asked to indicate preferences of education from various types of academic institutions, and the pursuit of education by job seekers was aligned by age groups.

Throughout the mid/late-career age groups of 35 through 65 (which represents 95% of the job seekers survey responses), recognition of a need for education and the pursuit of education was evident, with over 37% of these age categories indicating that the lack of education hurt their job search success. Of the 37% who recognized this issue, over 95% actively pursued some level of education (degree, certification, or otherwise) during their unemployment period, with most pursuing certifications over degrees at better than a 3:1 ratio. Notable in this education pursuit was the stability of certification pursuit (between 67%-73% across all three age groups) while academic pursuit declined rapidly—holding between 31% and 33% in age groups 35–44 and 45–54, but falling to 16% for age group 55–64. The implication is that a short-term, modest-cost professional certificate is more valued by the job seeker in the latter career period than an academic degree.

To place continuing education in its proper position in the job search, it is most important to recognize that continuing education is not the proverbial silver bullet for the job seeker. The Recruiter/Hiring Manager survey asked the respondents to order the most important elements that can be a deciding factor in the selection process. Several attributes were not assessed since they were very subjective and most likely only recognized during the interview cycle, such as physical appearance, speech/grammar, ability to fit in with the existing staff, etc. But other points such as a portfolio of work, experience levels beyond the requirements, etc., were ranked. The insights from Figure 6 [below], where recruiters were asked to identify traits of a job candidate that they prefer, present an opportunity for the job seeker. The leading trait was more experience, yet that is difficult to obtain while unemployed. Other traits that recruiters preferred that were more relevant to an unemployed job seeker showed advanced education and pursuit of education as beneficial activities.

The recruiters were most often looking for a strong work background, but seemed to be willing to allow a relevant certification to be a proxy for some years of experience. Holding an advanced degree (beyond the requirement) was a strong point, as was being able to present evidence of expertise. Pursuit of advanced academic education is a modest benefit (9 out of 34 recruiters agreed) and it is a stronger aid than having attended a well-known school, than strong professional references, or several "other" items submitted to the survey such as cover letters and job stability. Based on the analysis of research question #3, pursuit of a professional certification should be on this chart somewhere between 9 and 15 points, making it a strong contributor.

The researcher has concluded that, based on the survey data analysis and careful review of the limited published research available on this topic, that continuing education has no measurable negative impact on the job search effort. Furthermore, the pursuit of either academic or professional education is reasonably well respected by recruiters/hiring managers and the anticipated benefit of obtaining/holding these degrees or certifications on the job seekers' careers are definitely valuable.

Figure 6. Recruiter ranking of attributes that influence candidate selection


Damast, A. (2012). The booming market for specialized master’s degrees. BloombergBusinessweek. Retrieved from http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-11-21/the-booming-market-for-specialized-masters-degrees

Howe, W. J. (1988). Education and demographics: How do they affect unemployment rates? Monthly Labor Review, 111(1), 3-9. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1988/01/art1full.pdf

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