Why You Shouldn’t Get a Master’s Degree for Project Management

03 May 2011 - 06:32 AM under Career | Posted by PMStudent

Let me explain.

I receive many questions from my Project Management Career Newsletter about degrees.

  • Should I get an MBA or a Master’s degree in Project Management?
  • I have a BS or BA in an unrelated discipline. ?Should I go back to school for an advanced business or PM degree?
  • I just got laid off. ?Should I go back to school for a Master’s degree?

All great questions.

Education is Never Wasted

If you apply yourself while learning, and apply your learning while working.

Let me get this straight. ?I’m not against higher education. ?Not at all.

But here’s the deal. It’s easy to see that everyone who undertakes an advanced degree is going to get at least some benefit from doing so.

The nuance comes from the ROI of a particular degree in your chosen discipline and industry, and if the degree is in line with your career goals.

Too many people get a degree so they are at least “doing something” to better themselves.

For the Wrong Reasons

Too many times I see good people who start running down a particular path without having first decided their purpose and goals.

It would be like starting on a project without understanding why you are doing it, or what it is you hope to see as the end result. ?It’s jumping to the “how” before figuring out the “why” and “what” in concrete terms.

Write it Down

What I recommend in my Project Management Career Coaching course is to write some things down and make them explicit. ?It’s a minimal investment in time to plan your career, and well worth it.

It is uncomfortable however. For some reason long-range planning always is. ?I created some worksheets in the course specifically to help make the process less painful. ?They are part of a methodology for assessing your starting point, what you hope to achieve and why, and formulating a plan of attack.

Regardless of whether or not you are starting with blank sheet of paper or one of my series of worksheets, write it down. ?Make it explicit for yourself. ?You owe this to yourself.

  1. Take a deep breath and some time to get clear on a 10-year goal. ?I mean crystal. ?Write a few paragraphs about your role, the people you work with, your office, salary, benefits, how many hours you work per week, where you live, etc.
  2. From that 10-year goal, start working back and doing 5, 3, 2, and 1-year goals. ?Again, crystal clear.
  3. Now formulate the “how” with specific activities you will need to do to?achieve?those goals.
  4. Execute
  5. Rinse and repeat annually (your goals will change over time as you progress and learn more)

Does Higher Education Fit?

Maybe yes, maybe no.

I see a 4-year undergraduate degree (in something) as the pre-requisite for most organizations for a project manager or line manager.

Frankly, in most cases my opinion is that working hard to land a job even as a junior project manager is going to pay dividends for your career more so than a Master’s degree in Project Management or an MBA. ?That is, if your goal is to be a project manager in the short term.

Plus you avoid that student loan debt.

If your 10-year goal includes a higher level executive position, then perhaps a Master’s degree is going to be part of the requirements. ?Even so, do you have to go back to school immediately?

If your plans in the next 1-5 years don’t require the advanced degree, I’ll argue you are better off starting a savings account for that education at a ?a future date. ?Avoid the debt, or at least some of it. ?In the meantime, focus on gaining experience. ?And more experience. ?And more.

Experience Rules

I also talk to many of you who have an advanced degree, even a degree in Project Management, with little or no experience actually managing projects.

With everything else equal, I’d rather hire someone who has 2 years of experience managing projects and no advanced degree, than someone with a Master’s in Project Management and no experience actually doing it.

In project management, experience rules.

A primary focus of the Project Management Career Coaching course I produce is (after you’ve figured out why and what) how to land a project management position. ?This is because I want you to gain experience managing projects. ?

It’s the best way to learn, and the biggest boon to your value in the job market.

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