Competing for Senior-Level Finance & Accounting Positions Without a Master’s Degree
It has become a common scenario in the world of finance and accounting: one senior-level candidate has 20 years of experience while the other has 10 and a master’s degree. Which is more valued in today’s job market? And how can more experienced professionals differentiate themselves against those with advanced degrees?
The value of a master’s degree
In some fields like education and psychology, a master’s degree is often required even for entry-level positions. The barrier to entry is typically more penetrable in finance and accounting, but the decision to pursue a master’s degree can still feel like a necessity for those looking to gain an advantage. But how necessary is it?
As of 2020, the unemployment rate of graduates with a bachelor’s degree was 5.5% compared to 4.1% for those with a master’s degree. In 2019, those figures stood at 2.2% and 2.0%, respectively, indicating an increase in line with the timing of the COVID-19 pandemic. Median weekly earnings between these two groups also tends to differ, with those with a bachelor’s degree earning $1,248 compared to $1,497 for those with a master’s degree.
While these figures may convey advanced degrees as a must-have for those with c-suite aspirations, the rising costs of tuition and student loan debt can offset some of these advantages initially. Degrees obtained 15-20 years ago – especially in more technical fields – can also grow increasingly irrelevant over time with regard to the specialized knowledge and training a senior-level candidate might have to offer an employer today. This makes continuing education and staying engaged with industry trends and networks arguably more important than a decades-old degree.
The emergence of experience over education
As the numbers illustrate, higher education can help make one more employable and more likely to earn a higher salary. But this does not mean those without such degrees should be barred from competing for senior-level positions – especially if applicable experience is a leading factor for hire.
Many leading organizations have recently changed their tunes about even requiring degrees to begin with. Nearly half of Apple’s U.S. workforce includes people without four-year degrees. Such cases will certainly be fewer and farther between in finance and accounting, but the nationwide shift toward experience over higher education still stands. A Harvard Business School study found that 37% of employers rank experience as the most important qualification in an applicant – not educational attainment.
While obtaining a master’s degree may showcase capability in academia, success in real-world job scenarios tells prospective employers more about what you have to offer in a specific position. Multiple decades of development and growth positions candidates as being capable of getting up to speed quickly with little-to-no on-the-job training – both of which save time and money for employers.
For those concerned about the impact a lack of master’s degree may have on your advancement opportunities, there are several other steps you can take to help correct for this, including professional certifications you can add to your resume without requiring years of studies and tuition fees. Building your professional network throughout your career can also open a multitude of doors as you look to attain senior-level positions. Entrepreneur events, conferences, workshops, classes, and even luncheons can all help you place your face and name in front of industry leaders. When it comes time to compete for a c-suite position or similar role, you can never have your foot in too many doors.
At Oggi, we specialize in helping mid- to senior-level finance and accounting professionals differentiate themselves to identify and secure ambitious, growth-minded opportunities. We have spent years building a strong network that enables us to pair industry-best talent with positions that will allow them to deliver value and to feel valued within an organization. We place quality of fit above all else, taking time to understand the needs of our clients and candidates to produce professional relationships that can succeed both today and tomorrow.
Contact us today to start unlocking your future with a people-first approach to staffing and recruiting.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Unemployment Rates and Earnings by Educational Attainment.”
- Business Insider. “Apple CEO Tim Cook explains why you don’t need a college degree to be successful.”
- Harvard Business School. “Dismissed by Degrees: How degree inflation is undermining U.S. competitiveness and hurting America’s middle class.”