How the right college course can help you get ahead
Six professionals give their advice on what to consider when choosing third-level course
Susan Kilty, PwC people partner: “Make sure that, during your research, you explore the modules on offer in the different courses and if work experience or Erasmus is included.”
Picking a college course can be daunting. Once you’ve considered what course genuinely interests you – and this should always be your primary consideration – you need to consider what college to go to. But there’s a crucial consideration that is often overlooked: how can a particular course help advance your career and professional trajectory? We asked some experts for their advice.
Make sure that, during your research, you explore the modules on offer in the different courses and if work experience or Erasmus is included. Another consideration is whether your course will help you gain exemptions for professional qualifications in certain areas of business.
Completing a business course results in an endless possibility of career choices. Each course will have specific differentiators that could make it the right choice for you. A business course gives the opportunity to work in a role that will be team oriented, challenging and diverse.
The right course can help your professional trajectory because, throughout your time in college, you will gain transferable employability skills, research skills and business acumen. Along with your business course it is also important to gain work experience and become involved in extracurricular activities throughout your time in college; these are qualities employers really value.
Business graduates also have an excellent chance to engage in international travel and earn a very competitive salary. You can get further information on gaining transferable employability skills in the PwC guide: pwc.ie/careers-ie/employability-and-you.html
Siobhán Swords, customer and digital advisory manager at EY (formerly Ernst and Young)
I graduated from the business studies course at DCU in 2012 and started on a graduate programme with a management consulting firm. From the beginning, I was working directly with clients from various industries to understand their biggest challenges and help them improve performance. The role demanded problem-solving skills, analytical thinking, senior stakeholders management and creativity – not to mention being a quick learner.
Since then, I’ve continued to work in teams helping clients imagine, design and deliver solutions at the speed and scale that the new digital world demands. This involves lots of research, workshops, presentations, post-it notes, customer journey design and prototyping.
DCU had a 12-month INTRA work placement which gave me a competitive edge in interviews, as well as confidence on the job. Subjects like finance, marketing and communications, innovation, strategy and enterprise development gave me a grounding in the industry.
Cormac Stafford, strategy consultant with EY
For me, choosing the right course started with filtering by location, then looking at the points requirement, and then looking into the courses by discipline. Students should do a deep dive into each course using the university’s website.
The degree provided me with a very strong set of soft skills in teamwork, communication, work ethic and critical thinking
I studied a BSc in marketing at DIT and loved it. I chose it because I felt it would give me a valuable foundation and focus in potential career areas including strategy, marketing and sales, product development and digital. The course gave me the chance to study in Berlin for one Erasmus semester, undertake a certificate in Chicago and complete a research thesis. I also made lifelong friends and great memories; this is important too.
My course was a major factor in launching my career. It put a heavy emphasis on your ability to analyse companies, business cases and industries, giving me an aptitude for business level strategy. It gave me understanding of and interest in the world of consulting, as well as ambition.
There was an emphasis on case study analysis, qualitative research, project management and presenting to peers – all core competencies I now use in my career every day. Finally, the degree provided me with a very strong set of soft skills in teamwork, communication, work ethic and critical thinking.
Some students who want to advance their professional trajectory may be afraid to narrow down their choice to business alone, so could opt for an arts degree that allows them to take a business subject along with two other subjects; Maynooth University has excellent business options through their first year programme.
If they’re unsure of what they want to do after college, then a broad degree leaves their options open. This gives them the opportunity to specialise later in their degree or, later, to specialise through a postgraduate course.
The market is flooded with general business graduates, so having a language, law or computer component opens up more opportunities; this can be pursued during the degree or at postgraduate level. Courses with work experience built in, such as DCU and University of Limerick, are very useful, as are courses with a language and year abroad.
Employers look for highly motivated graduates who can work as part of a team as well as on their own initiative. They want people who are organised and efficient and have excellent communication skills, energy, enthusiasm and the ability to cope with stress.
The result of your degree is important in order to get called for interview but it is also important to be able to highlight projects you got involved in at college, time spent abroad or voluntary work. It’s about showing you have the drive and determination to succeed. A student’s knowledge of the business world, combined with their problem solving and analytical skills makes business graduates highly desirable employees.
Patrick Hynes-Foy, sales analyst with Aerogen, Chicago
I did a bachelor of commerce at NUI Galway. The degree contained plenty of choice which allowed me to explore different career paths.
While at NUI Galway I met John Power, the CEO of medical device company Aerogen, at a first-year guest lecture. The company sells into 75 countries worldwide and has been used to treat over five million patients by delivering drugs to their lungs. I approached John and secured an internship.
In third year, I completed a six-month marketing placement with Aerogen and this was undoubtedly the most valuable aspect of my business degree; it enabled me to develop my professional skills beyond what I learned in lectures.
From day one I was treated as a trusted member of the team and given responsibilities including assisting in the development of the company’s Chinese website and helping to organise two international trade shows in Barcelona and Las Vegas.
After graduation I was given the incredible opportunity to move to Chicago with Aerogen to work as a Sales Analyst in their US headquarters. I was born in Boston and had always considered coming back at some stage but I never would have dreamt that I would move here with an Irish company. It is extremely rewarding working for a company that has such a positive impact on patients’ lives.
It’s a difficult decision to choose your college course but a business degree will allow you to develop skills that will stand to you for the rest of your life, regardless of what career you eventually pursue.
Tony Donohue, head of education, Irish Business and Employer’s Confederation
There has been a 25 per cent rise in demand for business-related degrees over the past 10 years, and they attract the highest number of first-preference CAO applications for ordinary degree courses.
This is a global phenomenon. Many people in a business career get a master’s degree after completing a bachelor’s programme in a different field of study.
Choosing a course in anticipation of earning potential could be a costly mistake. It is much more important for applicants to develop a degree of self-awareness about what is likely to interest them.
The greater the overlap between an individual’s interests, aptitudes and personal characteristics and those required by the area of study, the greater the degree of satisfaction when engaged in that area of study and the chances of success. Having said this, business is a rich and absorbing discipline in its own right and is supported by a deep body of learning. It is also well suited to developing the flexibility, critical thinking, communication and innovation that employers are seeking from job applicants
A key factor should also be the availability of work placements through the course, as work-based learning is highly valued by prospective employers.