Will getting a PhD improve my job prospects?

This week’s advice from Lauren Weiner, Director of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC, a firm specializing in contracts with Government Agencies.


While I’m a huge believer in higher education, I don’t think a Ph.D. is a great way to increase your marketability or earning potential.  A Master’s degree, especially a marketable one like an MBA or MPP (or a targeted one that will move you forward in a chosen career field, like an MSW or a Masters in, say, speech pathology), is usually the right level to target for marketable job skills.  A Ph.D. is generally useful only if you want to go into very specific career fields—science, medical research—or if you want to go into academia.  According to this article in The Economist,  http://www.economist.com/node/17723223  overall a Ph.D. only adds about a 3% premium over a Masters.

The big elephant in the room, which few in the military-affiliated community seem to acknowledge openly, is where you get your degree.  I would absolutely much rather see a Masters degree from a solid school than a Ph.D. from a university that is known for being a diploma mill—regardless of if the course work at either type of university was on-line or on-ground.  (See this NY Times article about the problems at one for-profit university   http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/11/education/11phoenix.html).  As a small business owner,  I have a few major reasons that I hire people with advanced degrees :

  • They have shown the perseverance to start and finish a degree.
  • They have (hopefully) been taught critical thinking skills that are necessary for success in a knowledge-based employment culture.
  • They have learned to write and speak effectively.

While some students at these non-traditional universities may have the skills I’m looking for, their educational experience doesn’t signal that to me at all.   There really is a difference between the education you get from a more traditional university—even in an on-line program, many of which have stellar fundamentals, instructors, and curriculum—and a university focused on their quarterly earnings targets.  As a military spouse, I know it is difficult to get a degree from a more traditional university, and we’re going to be working in the coming months to identify quality programs that will allow military spouses to participate effectively.

How do I respond if the interviewer asks “Are you a Military Spouse?”

This week’s answer from Donna Huneycutt, a Lawyer and the Executive Vice President of Wittenberg Weiner Consulting, LLC.


It is illegal to inquire about a job candidate’s marital status.  That having been said, the motivations for asking the question could be legally appropriate if stated another way:  “Do you have responsibilities outside of work that will prevent you from getting the job done?” or “Should I expect you to have to leave the job abruptly?”

One option, of course, is to point out that the question is illegal.  While you are within your right to do this, the response may make your interviewer defensive and predisposed against hiring you.  If the interviewer’s motivation for asking the question was rooted in concern rather than bias, you have an opportunity not only to assuage the interviewer’s concerns, but to tout your suitability for the role.

Most civilians know very little about military life.  This is your opportunity to tell them how resourceful and resilient a Military Spouse has to be.  Tell them how you are used to anticipating and managing challenges outside of your field of expertise.  Tell them about the patience you have developed and about how you have learned to deal productively with different types of people in different cultures.  Give them statistics about the credentials and work ethic of Military Spouses.  Tell them you know how to woman up!

Tell them how well you performed in past jobs and what you managed to accomplish in just a few short years in your prior role.  Let them know that the continuity of your career is something that keeps you grounded and able to manage the unique requirements of being affiliated with the military.  Assure them that you have an excellent support system and that you are, because you must be, organized, reliable and responsive.

Let them know about how long you expect to be in the area, and, if true in your spouse’s command, that PCS projections are very reliable.  Let them know about the long lead times for a PCS and the fact that, as someone new to the area, you are ready to really invest in a job  (“I have three years to do something really meaningful here professionally and I’m very excited about it”).

Most interviewers know that people no longer stay in jobs for more than a few years.  It’s the nature of employment today.  If they are perceptive and if indeed the role is a good fit for you, they will recognize your value and suitability for the job.