Ask Celes – I Just Graduated. Should I Go for My Dream Job or Continue Studying?

Ask Celes

Hi Celes, I’ve enjoyed reading PE since my undergraduate days and your tips on becoming a dean’s lister helped me to get on that elusive list for 2 consecutive years! Many thanks :)

Now that I’ve graduated in July, I have two options: 

1) My dream job which I’ve always wanted since university: great earning potential that comes with passing exams and great working environment. Got a job offer but it came only half a year after graduation due to the high barriers to entry.

2) To embark on a PhD program. It was actually a back-up plan of sorts, since I couldn’t nail my dream job for half a year. I’ve actually done preparation for it (e.g. doing GMAT and requesting for recommendation letters). My family and I like the prospect of doing a PhD, but job security may be an issue after PhD since research is a very competitive arena.

Every day, I’m stuck in the conundrum of these two options, thinking about which path to follow and it is mentally draining. I have read your article: “How To Make Life’s Hardest Decisions“.

But, how do I choose between two options where the risks and rewards seem to be really similar? Or would you recommend that I take option #1 and use option #2 as a backup? Any advice will be appreciated. Thanks in advance :)

~ Mo

Dearest Mo, first off, congratulations on being on the Dean’s List for two consecutive years!! Kudos to you for taking lead of your studies and excelling in them. Your parents must be really proud of you! :D

It’s awesome that you have read my decision making article because those are my three best methods for breaking out of any conundrum.

In your case, method #2 “Ideal Vision” seems the most appropriate. When you are trapped in a situation with clear-cut options but you are unclear of the path to take, gain clarity by (a) first identifying where you want to be X (say five) years from now, then (b) identifying the path which will bring you there. This path may be Path A, Path B, a combination of Path A and B, or something new altogether.

My Pick: Option #1, to Work

If you were to ask me, personally, I would recommend that you go with option #1: go for your dream job right away.

I was once in a similar scenario, contemplating between (a) staying on in school for an additional year for an honors degree and (b) graduating right after my bachelor’s degree to work. At that time I was in my second year of university and had already secured my job offer with P&G after my internship with them.

While I could have studied for my honors and still join the company after graduation, I opted for Option B: to graduate right after my bachelor’s degree and start work.


Why? Because personal growth is a big thing for me. I experienced — first hand during my internship — how I could grow by leaps and bounds by being on the job. As a reference, I learned more in two months of my internship with the company than I did in two years of my degree. I was pushed in more intense, stress-inducing situations in those two months than I did in two decades of my life. (And I mean it in a good way, because stress is a sign that we are not able to handle something (yet) it’s a stimulus to growth).

It was painfully obvious to me at that time how I would be “wasting” time by continuing an extra year of study over work. This was why I chose to work right away, even though I could have studied for my honors and then join my ex-company after graduation.

In my case, it also happened that having an honors degree literally had no impact to my path. Apparently, that’s the case for most private-sector career paths: While some may get a higher starting pay with an honors degree (not for my ex-company though; there was no difference in pay between honors and bachelor’s degree holders), this is a short-term difference. What you gain in a few months or a year on the job will quickly supersede whatever edge you may have had with an honors at first.

Here I’m assuming that you will be working in a high-performance job that will maximize your growth vs. a job where you idle your time away (you mentioned it’s your dream job, so I’m sure it comes with great prospects and growth-opportunities). If it’s the latter — a low-to-no-responsibility job — furthering your studies will obviously be a better choice since you would be experiencing minimal growth in such a job. It’s precisely because both of your current options are great that you’re having such a dilemma right now.

Not to worry though, as every dilemma can be worked through. :)

Four Questions To Consider

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Will your job still be around after your PhD? Is the company willing to leave a position open for you at the time of your PhD graduation?
  2. What is your personal life vision five years from now (in reference to my question in the opening)? Which path is more aligned to that vision: studying PhD, going for your dream job, or something else altogether?
  3. Are there significant differences in which a PhD will bring to your career path? Sure, there will probably be differences or benefits which a PhD would bring (otherwise why would people study for?!), but are these differences significant? More importantly, do these differences matter to you
  4. Beyond Q3: does a PhD offer significant benefits over the work experience you can potentially gain in the same time working (in your dream job)? (If yes, then PhD will be the better choice; if not, then your dream job will be the better pick.)

Re: Q1, from my experience in the professional world, most companies do not pre-commit to job placements with candidates beyond one year (unless (a) you such have a distinctive profile and experience that they absolutely need you, (b) you are in an industry which has a definite need for new recruits every year like accountancy, or (c) you are in a scholarship bond with the company which isn’t the case here). This is especially so in today’s market, where many companies are undergoing restructuring and resizing.

Even if the companies do promise a vacancy, things can always change. Some companies undergo headcount freezes or downsizing in the flick of an eye once management issues a decision. I know someone who was offered his dream role before graduating but his placement got retracted later on due to market changes, leaving him jobless and seeking a job in the months after his graduation.

On Q3, if the differences don’t matter to you, then there’s really little point in considering them. And whether these differences matter to you will be a function of what your personal life vision is (re: Q2).

For example, having an honors vs. a bachelor’s degree has its differences for sure. There’s a slight level of prestige and distinction an honors-degree holder would have over a bachelor’s-degree-only holder. Some companies give a slightly higher pay for honors graduates vs. non-honors graduates. And having an honors is indeed important in the public sector.

However, none of these were relevant for me. Or rather, the differences that mattered at that point were instantly irrelevant three, five, or ten years from then. I didn’t care about the distinction an honors-degree holder would have because I was going to gain much more from the same time working in a growth-intensive job. The pay advantage for honors didn’t apply for the company I was joining; and it wouldn’t matter a few years down the road when I had years of strong, relevant work experience to speak of. I was never planning to work in the public sector, so it didn’t matter to me the importance of honors in this sector.

This was what I thought then: If I really want to further my studies next time or if having an honors proves to be important, I can always return to studies after a few years of working. School will always be there for me. This job may not be. And given the great learning and strong edge I can get from being on the job, I don’t want to spend more time to study. It’s time to graduate and craft my path outside of school.

It Boils Down To You and Your Vision

At the end of the day, the decision is up to you, and I’m just here to offer my guiding perspective. What is your personal vision for yourself? (As I mentioned in Q2.) Which is the path that works best in achieving the vision? Think over it, pick the option, then don’t look back after that.

Even if you are not 100% clear of your personal vision (most aren’t even so at the age of 30, 40, or even 50, so there’s little reason to expect yourself to be 100% clear at your age), a broad-based idea would work too.

For example, I didn’t know with precision that I wanted to be a coach, trainer, or even blogger when I was 21 (at the point of graduation). However, I knew that (a) I am passionate about growth and I want to harness my maximum growth potential, and (b) I want to create the most impact with my life. based on theses broad directions, I realized that proceeding to work immediately in my then-dream-job was the key. I would then quit once I felt that I had learned enough to pursue my path. The rest was history.

While what you’re facing may seem that this is a huge decision at this point (and it is, no doubt), but you will look back ten years later and realize that this is merely one of the many mini-thought moments in your life which got you thinking about what you truly want in life and how to best get there. At the end of the day, how you soar and excel in life isn’t going to weigh independently on just one decision you make. It’s really a result of your attitude towards life, your work ethic, and the little decisions you make every day, along the way.

Good luck Mo, and keep us posted on the path you pick in the end. :D Many hugs and love to you. *hugs*

Here are some related pieces:

  1. How To Know What You Want To Do In Life
  2. How To Discover Your Ideal Career: Your Message and Your Medium
  3. Ask Celes – Can Everyone Be Successful in Starting Their Business?

Any Advice to Share?

How about the rest of you: any advice or pointers you have to share with Mo? Feel free to sound off in the comments.

Images: Question markWindow, Water droplet, Bean sprout

This is part of the Ask Celes section. If you have a question to ask me, proceed to the Ask Celes page. Check out past Ask Celes questions here.

  • Jowin

    Great advice Celes!…. Going for a job after graduation seems like a good option especially if it is a dream offer and you get to work on the field you have graduated in And anyways you can study ahead if you aren’t interested in it.. And as Mo has mentioned giving GMAT.. The work experience would be useful as lot of colleges taking students through GMAT( MBA course) would consider work experience as well… So take job and also give GMAT(as GMAT scores are valid for 5 years so you can use GMAT score to get a good college ahead with the work experience as advantage) that would be a good path to proceed.. All the best Mo!

  • Madalina Sraier

    Going for the job would be my pick, too. Given that it is your dream job and not just the quickest means of earning money, why wait? Why go any further with a PhD if studying for a few more years isn’t your goal/your dream? Just like Celes said, think of your life, of your “ideal case”-scenario: does a PhD represent a major part of it? If the answer is “no” (and considering that you already have great job prospects), then you should definitely leave behind the idea of pursuing a PhD and get your dream job instead. I wish you best of luck, Mo! :)

    • Celestine Chua

      Well said Lina! And considering if one can always pursue PhD at any point in the future, while the dream job opportunity will not always be there, that’s another plus point towards the dream job scenario. There’s a reason why you used “dream job” to describe this job, and I believe dream job opportunities don’t come readily to just anyone. All the best in your decision Mo and let us know how it goes. :)

  • Mo

    Hi Celes, thanks very much for taking the time to reply to my question, really appreciate it. To fellow PE readers, many thanks for your encouragement too!

    I guess you’re right. While my new job can be stressful at times, especially for a newcomer, I
    hope to give my best shot at it and learn as much as I can. My broad-based vision is that in the medium to long term, I can assume greater job responsibilities, contribute more in my organisation and provide my family with a comfortable life.

    Another factor that made me lean towards option #1 is that working with a team would allow me to learn from the best people, whereas research is often a solitary process.

    After reading your article, I feel more confident about my choice and future. Thanks
    again! Cheers, Mo

    • Celestine Chua

      Hi Mo, it sounds like you have picked Option #1 and you worked through your decision-making process. Congratulations and all the best in this new path! :D

      Working in the real world is definitely going to be more rewarding than solitary studies can ever be (at least in *my* opinion). I know I grew insanely in just my two years in my previous dream job and I would never switch that for anything else (painful moments included). If I had delayed working by studying for honors in my college, it would have been just another peaceful year in my life in comparison to working, with “smaller-scale”, petty-type issues (like trying to manage relationships with project mates, working hard to secure a good grade in my final project, and the like).

  • Don

    I say go for the job. If it really is your passion/dream job, you will always second guess yourself. By taking it, you might find out it is exactly what you want, in which case, you will never think again about the PhD. On the other hand, you may find out that it isn’t what you want, in which case there is still plenty of time to go for the PhD.

    • Celestine Chua

      Hey Don! Mo has already decided to go for the job, as she shared in her comment below. :) Thanks for sharing your wisdom!