Here’s what I told the guy in the interview, “Over a 4 and a half year period I reported to no less than 36 different managers. Most often my obligations were split between 4 managers at a time and each of them had completely different objectives for me to meet at regular intervals. At any given time they’d have me working on either support documentation or reviewing past work product while assimilating new information that would be relevant to my performance reviews about every 6 weeks or so. I was evaluated by each manager on a 5 point scale and would not be able to move forward in my career at that time if I did not rank a 3 or better, I often received 5’s and have the records to prove it. During this time I gained considerable experience evaluating my managers and how to work within the parameters of their expectations even though in most cases their styles and objectives were vastly different from their peers. I left after 4 and a half years because I reached my own personal development goal and wanted to use my skills and abilities where I could really make a difference.”
“Wow,” he said, “That’s incredible, where was this?”
“I went to college, I graduated” I told him.
When we in the staffing/recruiting business scan through a resume and merely check off that someone has a degree or not, how often do we really consider what that means? While I have had a career I am proud of working in industry, I am even more proud of the non-profit work I have done for 20 years working with teenagers as they prepare to exit high school and begin to make their life choices on their own. Sure, many are still tied to mom and dad for financial support, but the effort they put into meeting the objectives they attempt by going to college is their own. For many, it is the first time in their lives that they are taking on a major self improvement project voluntarily.
We would argue that you cannot make it in the business world today without a college education, and yet I still know many successful people that I admire greatly who do not have this background. In many cases they did not choose not to go to college but their circumstances, whether financial or familial, helped define their path for them. When one of these friends tells me that they do not have a degree I tell them to add the word “yet”. I tell them about my own grandmother who attended community college in her 70’s to get her AA degree because she wanted to set an example for her grandchildren.
I enjoy taking the time to explain the meaning of a college education to high school students and their parents because it really helps them put things into perspective. The young man who didn’t see himself as college material saw his father’s PhD in a whole new light. The VP who came to realize the challenges his daughter will face in the years to come.
It is also true that many of us fail to challenge ourselves as much as we should or even shy away from huge projects with multi-faceted initiatives that will demand we stretch the limits of our multi-tasking abilities. We often don’t give ourselves enough credit for the things we have accomplished. Take the time to look back and let all your achievements seep in not just from your professional life, but from our academic achievements as well. By doing a little personal data-mining you may find that you are more accomplished than you let yourself believe.
Ultimately my point here is that we should not discount or disregard the achievement and opportunity that a college education represents. Will we ever have a reporting structure like that in our professional careers? Will we ever have to deliver on projects as disparate as Calculus and Political Science simultaneously in our professional lives? Not likely, but that fact we’ve either done that or are sitting across the table from some who just did that should help us put into perspective what it can mean to our business if we take the time to value it for the high achievement that it is.
It is equally important that we recognize that most of the people who have yet to pursue a degree have a good reason rooted in the circumstances of their live that were beyond their control. It may not be true of everyone, but it is important that we look at ourselves or our degreeless candidates as people with years of successful work experience who may have had to make tougher choices driven by outside influencers and then made the best of it.
So as you consider your candidates remember that they are more than just a warm body with a strong resume. They are the sum of life, academic, and professional experiences; inside every candidate is a universe of accomplishments and achievements that must be carefully evaluated as you move towards weaving them into the fabric of your company’s future.