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.

Views: 99

Comment by Martin H.Snyder on October 13, 2009 at 12:39pm
Our higher-ed system does a great job on the professional tracks: we have the most accessable and successful engineering, legal, and medical education in the world. Likewise with basic research and our community college system; both sectors are well adaped and quite successful.

On the other hand, our whole liberal arts edifice and the unresolved tension between vocational training and a decent life of the mind are nothing less than a money destroying slow motion disaster, chewing up billions of dollars and years of life, with only more of the same on the endless horzion.

College is not for everybody, and it ill-serves many who might otherwise benefit, were it organized and timed properly. In the days of mailed resumes and expensive assessment, the degree was a handy shorthand for basic qualifications, but today it's not needed in many cases whatsoever.

If we were honest with ourselves, we would see how little value we are getting for a huge percentage of our educational investments, and we would re-tool accordingly, but for a key secondary role of college. The often unspoken truth is that the current system is effective at sorting people by social class, and we like that result, and we are supportive of its underlying logic.

My guess is that if you took every occupation and broke the core KPA's down, you would find a small proportion that do really require a quality, full time college education, while the rest could be easily handled by basic vocational training- either on the job, or briefly as a stand-alone program.

Try telling a guy in an interview something like this:

"I did a survey of the available economic opportunities and decided that "XYZ" was most interesting. I managed to find an entry-level position in the industry, where I learned the basics of the game. I was then fortunate enough to again find a role where my new skills could be put to practical use right away, and I moved up in responsibility and accomplishment quickly, so that by age 24, I had near mastery of the role. I am now mentoring several promising future players and looking forward to an early retirement, during which I plan to travel and study.......
Comment by Charles Van Heerden on October 14, 2009 at 2:23am
Randy, your story reminded me studying for my first degree after hours, whilst working for the Air Force, as a young corporal. Imagine my surprise when I ran into one of the generals in my class. After a salute (as were both in uniform) I asked the general why someone of his rank and experience would be studying. He looked at me with a smile and said "Son, you are never too old or senior to learn". I was pretty motivated after that!
Comment by Ross Clennett on October 14, 2009 at 7:30am
Really great points, Randy. I was at University for 5 years. I gained an economics degree but far more valuable were the leadership, communication and organisational skills I gained through my involvement in campus theatre, student union/representative council and the university council. I have never formally 'used' my degree but every day I am using the skills I learned outside the lecture halls and tutorial rooms.
Comment by Jennifer Finetti - NIA Creative on October 17, 2009 at 2:37am
Great article Randy - not only is it an interesting and relevant topic, the WAY you write is really impressive. I especially loved the opener; it's something I never thought about as I was applying for jobs right out of college...If I had tried that approach when I first graduated with my Psychology degree in hand, maybe I could have landed a more illustrious job than the one I got at a local YMCA Summer Camp:)


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