September 17, 2012

How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?

Filed under: Getting in the door, Interviewing, Job Search, Q&A, Readers' Forum

In the September 18, 2012 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a job hunter asks how to parlay his considerable academic credentials into a good job:

Here’s hoping you can knock some sense into me. The job search process has me bewildered. I have a degree in computer science and I had begun a doctoral program, but must now re-enter the job market. I am considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them. Yet I have little in the way of a “track record” that would be of interest to employers looking for someone with a more specialized background. I have tried to sell my skills, but have only gotten form-letter acknowledgements. Any suggestions on getting to first base? Thanks.

My Advice

No offense, but nobody’s buying what you’re selling.

You say you have little in the way of experience to offer an employer in your field. That’s patently untrue, but it’s a common error in judgment that lots of new grads make.

Much of the experience and many of the skills you’ve acquired in school can transfer to the work world, but you need to do the mapping. (An employer won’t figure it out for you.)

What you’re selling isn’t what you’ve done. It’s what you can do.

Make a list of all the “hands-on” work you have done related to the kind of work done in your field — the kind of work you want to do. The work you’ve done might include academic projects, if it’s relevant to the jobs you want. People tend to dismiss their academic work because it’s academic. It can still be hands-on, it’s still experience, and it can be very valuable to an employer if you can show how.

Then put that list aside, because it’s totally useless without what we’re going to do next. (That’s why it doesn’t sell!)

Focus on the work the employer needs done. You must research and understand it before you can do any “mapping” of your skills. (Your skills are useless unless someone needs them!) That means learning about each target company and talking to people who work there. Try to describe the work you discover in terms of tasks — things you would have to do. Be as detailed as possible.

Then review each item, and describe how you could shape and apply each of your skills and experiences to help get the work done in a way that positively impacts the employer’s bottom line.

That is, how would hiring you be a benefit? (You can work through this process best if you focus on one company at a time.)

Remember that some of your skills are very fundamental, and these are the ones that can be best generalized to a specific job. For example, organizational skills, analytical skills, writing skills, and so on. The challenge is to find ways to apply them to the one job you’re pursuing. That is what an employer wants to see — not your resume. That’s what employers pay for.

This is what you’re selling.

I’ll say it again: As you do this mapping, be very specific. Sometimes, the inability to get specific stems from not really knowing what a company really needs. This is where your general research skills come in: Research the heck out of a company and its business. If you don’t, then you can’t demonstrate what you can offer, and you don’t deserve the job. (I discuss these techniques in more detail in The Library Vacation and Put a Free Sample in Your Resume, two key sections of the PDF book, How Can I Change Careers?)

Don’t worry that a job is beneath you. You will probably have to take an entry-level position to start. Don’t carry a negative attitude about this; it’s a necessary part of starting a career. It’s how employers decide you’re worth trusting with more sophisticated work. The point is to find a job in a company where you’re working with people who will offer you more and better work soon.

Give this an honest shot by looking at yourself through an employer’s eyes. You see, employers want one thing: to have a problem solved. Most won’t take the time to tell an outsider what that is. Offering value and solutions before you’re asked is the best way to find work.

I wish you success.

How did you get your first job out of school? What could this reader do to make you want to hire him? I think schools absolutely suck at teaching students how to find jobs. Why???

: :

31 Comments on “How do I sell my extensive academic credentials to an employer?”
By K
September 18, 2012 at 6:05 am

This writer is not credible. I hire software developers. Well, I try to; the market is very tight. If this candidate has a recent CS degree and can’t find a job, then he’s leaving something out of the story. Nobody who’s trying to hire software talent is going to be interested in keeping a qualified candidate in an under-challenging, entry-level position if he has the aptitude and interest for more. We simply can’t afford to in this market.

By T
September 18, 2012 at 10:02 am

From what I’ve seen, employers looking for IT workers, programmers, etc completely ignore anyone that does not have 3-5 years of paid, professional experience with a company. So you’re half right – employers won’t keep someone overqualified in an under-challenging, entry-level position. This is because he won’t be hired at all.

By Jim
September 18, 2012 at 10:09 am

Great advice.

I had to hire someone to do data research. Just so happens this person’s back ground is as a pastor.

I made the mistake of asking him, “tell me about your ability to do research.”

Well, any seminary student working on translating scripture from the original Hebrew or Greek does a lot of research – and I knew that. He just told me about his college experience.

HIRED on the spot and was a great employee.

By Suzanne
September 18, 2012 at 10:17 am

Maybe the doctorial training is off-putting; a lot of people have a bias against academics. I agree with Nick, emphasize the work you have done.

Nick,
I wanted to respond to your comment: “I think schools absolutely suck at teaching students how to find jobs. Why???”

One reason is that schools have no “skin in the game” they get paid regardless of the outcomes. And they have no incentive to serve societal needs.

I did an internship with a state government taskforce that was trying to address the nursing shortage. We interviewed one educator who told us that they cut their nursing program because it was too expensive. He told us he could produce 10 historians for the price of 1 nurse. Nothing against historians, but that equation is completely upside-down given supply and demand.

Why do they suck at teaching students to find jobs? They don’t care and they don’t have to.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 18, 2012 at 10:54 am

@Suzanne: Bingo! They really don’t care. Some do. Most don’t. They’ve sold the concept of “education” as a free-standing service, and they’ve successfully untethered themselves from any responsibility for making it relevant to work. I believe they’ve been able to do this because of high costs and competitive admissions. Parents focus on those two things, and get so caught up in getting in and paying for it that they skip over the OUTCOME.

By Ellen-Rachell
September 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Employers think the magic formula of expertise is 3-5 years for everything! I’ve recently heard that recruiters and HR people don’t even consider volunteer/non-paid experience relevant as actual experience if you weren’t paid even if it addresses the employer’s needs and shows that you can do the job.

I hear all the time that there is a nursing shortage. Yet many institutions, at least here in Los Angeles no longer offer internships because of the expense! Although, I know many experienced nurses who can’t find jobs either and those who have just graduated can’t get a job without an internship?

I get conflicting messages; commercials for learning institutions that promise you’ll a land great job, and employers who require 3-5 years of experience to be considered. Of course, even if you do manage to find an internship, or get unpaid applicable experience, the HR rep or recruiter ignores it since you didn’t get paid! For me, the messages have never been more confusing!

By Don Harkness
September 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

You’re talking about my world. Close to 40 years in IT & 30 as one of those hiring managers with Software R&D and then 4 more as an IT recruiter.
I agree with K, the writer seems to be leaving something out. Feeling overqualified as a freshly minted grad with no experience, doesn’t compute. Sounds more like someone with a BSCS who worked for awhile then returned for more education for unknown reasons. (noting re-enter the job market and being perceived as overqualified for entry jobs).
In either case, Nick’s core advise to research the heck out of the company and to focus on some aspect of your vocation/major along with it hits the nail on the head. weighing on other responses:
*Yes 3-5 years is a nice sweet spot,and of course we liked to find people that hit that space, but it’s not a deal breaker. All the companies I worked for hired grads, even in the worst of times.
*If a grad, a good target for that research and networking is to get insights on a company’s grad hiring/university targets. That is, we liked colleges known for “pragmatically based” CS programs. Where hands-on project based instruction played a key role in the degree program. The students actually developed something. And this usually reflected the Department Head’s philosophy. As opposed to theoretically based instruction. We hired heavily from the former type universities. Some networking will likely tell you what KIND OF graduates the company favors as well as favored universities. Your university shouldn’t be oblivious of their corporate proponents either. If you find a company is not your flavor you likely can save yourself a lot of grief as you won’t likely get traction, nor will you be considered overqualified.
As to academics. That too needs research, but it’s a safe bet that the older the company, the more attention and respect academic grounding gets, particularly if HR has it’s say. For instance, start-ups fixate entirely on the ability to get things done without hand holding. They don’t care if you got past high school, swear off bathing, and curl up into a fetal position when another human gets too close, IF you are a stellar code slinger, and read code like civilized people read the classics. If the startup survives, over time they take on HR airs and want to “improve the staff” and introduce hard-core degree requirements, often with the support of others who feel it’s next to Godliness. But when it hits the hiring manager level, one size doesn’t fit all, some swear by academics and feel it’s a “must”. But most are pragmatic, viewing a hard requirement for a degree as an HR tax, and have the BS MS PHD mindset (Bullshit, More shit, Piled Higher and Deeper. Ability to do the job trumps academics at the working level. Whatever you have when you walk in the door may get you some starting salary points…but you’d better be able to sling code. Because once aboard it’s a performance driven world where some self taught savant can clean your clock. Again, this is why you need to network and research to get a feel for the culture.
If perchance you are experienced, went back for more education and again are a grad, to me that was golden. because we hired grads from a different pool of reqs. Just for grads. And hiring an experienced person from the grad pool was a gift.
As to universities preparing people for finding a job…NOT. Interviewed hundreds of grads for myself and my companies and most had no vocational clue. I don’t mean the mechanics e.g. interviewing, how to dress and that stuff, but they did not seem to be teaching people how companies utilize vocational inclinations/degrees. How companies work, so you could take a shot at where you might best fit and perform. I referred to code slinging above as in most cases people associate a Computer Sciences degrees with programmers, and unfortunately, particularly the grads themselves. They don’t know what to do with the degree. There are scores of vocational directions a CS grad can take some of which, and hopefully one of which fits the grad way more than code slinging. e.g. sales, support, writing, testing, marketing and various subdivisions within those directions.
As to conflicting messages..That’s a company culture and/or a Hiring Manager variant. It means somewhere in some organization, someone strongly believes in internships and it’s reflected in their hiring behavior..while in another place someone believes the opposite. Ditto on degrees. I had a boss who was unmovable on degrees. A hard requirement. Across the hall in the same company, one of his peers could care less.

By K
September 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm

T’s point is not relevant to me. I spend an enormous amount of time recruiting college seniors for full-time work. I also spend a bunch of time on potential interns anywhere from college freshmen to master’s and phd candidates. I also invest whatever time I have in industry hires. I’m interested in anyone with 0-25+ years of experience. I’m looking to expand my two teams plus every other development team in my company. I’m not a recruiter, but I probably spend about 15-20 man days per year on this.

If this guy’s good, I would take him in a second, and I know my company is not unique trying this hard to recruit. Something does not add up.

By Phil (San Diego)
September 18, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Re: the question, “How did you get your first job out of school?”:

I was determined to work in high tech. Went to the library, started out identifying employers in certain SIC codes. The catalyst though was a copy of the local Business Journal’s annual book of lists. I used the information on the county’s top 25 software companies to narrow my search. The data included annual revenues, number of employees, etc. This research led to a job with one of those employers.

By Nic
September 19, 2012 at 7:45 am

I too started in IT before anyone knew what IT was and I did it at age 17. Yes, he has every right to feel overqualified for some IT jobs as many in IT have no degrees, and many are hangovers because they can get by and do the job on the cheap. I know a number of QA people in positions I would not hire to do dishes. They gossip all day long and have to re-do their work numerous times but they are cheap labour.

This bit from you @K calling him out, without having details, as not “credible” is IMHO outright not being credible yourself. It is so fucking typically HR ignorant and arrogant to me you just blow my mind with that statement, which btw is also to me complete bullshite. He likely HAS left details out because they are not relevant to his point. However bottom-line is I get what he means 100%. I see too many firms placing people in his position (all positions) in low-level positions if they can get them to do the work on the cheap. In many departments, they have gotten rid of top paid top talent and many firms are relying on the cheapest who can get the work done even if it means ten times as long. I see it happening all around, and no top talent person will put up with it or work for slave wages.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

@Ellen-Rachel: Experience is over-rated, and a lazy measure of human ability. HR ought to be ashamed of itself, and the board of directors should hang them by their toes. Just how does a company that claims it is “progressive” and thinks “out of the box” when it hires only people “who have done it before?” That means they’ll keep doing it the way they’ve always done it. And that’s why HR is so reliant on “experience” — it’s how they’ve always hired. Gimme a break.

By Erika
September 19, 2012 at 1:13 pm

My younger brother has a MS in CS and just went from one high paying job to another even more high paying job with better work. I am also a professional in a STEM field (though not computer-related.) Some here have been saying that “something” doesn’t add up. From my perspective, it is the candidate’s belief that any honest work is “beneath” him. What a turn-off! The truth is, we all have aspects of our jobs that could probably be done by people with fewer academic and professional credentials. An employer wants a job done. An employer does not want to deal with an employee who is too proud or entitled to do the whole job. This person just needs to keep looking for the right job for him, tailoring his approach, checking his attitude and improving his networking and interviewing / communication skills. He might also want to try using his BS or MS in CS degree less traditionally. My little brother worked as a CS grant writer for universities and got many of them big $$$ from the federal government for specific projects. There are other job possibilities for CS degrees; the limiting factor is one’s imagination and ingenuity. These are hard times for the unemployed, no doubt, but there are jobs out there. I wish the candidate all the best.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 19, 2012 at 1:48 pm

@Erika: I detected a bit of the same thing, but I’m not sure if there’s arrogance or unrealistic expectations. It’s pretty clear to me that colleges play up the value of a degree, and students drink the koolaid. It’s natural to believe that if you make an investment, it should produce a certain return. A BS or MS should pay off with a certain type of job and salary. Truth is, of course, it doesn’t. The disconnect can be huge, and the “crash” into reality can be devastating. As I tried to point out to this reader, the first job might be just a door-opener.

By marybeth
September 19, 2012 at 6:07 pm

I’m not in the computer/tech field, so I don’t know how much employers value a CS degree over experience or vice versa. I agree with Nick: the lw needs to stop thinking about what the employer owes him and start thinking about what he can do for the employer. If he has experience in the field, he should play that up, and perhaps explain that he went back to school, thinking that getting an advanced degree would help him, but he realized that an advanced degree would only be useful if he wanted to remain in academia (i.e., teach CS to college kids), which he doesn’t. If he has experience and a willingness to work, then I should think/hope that he time in graduate school won’t put off an employer. And if it does, it means that employer is not the right one for him. But I also agree with Nick that he might have to start with an entry-level job right now. The economy is lousy, there are many, many people competing for jobs, and even though entry-level is not what he wants, it would give him a foot in the door, and who knows, it may lead to other, better opportunities.

Re the comments about the obligation of colleges and universities to train students specifically to work at certain companies or to write résumés, I respectfully disagree. Colleges are not job training programs. And while most colleges have career services on campus, offering workshops on résumé writing, interviewing, networking, etc., it is up to students to sign up for them, to go to them, to meet with career services staff for additional help, feedback, guidance, and advice. This is done on the students’ own time, and is not a for-credit class. If students fail to show up, don’t research employers, don’t make use of the college’s alumni association/network, don’t attend career day/job fairs when employers send reps/recruiters to campus, it isn’t the college’s fault.

Something has shifted in our culture where people now equate college with job training and job placement. College is not and never has been that. The fact that some employers have chosen to make a college degree a requirement for jobs at their company is another issue entirely. Or that some companies will pay a college graduate more to do the same job as an employee with a high school diploma. Nor are colleges responsible for training students to do particular jobs at companies. The college/university isn’t Microsoft College or Hewlett-Packard University. Should students have some basic skills in whatever field (chemistry, CS, journalism, social work, etc.)? Yes. But I don’t think it is reasonable for an employer to expect a recent graduate (or even a new employee who is not a recent graduate) to be able to do the job perfectly from day one with no training. You have a chemistry degree and plan to work at Dow Chemical, so you know the basics (of chemistry) but you may not know the specifics of what Dow Chemical wants you to do for your particular job. That’s up to Dow Chemical to train you in the specifics–they’ll expect you to have have mastered the basics of chemistry already, and to be able to apply them in your job. I don’t think it is reasonable for Dow Chemical to expect UMass to train its chemistry students for jobs at Dow Chemical. Or for Bank of America to expect UConn to train management or accounting or finance students for BoA jobs.

Part of this is due to employers (HR in particular) taking the easy way out and using a college degree as a way to weed out applicants. Employers need to look at the jobs and think “does this particular require a college degree, a master’s degree, a doctoral degree”? Could someone with a high school diploma and on the job training perform the job? There are some jobs that do require a degree, and that’s fine. And colleges have a responsibility to make sure that the degrees offered are current. Students have some ownership too–research employers, find out what they’re looking for, check out internships, summer employment to get experience. And make sure you study so you know the material that you’ll be expected to apply in your future job.

By Lucille
September 20, 2012 at 8:01 am

@Nick, I’m all for experience. If you have experience, you do things more quickly than when you didn’t. You learn things more quickly. You estimate your work better. You make far less mistakes.

By Nic
September 20, 2012 at 8:06 am

@Lucille you wrote “if you have experience, you do things more quickly than when you didn’t. You learn things more quickly. You estimate your work better. You make far less mistakes.”

I agree, but ONLY if there is seriousness and intelligent behind the person.

By Nic
September 20, 2012 at 8:07 am

Forgive my typing, I meant to write above “intelligent logic…”

By Dave
September 20, 2012 at 8:48 am

@K

I would guess you are in the minority and/or using non-traditional avenues of recruiting. This is a good thing, IMHO.

But, most people use job boards/ads as part of their search. Or they contact “recruiting firms.” The problem is that most of these require a laundry list of skills/experience.

The problem is that it’s hard for people to sell themselves when using a job board/recruiter and many places don’t even allow people to even give the pitch.

@Lucille

I agree with Nick…

Also, the problem with that attitude is that where do people get the experience? It’s the chicken-and-egg paradox. At some point the experienced people are going to leave the work force. At worst, you’re going to be left with people with BS’s in CS, but have only been able to work the hekp desk because “they don’t have experience.” Maybe if these people were brought up, trained and promoted (based on merit).

By Lucille
September 20, 2012 at 12:33 pm

@Nic,
Are you kidding me? Since when could anyone equate experience with a lack of seriousness and a lack of purpose? Are there more of people with this lack who are experienced, than people who are serious about their careers? Where are they? You best move if you’re surrounded by idiots like that.

I have 30 years of experience in my field. I speak from experience when I say that people with experience can code faster, do a better job and I anticipate problems a lot faster than inexperienced people. Right now I’m working with some junior people and when I go over their code I see the same mistakes I made 25-30 years ago. I don’t blame them for their mistakes, I try to help them. When I look over more experienced people’s code, it does show a better quality.

Don’t knock experience. Companies get a lot of bang for their buck when they hire more experienced people.

I worked for a company that had 2 development teams – one team was a group of 4 people with decades of experience. One group was 15 people with about 11 of them junior. The product coming from the group of 4 quintupled in 2 years. The product from the other group, had to be relaunched.

By Nic
September 20, 2012 at 1:39 pm

@Lucille No I am dead serious. You may well be one of the exceptions, however I have seen many a complete moron on a job 30 years. Oh yes I have, and in some big corporations too.

I am not knocking experience, but there is experience, and then there are people who just got by for years on end, which is not experience, there is a huge difference.

I agree a firm may well get way more bang for their buck so to say with an experienced employee. I do agree but someone coming in with major educational credentials cannot be discounted either.

The problem I had at the beginning of this thread is that the guy said point blank ” considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them. Yet I have little in the way of a “track record” that would be of interest to employers looking for someone with a more specialized background.” He is right. That does NOT make him not credible. He has brought up valid points and may well have to tweak his search however I smell that this guy is major talent. He doesn’t want to make a wrong move or work with a bunch of early 20 IT idiots bursting bubblewrap all day or QA people gossiping all day for lower than proper wages and I don’t blame him one bit.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Lucille & Nic: Good points on both your parts. I probably spoke a bit too strongly and broadly about experience. But I think we’re talking about a couple of things. In this example, programmers (or coders for that matter) with lots of experience probably do a cleaner job of it than newbies. Experience matters. But judging a job candidate before even meeting them by how much specific experience they have with a particular language often leads to losing perfectly good candidates. Yet it’s a common recruiting error. It’s not just proverbial, but real: The job postings insisting on “5 years experience” with a language that’s only been around for 3. HR gets too caught up in routine and blows it. That’s an extreme example. But it makes the point.

I’ve had clients tell me to forget about candidates who lack the exact amount of exact experience specified… when I’ve got candidates who could run circles around those more experienced. And the managers would probably agree if they’d just get over their preconceptions. And sometimes I win the battle, my client learns something, and gets a great hire.

I’m saying I see both your points. Each of you I think has been frustrated by examples close to home! Thanks for the debate!

By Lucille
September 21, 2012 at 7:28 am

@Nic and Nick,
Yes, I agree. I’ve seen people with many years in the industry just show up every day and not accomplish much. I can think of 6 or so examples off the top of my head. And I’ve seen unrealistic job descriptions. And I’ve seen companies try to hire against those job descriptions.

However, in my career, people who can’t do the job, though they’ve been in the field for a long time have been the minority example. Most people I’ve seen who come to work, do work with a purpose. I try, as much as I humanly can, to interview in a welcoming spirit. I try to not spend too much time hirinig to guard against the jerks.

In this market, I’m thinking hire American. We’ve been doing computer science now for decades, we invent the technologies, and we are experienced. And due to the economy, you can even hire experienced people to less than normal. You get the competitive advantage of hiring the best candidates for a discount.

I don’t have any problem with hiring less experienced people if that is what your budget requires, but the less experienced people have to be managed and taught and the timelines have to be lengthened by quite a lot. If you do hire less experienced people, that is the trade-off a company has to explicitly make.

I’m done with my comments on experience.

By Dave
September 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

@Nic, Lucille and Nick…

Interesting discussion.

My issue is that many people/companies are so tied to experience then turn around and scream “talent shortage.” There is only a shortage when you raise the bar to a very high level.

I completely understand Lucille’s desire for experienced canidates. However, keep in mind that everyone has to start somewhere. It is easy to discount college graduates.

Nick says, “But judging a job candidate before even meeting them by how much specific experience they have with a particular language often leads to losing perfectly good candidates. ”

Anyone experienced/smart enough/worthwhile/etc. could pick up a new laguage in a reasonable amount of time. And most systems they’ll be working on are not exactly rocket science (even though you may think they are). ;-)

Nic says, “The problem I had at the beginning of this thread is that the guy said point blank ” considered overqualified for much of what passes for entry-level positions, and realistically I would be under-challenged in them.”

Without knowing specifics, many college graduates (in CS/IT related fields) are forced working help-desk type roles. If this guy ventured into graduate school, he’s probably better than average and has a serious interest in this stuff. Why would one want to limit themselves to a low paying (with little change of growing) help desk job, when he feels he can do more with his talents/interests?

By Phil (San Diego)
September 22, 2012 at 3:27 am

I’ve been to graduate school, Information Systems. Attendance did not necessarily correlate with aptitude. I saw a lot of students who obediently completed assignments, passively marching through the program thinking that the school or the degree would take care of life for them.

Upon graduation the default education had exposed these lesson vessels to many things, none of which they had mastered – the “I know about” trap. Once the responsibility of the week’s assignments had been completed I doubt very many of them spent the weekend in the basement running cables, testing a mixed network of Red Hat and Windows, or experimenting with remote management of a team member’s home lab network.

That said, with IT positions it is easier to assert practical value. If one is seeking a programming job, design and develop a program on your own time. Bring a binder containing its code samples.

A coworker of mine on the admin side set up a secured home email server accessible remotely. If a person is willing to spring for an MSDN subscription, the server OS’s to be used for demonstrations are included in the price of the subscription. The next step is to log in and hand the keyboard to the hiring manager as a catalyst for conversation or further demonstrations of ability.

Most people are underchallenged by entry level work. Regardless of how many academic credentials a student might have collected, with no real world experience it’s understandable that a prospect would have to prove a baseline of value in an entry level job. Grad school in particular deceives the inexperienced into thinking they’ve entered officers’ training school. If one is doubtful that a meritocracy is in place which would favor the candidate’s abilities, consider employment the price of avoiding entrepreneurialism.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 23, 2012 at 1:07 pm

@Phil: I hope the parent of every college student reads what you wrote. Doing the school work and getting the degree is just the prelude to doing the actual work. When employers have a defensible reason for wanting “experience” (not all their reasons are), this is what they mean. A student can “do the actual work” even while in school, but few schools insist on it, and few students bother. Our education system has become too tuned to “education for its own sake” (though there’s a defense for that, too) – to the extent that students really believe that getting the degree is sufficient. Your officers’ school analogy is apt, and so is your analogy about employment and entrepreneurship. It’s all about the work – and students can do real work if they decide to.

By Phil (San Diego)
September 23, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for the good word, Nick. If a person is intent on that block of time resulting in negotiable value, they have to do something to differentiate themselves from every other penguin on the ice floe; GPA is only one quantifiable.

That might mean summer sessions to make room for useful credits in addition to the cookie cutter curriculum. Checking off requisite courses one by one results in an undifferentiated transcript.

Many universities now offer entrepreneurship labs, or internships as part of a consulting team. For myself I found independent projects to be an avenue for differentiation. I defined the topic, found a faculty sponsor, and dove in depth on a technology which fascinated me.

For those lacking passion for any particular topic, professors trapped in the publish or perish treadmill probably will provide credits for research assistant work. This might help create focus where one is lacking.

Bottom line, for students or otherwise, the best way in the world to get that next step up the ladder is to already be doing the work. How one makes that happen is what separates the makers from the price takers.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 24, 2012 at 9:29 am

@Phil: Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big believer in education for its own sake. But I also believe in having a career and making money. Where colleges get it wrong is that they fail to make the distinction. If a kid is in school seeking purely education with no specific career objectives in mind, that’s fine – but the school should log that in the student’s records and check in regularly with him or her to reconfirm that objective. If the kid wants to get a good job upon graduation, also fine – but the school needs to establish a plan starting freshman year to help the kid (and the parents who finance the education) achieve that goal.

Where the disconnect happens is when schools claim a “career track” education would somehow compromise a good overall education. That’s patent nonsense! For the $55,000/year most “good” schools charge nowadays, there’s plenty of room to do both! And the people who pay for education should be storming the walls, demanding both.

By Jane Atkinson
September 24, 2012 at 5:47 pm

I think there’s a problem where tertiary institutions imply that gaining a qualification will result in a good job. As far as I can tell, though, they seem to imply that it will just happen. That is, it won’t require any additional work or initiative from the student, other than applying for jobs/sending out resumes.

Possibly there’s some small print saying otherwise, but how many people actually read small print?

At least, I see that here in New Zealand. Maybe it’s different in the States.

By Nick Corcodilos
September 24, 2012 at 8:55 pm

@Jane: Ah, yes, that little distinction between “necessary” and “sufficient.” While a degree may be necessary for certain gigs, is it sufficient to get a gig at all? That’s the implication, no?

By Thomas Simmons
October 26, 2012 at 1:24 am

A little off topic here. Hope you don’t mind. Got your site through PBS FaceBook page (Bill Moyers maybe?) noting your work earlier.

Read your various blogs on the job boards. My year and a half of searching on job boards in 2011-12 reflects your statements made in 2000 and since. I saw this spot [http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/top-10-most-effective-job-search-websites/] and noticed that they did not, as you pointed out years go, make any statements about their success rate.

There is also a problem with predatory entities looking for the vulnerable. One very common offer is for the forwarder who receives shipments of who-knows-what in the USA and then sends them on to locations overseas. I know what they are responding to and it seems to be a good idea but the remuneration is problematic and takes advantage of the unemployed–all using Monster.com and Indeed and CareerBuilder etc.

You note numerous times that personal references are still the best way to go. There seems to be an increasing problem with that: the community is buying the job board hype and they think that is where the jobs are. Their incentive to help the unemployed friend or relative is thereby curtailed. I made a decent living in East Asia for nearly two decades off references, and developing contacts to refer. it was and is a very good system–if you can break into it.

By the way, The USJobs board has the same problem, they apportion jobs to those in the system and apparently a much smaller share to those without government points. Getting into the system is the problem.

By Nick Corcodilos
October 26, 2012 at 9:13 am

@Thomas: I believe the challenge is in going around the system. How these entities “apportion” their job listings is irrelevant. Finding the managers and talking with them directly is where the bulk of hires come from. Don’t worry about the overwhelming listings online — their mere existence does not change the success rates. Go where success happens. Meet people.

Post a comment