A few days ago, I shared the picture below on my Facebook wall. It drew some interesting comments, with people on one side agreeing that she had a raw deal and others insisting she took a useless course and now has nothing, but debts and useless qualifications.
Unfortunately, the second group is correct.
Your prospective employers are interested, only interested, in people who can do the job. In order to rate your suitability for a particular job, they look at your qualifications, your experience and your general attitude. If you don’t come up to their minimum level, they are unlikely to bother giving you an interview, let alone the job itself. And why should they? The world owes you nothing.
Your qualifications show them that you are determined enough to get a position that you worked hard for several years to earn the right qualifications. (This is why students should never try to insist they deserve high marks because they paid to attend college/university.) Your experience shows them that you can actually do the job. A year or two of actually doing the job – or something comparable – is worth any amount of qualifications. And your general attitude, both public (at the interview) and private (online profile, etc) shows them how well you will fit in with the rest of the company. If you insist on having your parents in the interview room, insist that you deserve the damn job, post radical sentiments on Facebook or any of the other interview mistakes there are out there (there’s no shortage of advice on the internet) you probably won’t get the job.
What you have to ask yourself, when you plan to go to college/university, is just what your planned degree is worth. What can you do with it? If you don’t choose one of the STEM subjects (or medicine and related fields) you may find you’ve educated yourself out of the market, that there are so many people with the same degrees and more experience that finding a job is very hard. Or that the only jobs you can get are so basic that you’re in competition with people who never went to college. You may never get a chance to use your fancy degree.
The thing you have to bear in mind about choosing a college/university course is that the people trying to get you on the course are effectively salesmen. Their morals, at base, are no better than real estate agents who take care to show you on the best side of a house, or the insurance salesmen who have so much fine print that they can disallow almost any claim if they wish. They want as many people in their classes as possible and will make whatever promises they need to make to get you to sign on the dotted line. DO NOT be fooled when you get told, as you will (I was), that 90% of their graduates have jobs within the first year of their professional lives. Chances are that the statement is only technically accurate – the jobs have nothing to do with their qualifications – or a flat-out lie.
If you happen to want a particular job, do some research and figure out what you actually need to get the job. (As Fred Clark notes, if you want to fly Air Force One, you really should join the USAF!) And, while you’re at it, work out what the hidden requirements are.
For example, I was looking at a page on Women’s Studies (here) which paints a rosy picture of what their graduates can do after they graduate. Cynic that I am, I have a feeling that most of the jobs listed on the page require other qualifications as well. A midwife needs rather more than just a degree in Women’s Studies. In fact, she doesn’t need a degree in Women’s Studies at all. Other examples don’t require qualifications at all, at least on the surface. The graduate will find herself in competition with others who don’t have 60K in student loans or whatever. In some cases, they may not even have lost sight of what’s important.
Higher Education, in Britain or America, isn’t exactly a scam, but it’s getting there. Unless your family is wealthy, the student loans you take out will be a burden for the rest of your life. Those loans have to be paid off before you can truly consider yourself a free person. But if the degree you wind up with is useless, when it comes to getting a high-paid job, you’re in deep trouble. You have to find a degree you can use as something more than a piece of decoration on your wall.
If you’re 16 and you’re looking at your options, do some research and figure out just where you want to be when you’re 26.
But, if you’re 26 and your degree is worthless, it’s time to stop feeling and start thinking.
I understand how the woman in the picture feels, because I’ve been there myself. My university lied to me too. I left thinking I could just walk into a job and found myself, rapidly, in competition with people with the same degree and more experience. I too wound up working menial jobs to support myself while I looked for my in … and, even when I did get an entry-level job in a library, it took me years to get a step or two up the chain. Many of the people who held the same entry-level job had no degree themselves (and really, none was needed.) My former boss had a list of degrees and accomplishments as long as my arm. The chances for promotion were very slight – and bear in mind that my degree was actually relevant.
There’s no one I can blame for my decision to study a degree with limited job-finding potential, except for myself. If you’re in the same boat, stop whining about how unfair life is – yes, it is unfair – and start thinking. How can I make myself look better to prospective employers?
For a start, you can find ways to better yourself. Take a course in something relatively simple, but you can talk up if necessary. Accounting, for example, or typing. Then you can look for work experience; you may, if you look around, find somewhere that will give you unpaid work you can put on your resume. Charity shops are always looking for volunteers. You may not get paid, but you’ll get experience and probably a good set of references out of the deal. Don’t be ashamed, either, to look for even worse jobs than bartender. Employers are looking for people with the ‘can do’ attitude, not ‘I want what’s owed to me NOW.’
I suspect a few people will find this advice rather frustrating. I felt the same way when I got it myself. I’d worked hard for the degree … surely, I was owed a job after I graduated? No, I wasn’t – and, if I am forced to be honest, I didn’t lose that attitude quickly enough. I may have paid my dues to earn the degree, but I didn’t pay the dues needed for a high-paying job. Having a fancy degree does not entitle anyone to a job …
… And having an attitude that boils down to ‘you owe me’ is only going to convince prospective employers that they don’t want you anywhere near their company.