The Employer Owes You Nothing

20 Oct

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.

23 Responses to “The Employer Owes You Nothing”

  1. Kris October 20, 2015 at 7:01 pm #

    Thanks Chris for your wise words.
    My sentiment exactly (In my case almost been there done that). But how to explain to someone with “big head” that most of ‘high and mighty’ education is worthless without any practical experience, that your work ethics and good attitude is more often better than many impractical degrees and titles. Nobody wants to believe.
    I will show your entry to anyone in similar predicament.

  2. John Forde October 20, 2015 at 7:14 pm #

    I completely agree with the second group. That is why I didn’t major in Philosophy although it’s a favorite subject of mine along with history. I had looked in the professional section of the want-ads for jobs and when scanning them I have never seen one yet saying, “Philosopher wanted, great pay and benefits!” and the same goes for historians although there are a few jobs as museum curators and such for those folks. I also love astronomy but took a practical look at the field and the scant number of decent postings if on could land the position and most of those require a Masters or P.H.D and there’s still no guarantee that you’ll get a good position. Many try and then are forced to choose another field, go back to school or become a high school science teacher (not that there’s anything wrong with teaching!) just to have a paying job. If the core focus of your education and the degree you pursued has no relevant value to your employer or in the job market in general then you probably should have given your choice more thought and considered that before you chose your major if the object of the education was to acquire gainful employment.
    If you’re out of work and have lots of time to fill I would recommend volunteering in some capacity and another way to pass the time is to read the excellent sci-fi novels of Christoper Nuttall.

  3. Dennis the Menace October 20, 2015 at 10:07 pm #

    My fav is the Libtard who had a Masters in Puppetry (not making this up) who bitched about how he has been ‘deprived’ of a job in ‘his chosen field of study’.

    The main prob is what we treat University as a trade school program when it was never supposed to be that. With the exception of Law, Medicine and few other occupations, we should have trade schools for most people to attend. But everyone wants to have their kids go to college instead. So they went.

    And with $45,000 – $120,000 student loan debt afterwards, that is sure one overly priced trade school program if you ask me. I’m glad I avoided that route. I tell young kids to learn shit via MOOCs like Khan Academy and only pay for accreditation testing. You can get a Masters in CompSci at Georgia Tech on the cheap ($8,000?) that way. Studies have now been conducted which prove employers are starting to look at MOOC courseware as much as they look at college degrees now, too. This will only become totally institutionalized as they experience new hires who actually know their shit and especially as those people rise in the ranks of middle to upper management.

    “Online degrees still carry a stigma with some employers, but that’s quickly changing.”

  4. Duncan Cairncross October 20, 2015 at 11:52 pm #

    I agree with you on doing your own due diligence about the usefulness of the qualification you are working towards
    (mine was a BSc Mech Eng)
    With a provision about high pressure sales and vulnerable individuals
    In the USA you are not considered sufficiently old to buy alcohol until 21 – are you then old enough at 18 to be preyed upon by high pressure salesmen working for “for profit” education establishments?

    The main problem IMHO is the idea of “for profit” education establishments
    Eliminate those and half of the problems disappear
    You don’t get the Germans studying the type of lightweight fluff you are talking about

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 21, 2015 at 12:18 am #

      Personally, I suspect you’d get that “high pressure salesmanship” even with the Public Universities.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 21, 2015 at 12:20 am #

        By the way, not sure where you live Duncan but “Public Universities” are State Universities not “For Profit Universities”.

      • Duncan Cairncross October 21, 2015 at 2:33 am #

        Yes you get a bit of it – “my” University is BEST
        because if you don’t attract enough students you lose funding

        But not the rampant sales pitch you get you get when profit is involved

        Certainly we did get some “salesmanship” way back when I got my degree (Glasgow)
        But it was NOT “high pressure salesmanship” – and I believe in Europe now its more like it used to be in Scotland then

        As far as Public V For profit
        I agree the state universities are acting more like “for profits” than they used to
        I think this is because the rewards are different now
        At Glasgow the professors were the TOP by a long way, administrators were skilled professionals who worked for the academics (and were definitely subordinate)
        Now – the Administrators are in charge and trying to operate like a company – not a good idea

  5. Philip Pleiss October 21, 2015 at 1:42 am #

    A practical example from my life that kind of backs your point:

    I work for a small Internet Service Provider. I have a decent amount of formal education but no degree. What I DO have is a large amount of practical work experience in everything from PC repair to satcom, fiber optics, and high climbing tower work.

    Because of the large amount of experience I have worked to acquire over the years, I can handle just about any reasonable task handed to me in the telecommunications field. My employer recognizes this and uses me as their “special projects” jack of all trades.

    This means if they need someone to fill in as a tech during emergencies, I’m there. If they need someone to perform advanced tasks like reprogramming an enterprise network stack at a remote site, they trust me to accomplish it. Have a customer with special tech requirements? I am the go-to consultant.

    My primary responsibility right now is using GIS software to plan and design a network-wide fiber optic plant for approximately 6 small towns and (hopefully) one decent sized state capitol.

    I did not start out making massive wages. I started out making standard tech wages. Now it is review/raise time and I am getting a significant pay increase because I showed my employer what I CAN do.

  6. Matthew Tachimi October 21, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    LOL you are so far behind the curve it funny. We are right back to the corrupt colonial system that the USA Founding Fathers revolted against.

    For Profit EDU for STEM student is a SCAM (the numbers have been out years to prove this). While the richest employers in the world; illegally use visa programs to undercut the most talented workers in the history of the world.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    * For every two students that U.S. colleges graduate with STEM degrees, only one is hired into a STEM job.

    * In computer and information science and in engineering, U.S. colleges graduate 50 percent more students than are hired into those fields each year; of the computer science graduates not entering the IT workforce, 32 percent say it is because IT jobs are unavailable, and 53 percent say they found better job opportunities outside of IT occupations. These responses suggest that the supply of graduates is substantially larger than the demand for them in industry.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    A ‘lost decade’
    And a lost generation
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    There is plenty of wealth in the ECON;
    There is simply Zero Merit to the distribution.
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    The leaders in the world should be investing in people; not mocking the working poor.

    The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits
    by Zeynep Ton

    Humans Are Underrated: What High Achievers Know That Brilliant Machines Never Will
    by Geoff Colvin

    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

    You have no solutions to the market failures we are suffering in the Global economy.
    So I expect you will never publish this post.

  7. Russell Whyte October 21, 2015 at 2:15 am #

    Many years back I taught an intro to computers course at a local community college. Every semester there was at least one student who had just graduated from university with a degree in English or History who discovered that they were prepared for nothing better than McDonalds. Despite the rosy picture painted by liberal arts departments, truth is that a STEM program is still far more useful for getting a decent paying job after graduation. I went back part time to study history after getting an education in Comp.Sci and several years experience first.

  8. PhilippeO October 21, 2015 at 3:54 am #

    > 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.

    Eh, the first group is correct too. She did get raw deal.

    it should be noted that she not complain to her employer or prospective employer, she complain about ‘American Dream’ and she mention that her work (bartender) is unable to support her son, forcing her to rely on welfare.

    ‘American Dream’ is always vague, but generally it means that someone who willing to work hard will get enough income to maintain his family. During 50s/60s this is sort of true, any man who work whether they factory worker, accountant, sales or janitor do usually can support their family with their wages alone.

    Her complain that her work (bartending) didn’t provide enough income for her family is true. And i think ‘society’ , not employer, do have responsibility to ensure that workingman/workingwoman should be capable to support their family. whether they have degree or not, or whether they degree is STEM or not, should be irrelevant.

    > 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,

    as someone who have computer degree, i should mention that STEM is not guarantee of good employment. There are a lot of under/unemployed STEM degree holder too

    and not everyone is truly capable of pulling this, there are people who completely could not grasp mathematics or logic lecture in college. forcing everyone that they should have ‘good degree’ to have decent life is too harsh.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard October 21, 2015 at 4:23 am #

      Sorry but “Society” owes us nothing.

      I’m 60+ and am not “living high on the hog”.

      However, while there were things in my life that I had no control over, IMO much of my present situation is because of stupid things that I did or things I failed to do.

      We have no way of knowing what stupid things this woman might have done to get her in her present situation.

      We have no way of knowing of what she may have failed to do in order to not succeed.

      For that matter, my parents, who have passed away, attempted to help a woman who claimed that she “just needed a little help” to get her back on her feet.

      After a few years of trying to help this woman it became clear that she was doing nothing to improve herself.

      She finally left town not leaving a forwarding address and leaving unpaid bills.

  9. Anarchymedes October 21, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Here is an article describing what IMHO represents the decaying of the ability to ‘help yourself’ in the younger generation (yeah, you’ve guessed it: I’m no Gen-Y 🙂 ). So, the fellow (but younger) FPS-players, blockbuster-watchers, and military sci-fi readers: what gives? What would Riddick, or Katniss Everdeen do?

  10. Pat M October 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm #

    Agree with everything except for one comment – “Higher Education, in Britain or America, isn’t exactly a scam, but it’s getting there.” Nope – here in the US it is totally there. It’s been a scam for a while now. I used to blame the current generation for their attitude, but given the marketing and advertising for what passes for higher Ed here, I can no longer say it’s totally their fault.

  11. Dan October 22, 2015 at 12:32 am #

    You shoul change the title of your post. My employer owes me a lot, it’s more complicated than just money for labor . A prospective employer doesn’t owe me anything. Please be more accurate in your statements. This one is too open to misinterpretation.

  12. tumbleweedstumbling October 22, 2015 at 3:04 am #

    I would add one caveat here I have seen time and again myself. If you took the time to get a university degree you will presumably have gotten a basic skill set useful in any job like getting up and getting to a place on time, studying, finishing an assigned job, multi-tasking and dove tailing, and you will have an ability to write complete sentences and read something with reasonable comprehension. You have to start in the workforce at the same level as the person without the university degree (with a few exceptions) but the skills you acquired in university will serve you well and let you move up faster than the guy without those skills. Of course that guy isn’t walking around with 60K in student loan debt to pay off so it will be a lot of years before you can see the difference in the take-home paycheque. Still, I am telling my grandchildren to go into trades or professions, not get a degree.

  13. Kevin Stall October 22, 2015 at 10:58 am #

    I earned a worthless degree after 7 years of studying, sociology. Though I did have a plan. I wanted to be an Army officer and came from a time when it didn’t matter what your degree was in as long as you had a degree. I found I like school and went to night school and got a Economics degree. Slightly more useful, but still not that great. I thin went to work for a government contractor who was willing to pay for a masters for me. Got one in the area I was working in, training. Got my Masters in Instructional design and have been working in that field most of the time since the mid 80’s. I also worked on a Masters of IT, another useful degree. I had a few student loans but my wife and I both worked while in school and never lived on student loans. She got hers in Business, Finance and Accounting and finally an MBA. Believe it or not those were not great job getting degrees. She did work as an accountant for most of her career. Advice to think long and hard about university is excellent advice. And after 17 years I strongly agree.

  14. Tony October 24, 2015 at 8:42 pm #

    Chris, I think you have overstated your point here where you claim that the college and university instructors are effectively used-car salesmen who “will make whatever promises they need to make to get you to sign on the dotted line.” This implies a level of dishonesty and cynical manipulation that contradicts my personal experience. Every educator I have ever met has been genuinely and sincerely interested in learning, excellence, and pushing the boundaries of human knowledge.

    In addition, there are larger societal trends that you ignore by choosing to attack and ridicule this young lady for taking “useless courses,” obtaining “useless qualifications” and being unable to find work other than as a bartender (despite her having a Masters of Arts degree). Depending on the survey, over fifty percent of recent college graduates are underemployed and another fifteen percent have no job at all. These numbers are far worse for minorities, even when they have the same degrees and experience as white males. Advising every college student to major in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (“STEM”) cannot solve the employment problem because three-fourths of those who hold a bachelor’s degree in STEM are not employed in STEM occupations.

    Chris, there is nothing wrong with urging young people to have a “can do” attitude. This is certainly better than the alterative of learned helplessness, passivity, and entitlement. And, yes, for white males, if you have the experience required for a job (and often, even if you don’t), then employers will be eager to hire you, whether or not you have the corresponding degrees and certifications. Yet, it is inappropriate and unfair to claim that “[h]igher Education, in Britain or America, isn’t exactly a scam, but it’s getting there,” simply because the overall UK/US economy has become hyper-efficient through software, automation and outsourcing and is therefore producing far fewer jobs.

    • chrishanger October 25, 2015 at 10:02 pm #


      I think, based on both studying and working at UK universities, that while (many) of the teaching staff are dedicated, the HR and advertising departments are very fixated on getting as many students as possible through the doors. I’m not sure I was ever directly lied to, in the sense someone told me a blunt untruth, but they definitely put forward a very rosy picture of my post-university career that was somewhat inaccurate.

      That aside, my course had very little relevance outside my chosen field and it’s hard to see what value ‘woman’s studies’ is at all. I don’t think it could reasonably be adapted into anything else, while studying computer science – for example – opens up a number of prospective jobs. The only real value it offers is proof that the student knuckled down and worked to gain the degree, which is useless if the employer has no regard for the subject or thinks it’s a soft option. Or, for that matter, the degree is so subjective that parroting back the lecturer’s words is all you need to do to pass. That’s the core problem with the ‘soft sciences.’

      STEM subjects (hard sciences), by contrast, are far more objective.

      The real question, concerning university courses, is ‘do they offer value for money?’ The only way to judge THAT is by what prospective careers the degree opens up for you – and the prospects of getting a good job after graduating. Based on my experience, the loans I took out when I went to university were a waste of money – and so was the university course. Woman’s Studies alone, as far as I can tell, does not offer value for money. So yes, I would call it a scam. (And if that isn’t bad enough, student loans are creating a massive financial bubble that will go pop sooner or later.)

      In hindsight, it would probably have been better to learn a trade, rather than spend 3 years at university.


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      • duncancairncross October 25, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

        Hi Chris
        I’m a wee bit older than you
        When I went to Glasgow University there were no fees and the government provided a grant
        The expectation was that you would earn more money and pay more taxes in the UK – which I did for over 20 years before working in the USA
        With that situation – which is current in a lot of Europe
        It is OK to do a totally non work related degree,
        One of my friends did – Mediaeval English Literature – and went straight into management when she left Uni

        IMHO that is a much much better situation than the loans and such nonsense that replaced the old system after Thatcher slashed the tax on her rich buddies

  15. maskman1911 October 30, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    “…you’re in competition with people who never went to college…”

    You may find that you’re losing to them, too.
    This doesn’t *only* apply to basic job fields… I work in Pharma, with and alongside scores of people with advanced degrees – including doctorates – and I more than hold my own. Without any degree at all.
    Good attitude, dilligence, determination, cooperation. Those are ANY person’s most salable skills – If you possess those, and are willing to put them to work for your AND your employer’s benefit, you will do fine. Fail that, and it doesn’t matter WHAT your sheepskin says – you’ll fail.


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