Gaudeamus Igitur?


Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg, Coco Chanel, Steve Jobs, Oprah. All of them household names. All of them lack a college degree.

Yet . . .

An employment ad for a Zamboni driver for the New York Islanders hockey team stipulates—a college degree.

According to CareerBuilder, more than half of last year’s college graduates are working at jobs that don’t require a degree. This despite the fact that many college students are getting “vocational training” that prepares them for little more than employment.

Here’s a sad comment by a Penn State freshman:

Students are going to school to get a job, and studying things to get them a job. Students are not going to school to learn what they want or discover who they are, who they want to be, what they love, and what they are passionate about.

CareerBuilder cites the “soft” skills demanded by hiring employers:

  • Strong work ethic
  • Dependability
  • Positive attitude
  • Ability to work under pressure

These are skills mastered through experience. But in hiring, experience is too often trumped by the mystique of a college degree.

A young woman of my acquaintance was a contract worker for several months in the headquarters marketing department of a battery company best known for its energetic, drumming rabbit.

During her tenure, she caught an error that may prove to save the company tens to hundreds of thousand of dollars. Her boss loved her and began the process of hiring her as a fulltime employee.

That’s when Human Resources, which as a staff function is chartered only to support line management, put the kibosh on the offer. The reason? My friend had left college—more than 20 years ago--before obtaining a degree. Two decades of corporate experience and superb performance as a contract employee didn’t matter to this company.

Then there was a speechwriter I recruited many years ago. He was not only press secretary to a presidential candidate, but also a gifted communicator.

After I hired him, he had a stellar tenure writing for our chairman, went on to hold high-level communications jobs at several other world-class organizations and today advises CEOs and board chairs.

He, too, had left college short of getting a degree, but I hired him for his ability, experience and deft way with people who wear the mantle of leadership.

Lori Davila, top U.S. resume writer, interviewing coach and McGraw-Hill author, says:

High-performing, competitive organizations hire people who can solve critical business challenges when there is no obvious answer. This requires focusing on a candidate’s valuable and relevant experience. A college degree by itself does not reveal a candidate’s full potential and certainly does not guarantee performance. It's critical to hire the right person, not the right degree. 

J.D. Salinger nicely summed up what I'm saying when he wrote in Franny and Zooey:

You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word 'wisdom' mentioned!

If the HR staffer who nixed my friend had taken even a small step toward acquiring wisdom when he or she was in college, he or she would have realized that by saving the company hundreds of thousands of dollars, my friend would have paid her own salary many times over.

Richard J. Light, a professor at Harvard Graduate School of Education, reported earlier this month on its novel, noncredit seminar called “Reflecting on Your Life.”

The seminar gets first-year students thinking about questions beyond career:

What does it mean to live a good life?

What about a productive life?

How about a happy life?

How might I think about these ideas if the answers conflict with one another?

How do I use my time here at college to build on the answers to these tough questions?

The Harvard seminar is an encouraging step toward returning college to the transformational experience it's meant to be instead of the vocational training camp it's become.

In my next blog, “Three Women”


Read my newest book, Fat Guy in a Fat Boat, in print or Kindle from Amazon:

Also available is my e-book, A Light from Within, about the small moments of our lives that seem commonplace until they are examined under a creative lens.

Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.