Why Your College Degree Doesn’t Mean Sh**

For the first time in his young life, Charlie Hoehn was stuck in a rut.

A recent graduate of Colorado State University, he’d done everything that he was “supposed” to do to prepare for a job in the real world— he was a member of the honor roll, had participated in several clubs, and had maintained an impressive 3.8 GPA during college.  He’d scoured the online career sites for job openings, worked his networks for leads, and had sent his resume out to scores of potential employers.  The only problem?  Three months after graduation, he still hadn’t received a single promising job offer.

His parents and friends offered their heartfelt words of advice. They dug into their deep wells of wisdom and came up with pearls of advice— advice like:

“A crappy job is better than no job. Lower your standards; you can always move up in the company!”

Or, “Move back in with your parents and come party with me every night, man!” (Don’t pretend like you don’t know this guy).

Charlie recounted one story about a college friend who was excited to have landed a position at a cell phone store. “In a few months, I could be promoted to middle manager!” his friend had exclaimed.

The thought of settling for a crappy job induced a sense of dread within Charlie that crept steadily upward toward his esophagus. Sure, it seemed like the safest thing to do, but could he stomach it?

For a slight moment, a part of him even thought about giving up altogether and joining that dude at the college bar down the street. After all, how bad could it be? Top Ramen for dinner every night… free room, board, and laundry service… no work, ever. Why not become Colorado’s very own Van Wilder, postponing the responsibilities of the “real world” until later (or never, as the case may be)?

But somewhere deep inside, Charlie knew that he was worth much more than that. He hadn’t invested years of his life and thousands of dollars in tuition for nothing. Is this all that my college degree has amounted to? Charlie wondered silently.

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably wondering the same thing.

Umm…

How do I put this?

As much as I hate to break it to you, the answer to Charlie’s question is…

Well, it’s a   big,  fat,

YES.

Now, before I get attacked by an angry mob of parents and graduates (let’s add teachers to the mix, too), allow me to qualify the statement above.

It’s not that your education is worthless- this is FAR from the truth. I highly value education—heck, I have two degrees myself, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything.

It’s just this: if you want to get noticed by an employer, make a good living, and do meaningful work, then a college degree alone is not sufficient.

Here’s why.

You Are Not Really That Cool

Yeah, I said it—and I’ll say it again.

You are not really all that cool.

Believe it or not, graduating from college does not cause you to suddenly morph into the “magical unicorn” of job applicants. It doesn’t automatically make you special or unique or highly employable. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it doesn’t make you awesome.

“You need to understand that college degrees aren’t given to unique snowflake children.”

-Charlie Hoehn

True, a degree can help you get your foot in the door (and in some fields it’s even a necessity). But consider it a prerequisite, not a qualification in and of itself. Why? Because unless you have something else to back it up, unless you have something meaningful to contribute to your workplace and to the world, then you ain’t got sh**.

Proof

You know that guy who sat two rows down from you in Business Comm? You know, the one who copied his homework from the Asian kid every day and then spent the rest of class flinging boogers at the girl in front of him?

Yeah, that guy.

Does he have a college degree?

Would you hire him?

Enough said.

You Are a Clone In The Corporate World

It used to be that if you graduated from college, kept your GPA high enough, and joined a few clubs, you’d be the poster child of job applicants. This was once considered the “gold standard.”

Today, the “gold standard” has become the new boring.

That is, instead of making you stand out, it now makes you blend in. Guess what? There are thousands of other people out there just like you. They all have degrees, they’re all proficient in Microsoft Office, and they can all follow instructions. Some of them even live in India. Not to be depressing, but they’re willing to do your job for $3.50 an hour.

So what makes you different?

What Makes You Different

This is the very same question that Charlie was faced with.

He quickly realized that based on his degree, his resume, and his work experience, nothing really made him stand out. Although he had worked hard and done well during college, this wasn’t enough to convince employers that he was valuable, and it was killing his chances at obtaining gainful employment.

So what did Charlie decide to do? Did he roll over and give up, deciding that it was all worthless? Did he join his friend at the cell phone store, silently praying for an upcoming promotion? Or maybe he decided to go to grad school so he could avoid finding a job and continue racking up debt?

Nope. Charlie did none of the above.

Instead, he decided to do something out of the ordinary… something that would actually get him noticed by employers and show them what he really had to offer.

He sat down and crafted a strategy that was anything but traditional. Then he took action, proving beyond a doubt that he was much more valuable than any employer could’ve initially realized.

Like Charlie, you’ve also got a lot of value that employers just don’t recognize. You aren’t like every other graduate out there, but no one would know it by looking at your resume.

You want to do more than just “get some crappy job.” You want to truly make an impact, a real contribution… you want to give a piece of your best self. And you want to find someone who will pay you for it.

Here’s what you need to do: you need to stop sending in your crappy resume and expecting someone to hand you your dream job. Obviously, that approach hasn’t gotten you anywhere.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

You’ve got to find a way to bend the rules and change the playbook. You need a new approach, an approach that will allow you to stand out from the crowd and dominate the competition.

STOP playing by the same old rules and blending in with every other person who has a degree.

STOP getting turned down for stupid jobs at mall kiosks.

START changing the game… and start doing the work that you’re destined to do.

 

 

About the Author: Therese Schwenkler is passionate about bringing more & better direction to today’s generation. Get more from Therese at her blog, The Unlost. Follow Therese on Twitter!

 

 

 

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  • Ellenbremen

    I absolutely loved, loved, loved this post, and for any students reading it, you can change the game right this second! Start getting incredibly selfish and turning every one of your college classes into experience! Talk to your profs about transferable activities/examples/stories that are in those classes and discuss how you can start keeping a punch list that you can turn into a resume and/or portfolio (or better yet, online portfolio!) material!

    Your classes have deliverables: That group project or service learning experience, presentations that you aced, even research that you conducted. If you participated in some campus activities, even better. This is the type of “training” that you can show an employer, but you have to position these accomplishments in the right way. Again, your profs can help, so can your career center. Go for it! Ellen Bremen, M.A. @chattyprof

  • Why does Charlie think he has to work for someone? Not realizing there are other options is perhaps biggest travesty of all.  

    • Because our culture seems to really be against change and risk, and the message is still “get a good job and save for retirement.”

      The Baby Boom generation knew relative career and financial security.

      But, that’s going away, and we’ve really devalued education a great deal. While I think a lot of this advice is wonderful, almost all of the risk is on the young person, and not the employer.

      With the amount of effort, time, and expense that’s required to get a degree, “sell” yourself to employers, and take on all sorts of risk, and defer youth just to “pay your dues”, I would daresay many young people would be better off finding their own direction in life rather than playing by Mom and Dad and society’s “rules”.

      Or even the young at heart who “failed” to do what society demands.

      If college grads who do it all “right” are struggling, what does that say for people like me who dropped out?

  • Awesome

  • gbudak

    I am a current student and I enjoyed reading this post very much! It is true that a lot of students are involved with a ton of extra-curriculars, maintain a high GPA, but still do not stand out! I personally go to school in Chicago where there are many internship opportunities for students. I feel that it is important that upon graduation a student should have at least one internship under their belt and on their resume. Internships also promote professional networking, and can even lead to a job offer. This alleviates the stress and annoyance of spending countless hours on job search websites. What other advice would you suggest to students trying to add something special to their resumes?

  • Pingback: The Roundup: Job Search & HR / Management Advice | Jobplotter Blog()

  • KN

    I didn’t find much value in this post actually. “Bend the rules and change the playbook”– sure it makes sense, but this was an awfully long post to say, essentially, seven words. There are people who do all of those things mentioned above and land amazing jobs because they do have spectacular resumes and stellar grades. Your degree doesn’t mean sh**. It’s the attitude that you think your degree means sh** that affects your chances of succeeding. 

    I do believe in “putting yourself out there” as in taking that extra step and contacting your prospective employers along with submitting that resume, in going to networking events and actually network, and joining those clubs and actually participating and taking home valuable connections and lessons.

    This post sounds more like an excuse and then ends in a chipper “you can do it, just be different” cliche. 

  • THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! This is exactly the kind of thing I help people deal with in my Personal Branding practice. I agree that your college degree doesn’t mean $h!t, but I also tell people that a liberal arts degree isn’t $h!t. As you said, a degree might be necessary, but it isn’t sufficient. 
    Your college degree is what you make of it – the work doesn’t end because you got a piece of paper. (Like you, I have 2 degrees and taught high school – so I’m certainly pro-education.)

    It’s all in how you pull out the strengths and skills you’ve really got (and yes, you DO have them), determine who you are, how you’re different, and what you really have to offer. There’s absolute MAGIC in going through the personal branding process and in doing it right – because you come to realize that while the process gives you personal marketing materials and strategies but the real value is in the first step of learning who you are and honing your own personal leadership skills. When you don’t know who you are and what you stand for, your personal marketing materials just won’t stand out.

    You’ve spent a lot of time, energy and money in your education – but how much time, energy and money have you put into truly learning who you are, what you want and how to conduct an effective 21st century hunt for work you LOVE?

    My hope is that some day Charlie’s strategy will be considered traditional – and that teachers, parents and friends will know and use his strategy too.

    Thanks again for this post!