Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More on Work

I have a degree! It’s a replacement for an actual personality

I got a great comment yesterday from an astute reader, following my post on the job situation in my city and wage discrepancies and all that.

I have lots of schooling but, frankly, the stuff that has made me successful (and that’s a matter of some discussion, depending on who you’re talking about me to…) isn’t the book learning I have, but the social skills, need to read, and my obsession with connecting people to resources they need to get forward.

My reader, Wendylicious (who is young, for the record), reinforced my dislike of focus on credentials over ability and experience. Her key points, with which I greatly agree, are that some things are much more important in terms of success than others: things like “…brains, guts, and the willingness to work hard to get ahead…,” extensive reading; pursuing personal interests; a desire to continually self-improve; a willingness to take a job that will provide lots of forward and upward mobility, even though that job might be entry-level.

My reader is likely one of those people who would be bored out of their minds in college, not because they’re not smart or able, but because they have an innate knowledge – they extrapolate from their experiences and use what they learn - and college courses are sometimes pretty much reiteration of things such people just know. Extrapolation means creating a tangent line at the end of the known data and extending it beyond that limit.

What differentiates such people, and I count myself in this group, is that they pay attention to what’s going on around them. They read the paper; they read blogs; they watch the news (and they know Entertainment Tonight is not news); they talk to people, and more importantly, they listen to what people are saying; then, they take this mass of information and apply it to life and work. They don’t ascribe to “That’s just how it is.”

These people remember other people’s names, what those people do, what they like and dislike and WHY; they’re interested in the world they live in. Essentially, they are observers and they’re connected to life on a cellular level. And all this ability, as un-school-learned as it may be, can be a massive benefit to a business or employer. Pick any one of those qualities and apply the requirements of a job to it....

Imagine now, that you have an employee with a great degree but few to none of the above qualities....

And, not to digress (ok, I digress), exactly how many classes did said degree-holder attend and what was their GPA? A person can get a degree without having attended class and with a GPA of 1.8.

What’s sad is that we still live in a culture that celebrates and chases credentials. As my reader points out, an education got from books isn’t everything; lots of educated people are idiots with degrees (that part is me, not my reader, speaking).

I am a huge supporter of education in whatever form it comes in. There are professions that require a person to go to university for sure; I wouldn’t want to be treated by an unschooled doctor or represented by an unaccredited lawyer, for example, BUT I know a few people who aren’t lawyers but who have an excellent grasp of law and legal issues because they’re fascinated with law. And therein lies the key.

If employers would please quit focusing on the paper a potential employee comes with and would hire people on their ability, their interest, their experiences and their determination (and if that person comes with a degree, all the better), most businesses would find they are much more productive and that their employees would stick around longer, because they’re actually interested in the job, not just coming to work so they can afford to live.

Anyone can be taught but attitude, guts, goals and go-get are born.

Thanks Wendy.



  1. WOW timing is everything...I was watching Oprah today and she had Lance Armstrongs ex on who spoke about how she had such a great life: independent etc...and then while married and by her own choices..she allowed that person, herself to disappear. It reminded me so much of a Post I did called Finding Myself, then I came across your response and stopped by for a visit, your post today was along the same path.

    Great writing WRITER WRITER! :)

  2. I am one of those non-degreed folk who is much like you. I have 3.75 years of college. I left college during my second to the last quarter of my senior year after my mother's death, and couldn't afford to return. So far, my lack of a degree has not held me back, but most likely because I'm intelligent, outspoken, and dynamic, and my abilities and talents are made abundantly apparent during interviews. Yet, in my field, when I am amongst other professionals with degrees, you should hear the snobbism that goes on. So many people are convinced that not having a degree means you simply are not as worthy as they are. Balderdash! I have over 25 years experience - hands on DOING IT experience - that I could dance circles around most any snot-nosed recent cllege grad in this field. I resent being told that I am "less than" because I lack a few credits. My expertise in all the things you mention - reading people, remembering names, hard work, READING everything, guts, and innate knowledge - has provided me with great success, despite the lack of a sheepskin. Great post.


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