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March 17, 2006


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I have to take a bit of exception with this article, as it is not really comparing apples to apples. Candidate "A" and "B" above would probably not be competing for the same job.

A more fair comparison would be if both candiates were at the same point in their careers (had risen to president) and were both looking for a different job. All else being equal, you would probably pick the candidate with a degree.

The education is just one more advantage in a competitive job market. I agree that education does not matter in your CURRENT job, but it very well may matter when you are looking for your NEXT job.

Phillip -- But in reality, all else is NEVER equal (at least that's what I've experienced in almost 20 years in business). If two people are applying for the same job, they always have different skills, abilities, experiences, personalities, and on and on.

I'm not saying education is not important -- far from it, just check out all the pro-education pieces I've written in my "education" category. What I am saying is that as a person gets into his/her career, a degree means less and less as time goes on. Business experience and performance means more and more until the degree is really marginalized.

Where the degree does help is at getting your foot in the door initially -- to help you get good experience at good companies.

For what it's worth...

I work as a software developer, making bleeding edge network security products. I got my bachelor's degree in computer and electrical engineering and my master's degree in electrical engineering. All the degrees came from a top 10 program nationally. That educational background has opened a lot of doors for me and I have a very nice career going. When I'm interviewing, candidates with advanced degrees from top programs get a little bit of extra credit.

But the sheepskin isn't everything.

My company does technical interviews, in which we give candidates technical problems to solve, so that they can demonstrate that they can really handle the kind of high level work that we do. Plenty of people with top-notch educational backgrounds fail at this.

Similarly, my last two managers have been college dropouts. As it happens, they're two of the most technically excellent engineers I've known in more than a decade in the business. Even if their educational backgrounds aren't as impressive on paper as mine. If I were a hiring manager and either one of these men came to me looking for work, I would hire them on the spot.

Here's one tip, though. Education is important. Your resume is important. But as you move further and further in your career, both pale in importance next to your network. That's what's really key.

I'm a manager that has done some recruiting to hire employees. The reality is that when you are hiring, you have to sift through a stack of resumes. Typically you get over 100 resumes. You MUST narrow the field down to a reasonable number to interview; about 10 is the most I can interview; typically about 3-4. How do you narrow down the field from 100 to 3-4? It's unfair, but the biggest criteria for narrowing the field is education, and of course, obviously relevant job experience. If you graduated from MIT and you have experience doing exactly what we're looking for, you're going to get interviewed. If you don't have masters degree (or even college education), then you better have a very specific experience that we want to hire (i.e., you are currently working with the client, doing the exact thing we're hiring for). Otherwise, you won't get interviewed. Its sad, its unfair, its stupid. But its practical and easy.

Like the woman in the article, both my father and the head of our corporate compliance department do not have college degrees. They all worked their way up and received on the job training. But I also think they're a dying breed. I can't think of even one person younger than 35 in my department who doesn't have at least an associate's degree. Outside of the corporate context, it's a whole different scenario. On the one hand, as documented in the Millionaire Next Door, you could be a small business owner and do quite well for yourself with or without a degree. But on the hand, if you want to be an attorney, physician, nurse, pharmacist, etc. you can't just apprentice yourself to someone anymore. You absolutely have to have that degree under your belt. It really just comes down to what you want to do in life. A degree just gives you more options.

If you're in the position of the candidates MikeK is referring to (your resume and letter land on the desk of the hiring manager or -- far, far worse -- the HR department, along with 99 or 999 others that look more or less just like them) then education matters. Or at least, it matters in the sense that the lack of it will kill you in the first culling, as opposed to the second or third, which is where you'll probably end up getting killed if you've got the degree.

Candidates with track records and networks don't get jobs by sending a looks-like-all-the-others resume to a hiring manager, and HR doesn't often learn about them until they've gotten offers. Which is why education doesn't matter anywhere remotely close to as much for us.

good job

I am currently an Assistant Vice President for a large financial institution. I have only a high school education with no college experience. I worked my way up through the ranks and I must say that when I am looking for candidates I am looking for experience and a proven track record. College education is highly over rated in the fact that anyone can become book smart, college teaches theory. Now I am not saying that education is not important. I would however say that I am more impressed with someone who has shown determination to achieve a level that requires a BA or Masters rather then someone who has just come out of school with one. I can tell you that senior leaders in alot of fotune 500 companies have only a high school education if that.

It seems to me that the more talent-based the position is, the less the degree matters. Whether the talent is "building a profit center" or "writing copy that sells and/or wins awards", no educational credential ensures that the credential-holder is able. It's when you're talking about middle-management or a more procedural kind of job, a job where "fitting in with the group" is paramount, that the degree matters most.

Education do not develop individuality but comformity; is this always valid.
personally i dont believe
in education. it testing segregates children and make some think they are better than others. this leads to children with low self esteem who becomes underacievers.i personally have always been good at school and an A student but i still dont beleive the system.what i think really matters are life experience. i believe that people should learn and figure things out by themselves and education is't the answer.

There are a lot of good comments above. I especially agree with the fact that your education diminishes in importance over time.

To the above comment by uchenna: Im sure that you dont really disagree with education, but with the way achievement is measured. I agree that the system of assigning grades is flawed, but education (regardless of grading) is a form of experience that is valuable to personal development. A formal education teaches you the process of learning, puts you through a series of trials, and exposes you to things outside of your normal life experience. In essence, it expands the mind so that it can easily adapt to something new (like a job). Of course this is a bit idealistic and there are exceptions, but in general this is the case.

This education fiasco is motivated by greed. Education is big business, and I find almost ALL of my graduate friends working in jobs they hate. Some can't even find good paying jobs and are left with huge student loans to pay off. I am not minimizing education but if you are not seeking a career as a lawyer, doctor or the like, you can work your way up in any field with good old common sense work. My college grad friends make less money than I do but won't take a job because its "beneath" them because they have a degree

I am a strong believer in education and would suggest to always get the best education possible as early as possible. It's never too late, though. If you have found something that you love doing then you must grow in it. Education may not guarantee success but it does give you the knowledge that might be of use to you in many aspects of life. Sometime, i realize that there are people who are more experienced than me and have more skill, but they don't have the education to be given a higher position. That's the case most of the times. Very rarely do you find a company that you want to invest your entire life in to be able to come to the same level as others who just graduated. So, keep learning. Knowledge is the key!

An old adage says, “Experience is the best teacher.” Numerous other adages, however, say, “Learning from others’ experience is best of all.” In my opinion, this is what education is, a collection of the experiences, successes, and mistakes of the teacher’s past. It gives students exposure to knowledge, concepts, and people that they would never have known otherwise.
Am I rejecting the value of real-world experience? Absolutely not; I consider experience to be a vast and largely imperative part of having a well considered education.
In conclusion, school is a very important piece to preparation for adulthood; however, if not paired with real life experiences used to educate, it is useless.

I would think it'd be good to have a little bit of both in your bag. I believe I have both but I'm always looking for some career guidance wherever I can get it. All the same thank you for sharing this with us.

An education is always invaluable, regardless of an individual's current position in a company. Period. At the same time, it is not everything, and should never be the yardstick of an individual's likelihood of success in a career or company. Countless people obtain degrees and fall short of expectations. It's what you do once you obtain a degree which will ultimately determine one's success. Individuals who work their way up as a result from work ethic learn as they go, but must not forget to continue this ongoing education in order to stay current with the times. Remember, you earned this position for a reason. Plain and simple.

While there are many cases of people who succeed in their careers without a formal education (College, Technical Training, etc), these are exceptions to the rule and have nothing to do with education versus experience, but personal drive, attitude and creativity. When we consider what is true for the average person, it is clear that people with a formal education have better chances at getting a job (at least until this latest recession) than persons without. However, there is a crux here, trades people also have a good education, albeit less formal, it takes on average five years to obtain a journeyman status which is seen by many to be equivalent to a bachelors and in some cases even a masters degree. people with no formal education beyond High School tend to have a harder time geetting jobs and tend to be unemployed longer. That being said, success in any career depends mostly on personal attitude, drive and commitment to one's career. Businesses would much rather have a good team player, that shows up on time, is willing to be trained and able to learn quickly and put in a full days work each and every day than someone with a college degree with a bad attitude, cannot play nice with others and who is not willing to do work that is "Beneath their education level". So the best formula for success is Education + Experience + great attitude towards work

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