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April 02, 2012


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Is it shocking that experience is more important than education for workers at a "retail chain"?


No it's not, but I will bet you they have tons of people working there with college degrees because that degree didn't open the other doors they thought it would.

Some jobs need a degree, some don't. Many people getting a degree don't realize they will end up with a job that doesn't need one.

Agreed, if one is flipping burgers or selling shoes, a college degree is probably not necessary. And you're right, many people with sociology degrees are filling those positions. I think that is pretty well understood.

I guess my point was, I can guarantee if FMF had met with my company's VP of HR, the opinions expressed would've been different.

It's been clear for years that it's not the school or degree, it's the student, that determines how much they've learned about any academic subject. This is why most college classes are graded. Even with grade inflation you can bet on it that a student getting a low B or C in many classes hasn't learned much compared to a student who pulls an A in most subjects.

Same thing for experience, I've found. Some people can "work" in a job or setting for years and never absorb a thing. Others pay attention & learn a lot from their experience.

Basically, you have to talk to the job candidate to find out what they know. You can't just use a metric like "years of experience" or "degree in whatever" to make your decision for you.

It seems like this attitude is becoming more prevalent these days. I work for a mid-sized company and they also have the attitude that degrees are not the most important thing. While they definitely like degrees and do put merit in them, they focus more on your personality and attitude during the interview. From what I've seen, they would definitely hire a go-getter with no degree than someone who came across lazy or even just complacent but had a Bachelor's degree. I think it just depends on the company but I tend to agree - I'd rather focus on your attitude than your education (unless of course you needed the education in order to know how to do the job).

What was the young 19 year old daughter's experience prior to landing the job offer? Is she going to drop out of school and take this opportunity?

Luis --

Not sure -- she hadn't yet decided, but she was leaning towards taking the position and finishing school at night.

So if businesses want experience, how do you get that experience if they don't hire you because of your lack of experience? Isn't it a vicious circle? How do you find people who are hiring and willing to give someone a chance to get the experience they need?


At 18 you go get a job, any job, stocking shelves, working in an office doing filing, any job that requires little experience. You keep doing that job and moving up as the opportunity presents. Then at age 22 you have 4 years experience and the sociology major who has been unable to find work for 6 months and is now applying for the same job you are has a nice framed piece of paper with fancy calligraphy writing on it. You're hired!

Tim --

What Apex said: start small and work your way up.

You can also offer to work for FREE for them on a trial basis (if you're not doing anything else anyway, why not?) Of course, you have to be able to prove that you're a good hire and show them valuable work skills -- or it's all for naught.

I like the concept of using college money to buy a franchise for a child but the reality of this sounds a bit like urban legend.

A new franchise owner usually needs to already have experience in the business and will need to work REALLY hard. Is that going to happen when Mom and Dad buy the franchise for junior at 18 years of age?

I don't see any reason why this wouldn't work but I have a hard time with it actually working in practice.

@ Apex

Competition in today's job market is intense-- you'd be surprised at the positions that want experience. I've been looking for all types of work, even hotel maid positions want 6 months experience minimum. One hotel even wanted two years! Same for dishwashers, cashiers, laundry attendants. Maybe these employers are willing to bend the requirements for the right candidate, but they don't say so in their ads. (And while filing may not require experience, it does require training. Filing is a very specific procedure that follows certain rules, though they may vary slightly by employer.)


Is that legal? I don't believe you can be a hired employee and not get paid, unless you are an intern or volunteering (which, in my opinion, are not the same as working for free). Seems like too many legal issues could crop up. What if the non-paid employee is hurt on the job? Who is liable for mistakes the employee makes? This doesn't seem like something HR would ever allow, maybe you could ask your HR friend. If anyone knows a situation where this worked I'd be interested in hearing about it. It's something I may offer myself.

I'd be interested to hear from someone who has worked at a company where HR makes hiring decisions. What kind of job was it? Do you think HR was generally successful at hiring good people? FMF, what kind of roles does your friend hire for?

Context: I've had perhaps 10 job offers in my life, from menial jobs to internships to my current software engineering position. In every case, the people with input into the hiring process were my prospective management chain, and sometimes my prospective peers. These are the people who know the job best, and who will actually have to work with the candidate.

It seems odd to me that any company would entrust HR with hiring decisions. Candidate evaluation requires knowledge that's usually orthogonal to core HR responsibilities like compliance, compensation, and policy.

@Melissa This is just a guess, but if you're looking to work for free, I suspect small businesses where you can approach the owner directly are the best bet.

Eric --

We have friends where the parents bought a coffee franchise for their daughter and it's working out quite well. They have now purchased a second one for their son. Like anything, a LOT depends on the kid.

Melissa --

What would not be legal about it? You work, they don't pay you. Is that a crime?

Now other issues may be a factor (like what happens if you get hurt on the job), but most if not all of them can be covered with an agreement.

More details here:

O8grad --

My friend oversees all hiring. He's at an executive level now, so much of the store hirings are done by managers (based on policies he's established). He's heavily involved in corporate office managerial hirings.

FMF, I cannot believe you're doling out "work without getting paid" as advice so blithely -- I assumed you were much more business savvy than that. Have you not heard of minimum wage laws?! It is illegal under the wage and hour laws of the United States to work without getting paid. So-called "employers" will get slapped with Department of Labor fines if they utilize your services without paying you. It is possible to offer "internships," but these must conform to certain Department of Labor regulations -- see Keep in mind that more and more people are suing non-paying "employers" for unpaid wages because the practice of taking advantage "interns" for non-intern purposes is so prevalent these days. I get your point about working at an internship to get your foot in the door, but every internship I have taken at a for-profit employer has been paid in the course of my seven years of tertiary education (and several non-profit employers) has been paid. Any for-profit employer that doesn't pay you is just illegally taking advantage of its interns. It might not be illegal on the intern's part, but it certainly is on the employer's.

Pauline --

Call it "paid without work", "volunteering", "internship", etc., it's all the same thing IMO. You work to prove yourself without getting paid. It's semantics to get all in a wad about it because, believe me, if the worker wants to work for free and the employer is ok with it, it will happen one way or another. I've been in business for over 20 years and seen it happen again and again and again.

And BTW, I have never done this myself -- I have always been able to convince an employer to pay me. And I would recommend this route for anyone. But Tim asked about getting experience. And other than what Apex said, the option is to prove yourself to them.

FMF --

Yes, I'm well aware that this practice is widespread, but I'm puzzled as to why you think this advice is legitimate or constructive. To use an analogy, let's say that you ran a blog promoting work life balance for busy professionals and your target audience lived in a state where marijuana possession was decriminalized. Would you honestly tell people to use marijuana as a way to relax? Sure it works, but it's still illegal.

My advice to Tim is: avoid getting sucked into the self esteem/finance/time killer that a string of unpaid internships with no guarantee of a 'real' job at the end. Many of the companies who don't care enough to pay an intern are the companies that would give an intern work that they don't want to pay for. If you have the financial means to take unpaid internships, you have the means to spend time actually working on your skills (instead of making coffee), developing a portfolio to show future freelance clients, and hustling/networking for clients -- that is, you MAKE your experience. FMF always says (I think?) that you're the one who's most invested in your career -- so if an employer won't train you and give you experience, the onus is on you.

@Pauline: If marijuana was decriminalized, it wouldn't be illegal!

I would say that just because marijauan use became legal wouldn't necessarily make it the smartest way to get ahead in the world. And similarly for internships.

Regarding the experience trumps education argument - true if you get the wrong degree. The correct advice is to get just about any engineering or hard science degree. Those almost guarantee well-paid jobs. And lack of the right degree can most definitely limit your opportunities in those fields.

And as for HR making hiring decisions - in companies I have worked for, they have very little say except in VERY junior positions, unless they detect some sort of issue such as drug use, criminal record, etc.

As a hiring manager, I always decide who gets the job, unless HR has pre-filtered on drugs, etc.

@Mark Thanks - that's what I've always seen too.

@FMF Ah, OK. It makes sense that HR could help define the rubric for candidates, particularly if the company's needs are fairly homogeneous. Thanks for the reply.

Pauline --

I think it's "legitimate or constructive" because I've seen people get hired this way -- time and time again. I have worked in companies where each year we hired many interns who had worked for free.

I think you're making a lot of assumptions here to prove your point. No one said to have a "string" of unpaid internships and no one suggested you take one where your main task was to make coffee. If you select carefully, an unpaid internship/job/whatever you call it can be a good way to show an employer that you're worth hiring.

Are there other ways? Sure. Is working for free the "best" way? It depends, I guess, but I wouldn't list it first. Your suggestions about side hustles seems good to me as well. Or you could do it the way I did and just work your way up (back to Apex's point.)

I'm not sure where all your hostility is coming from on this issue, but I think it might be the definition of what I consider a worthwhile "internship" and what you see regularly happen in such cases. Or maybe you're just having a bad day.

Anyway, to Mark's point, my advice is based on experience in the business world. Your mileage may vary in other fields.

FMF, you are talking about interns, not just working for free and there is a difference. I have never known an intern that wasn't also a college student. If they don't get paid, they usually get school credit for their internship. HR and the college administrators work together to make sure the interns walk away with valuable experience they can put on a resume. At least that's how it was when I worked around interns.

I tried to read the article in that post you linked to, but it expired. However, many of the commenters had some of the same concerns I had. Not saying it can't work. Nik said he was hired this way after a week, and a week sounds like a reasonable period to show an employer what you can do. It still sounds like an arrangement that need to be entered into cautiously, for both the employee and employer.

(While searching for the expired Yahoo article, I came across this flowchart: There's some strong language if you have sensitive eyes, but it's pretty funny.)

Melissa --

A few thoughts:

1. This issue has dragged on far too long. It's not even close to the main point of this post. So this is my last comment on it. I'm moving on.

2. I am not recommending working for free as a first step for anyone. But in addressing the questions above, if there's no other way to get experience, then this is a viable alternative IMO. If I was in a spot where I couldn't find work but someone had an opening if I was willing to prove myself, I would certainly consider it. Why? Because I'm confident I could prove myself.

3. That is pretty funny. :)

Mark - not to get too off-track, but marijuana is still a controlled substance according to the FDA, so it's technically illegal; but in states where they have decriminalized marijuana [possession], the local or state police aren't going to arrest you for carrying your personal supply.

FMF - I don't mean for my tone to be 'hostile', but I find it very disturbing that you have such a positive view of working for free when you make no distinction between internships, where they at least get college credit, and just a young person who wants to prove themselves but doesn't get anything out of it. The distinction is important, and it's unethical (not to mention illegal) for employers to do that. It's just not unqualified good advice.

Just saw this:

I graduated college in 07 but before then had an internship that gave me college credit and a co-op that paid me hourly as I opted to skip the semester in classes. Both gave a good amount of significant, relevant experience in my field that I believe paid off in the end.

I will say, had they not paid or given college credit, I would not have even considered them. Maybe that's just me, and I feel like there has to be that "whats in it for me" clause.

On another note, the company from the internship later on after I graduated offered to hire me through an Americorp volunteer program that is basically slave labor and was a slap in the face after I supposedly proved my worthiness. Point is, I felt if they really cared for me, they would have offered me a respectable job. Instead they went through 3 Americorp positions in three months because they were 1. being cheap and 2. volunteers left.

All in all, you pay for what you get I guess

I read Allison Green a lot (I love her Ask A Manager blog) and definitely agree with her points -- I'm sure that's the value that you see in volunteer work, too. BUT, an important point of the article is that she recommends volunteering for non-profit employers, not for-profit employers. She would be the first one to raise wage and hour issues related to for-profit volunteering.

Funny how these things happen. I just got the following pitch from a publicist to review a book on this subject (I WILL be getting a copy of it.) Here's her pitch:

"Throughout her college years, Lauren Berger successfully completed fifteen internships for the likes of MTV, FOX, and NBC, learning invaluable lessons to advance her career. Along the way, she also uncovered her calling. Today, she uses this unparalleled insight and expertise plus influential connections with leading companies as founder and CEO of Intern Queen, Inc.—an online internship destination and listing service that reaches hundreds of thousands of students, parents, and employers each month; and helps students not only land the best internships, but make the most of their experiences. ALL WORK, NO PAY: Finding an Internship, Building Your Resume, Making Connections, and Gaining Job Experience (Ten Speed Press, 2012) is Berger’s ultimate guide for anyone looking to become an intern or take full advantage of an internship’s job-winning opportunities.

Studies now show that résumés featuring internships increase a college senior’s chances of getting a job offer, and that students with interning experience receive a 30 percent higher starting salary than those without. In ALL WORK, NO PAY, Berger reveals insider secrets to discovering and landing the perfect internship, building transferable skills and connections, and turning internships into job opportunities. She also covers information that every new graduate and job-seeker needs to get ahead, including cutting-edge tips on how to nail phone, Skype, and in-person interviews; use social networking to one’s advantage; write effective resumes and cover letters; network like a pro; and discover the best internship opportunities for a career-making difference. Important information about the legalities of unpaid internships and an intern’s rights are also addressed.

ALL WORK, NO PAY is an invaluable collection of Lauren Berger’s hard-earned knowledge and insider advice. Berger has spoken to thousands of high school and college students at hundreds of colleges, universities, and young professional groups, sharing expertise with students of all ages who are looking for internships to help launch their career. Now, her key tips are available in accessible chapters full of helpful checklists, concrete examples, personal anecdotes, and “Intern Queen Chapter Essentials.” ALL WORK, NO PAY is the vital reference missing from college bookshelves and dorm desks and is sure to become a go-to resource for all students seeking rewarding and successful internships.

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