Job seekers love to ask “What degree will get me that job?”
…As though a degree guarantees employment. It doesn’t. High-demand skills are often mistaken for high-demand degrees, but employers aren’t actually looking for degrees; they are looking for people. People are much more than the degrees and credentials next to their name, and if you want to avoid being yet another unemployed college graduate, you need to start leveraging more than just your degree.
1. Companies Don’t Run Like Schools
Completing a degree program doesn’t tell employers that you can function in their unique company environment; it just says that you can fulfill minimum requirements. A high GPA or a cum laude may help—a little—to supplement the narrative of your degree, but not enough to make or break your chances at landing a job.
Bottom line is, degrees—sometimes even advanced degrees—are commonly a basic requirement for applicants to be considered; a starting point, rather than a deciding factor in landing an interview, maybe, but certainly not in actually getting hired.
Touting your degree is like waving a sign that says “I thrive at meeting basic expectations!” when the message you should really be trying to send is “I consistently excel and surpass expectations!”
2. Majors Are Too Vague
Relying on the name of your major or the fact that you got a BS instead of a BA says nothing about what skills and experiences you actually bring to the table. Making your degree work for you means making references to actionable studies, not dropping credentials.
How do you look forward to applying specific lessons from your education? How does the potential employer embody some of the features you have been trained to look for?
If you can answer questions like these, you can rise above your degree and show your own value as an employee.
3. Degrees Don’t Show Your Technology Skills
Doctors can’t just go to med school—the shift to digital in hospitals means doctors really need computer skills.
Accountants can’t just read the tax code and quote obscure money-saving loopholes; the huge popularity of tax software means they need to know how to troubleshoot and compete with automated programs.
Keeping up in the digital world takes more than a degree—that just tells an employer you know basic word processing. Now, some technical degrees may give you an advantage here, as technology is a core component of your study program. But that still requires that you be able to convey just how relevant that program is, and how you learned to learn. The half-life of computer and technical skills learned in a university environment is shorter than you might think, especially in high-tech fields.
Getting a job requires more than the degree—it requires a demonstrated commitment to keeping your skills and knowledge relevant.
4. Degrees Don’t Prove You Can Communicate (or Teach)
Staying ahead of the curve is much more than a personal challenge. Sure, making the effort to stay up-to-date and relevant takes a lot of personal effort and commitment, but employers aren’t interested in your personal struggles. They want to see you adding value to the company as a whole.
If you know how to communicate effectively, that not only shows you can convey information, it shows you know how to respond to feedback. This is the essence of teaching, and being able to help share your skills requires some teaching skills. It may sound counterintuitive, but being able to train others to duplicate your skills doesn’t lower your value, it massively increases it.
Teaching, after all, is the best way to learn something. Your teaching skills show your mastery of the subject, as well as a team spirit that is always going to be attractive to employers.
Sadly, a degree doesn’t prove this—you have to learn at a university, sure; but any given degree doesn’t demonstrate that you can truly engage so much as it shows that you can regurgitate.
Communication skills are nuanced, intuitive, and valuable. Degrees are common. Be prepared to find a way—through your cover letter, interview, interaction with other candidates, whatever opportunities you can find—to show off your communication skills.
5. Experience Takes Initiative
Universities aren’t trade schools. If you are a bright, motivated student, you will probably get a lot out of your university experience: you will learn to socialize with every sort of different person and personality—that is a marketable skill. You will learn much more about your academic concentration—that, too, is marketable. You ought to learn how to continue learning—that is extremely marketable, and not just for job seeking purposes.
You will not learn how to behave in a professional environment. No matter how many clubs you manage, research projects you support, or business classes you take, you are definitely not in a professional environment. Even many of the internships springing up left and right offer no guarantees about experience.
You need an internship that actually puts real world responsibility on your shoulders—that is, carries some risk. If you can handle that risk effectively, you earn trust, and that is what makes a recommendation or referral invaluable. Anyone can give you a character referral and say you are a good person. You need people who can speak to your ability to handle pressure, and both earn and keep professional trust.
See also: How to Get an Internship with Accenture
With a little extra effort, experience actually can be a part of your education—but that isn’t an automatic part of getting a degree.