Tag Archives: resume

Academia is responsible for the devalued degree

You’ve probably heard the phrase “bad money drives out good”. That’s Gresham’s Law expressed in its colloquial form.

If you want to know one of the big reasons six, seven or more years in higher education (with the resulting costs or debts) doesn’t guarantee you a job; why the few position advertisements you see all demand other credentials on top of degrees; and why, if your résumé doesn’t show that you’re constantly taking new programs and acquiring new credentials, it gets binned on arrival, just think about Gresham’s Law for a moment. If the “money” is good (your degree is worth something) it doesn’t need endless add-ons and you don’t need endless new degrees on top of your old one. If it’s debased in some way, on the other hand, “more” will be better (think of it as just another form of inflation at work).

Now take a look at what Karl Denniger posted this morning, in “That College Degree? It’s Worthless.

Before all those of you who have your credentials from a Canadian, British, Australian, French, etc. university start snickering at the “perfidious effects of making the football and basketball coach the highest-paid person on campus” that’s so prevalent in the United States, and patting yourselves on the back for having gone to a place that “put the academics first”, hold on. Debasement and the graduation of students who should never have been allowed to pass isn’t just found around the athletic scholarship community.

Any school that debases grades — or simplifies course materials to ensure a higher pass rate — or reduces the amount and types of work required — or poses multiple-choice tests as “examination” without other means of testing what’s been learnt — is engaged in the same game as passing through the point guard or linebacker who can’t read, can’t write, can’t do much of anything, really, other than play the game.

That kind of “bad” degree has been driving out the quality ones for a long time now.

First of all, the dumbing-down of the public school system has meant that much of the first two years of a bachelor’s degree now is taken up with teaching things that used to be part of the high school curriculum, back when many people went to work on the strength of less than a high school graduation. Staying in the university-bound stream say, sixty years ago, meant you were doing what is now second-year calculus and algebra in your Grade 12 math class — the same for the hard sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities — because by the start of Grade 11 everyone else had peeled off, into a different work-bound program, or left school and taken employment.

(My father built his entire career on a Grade 10, Business and Commerce stream education, rising to high management in a major corporation. On the way through his employed life, he also invented a solution to an on-going problem that gained a patent — and not one of the phony, lawyer-driven ones like “one-click ordering” that pervade the patent system today.)

As an undergraduate in the 1980s, my papers came back to me dripping with red ink. Every misuse of the English language was picked up and criticized. Class averages ran in the C to C+ range — Bs really were “exceeds expectations”, and the As you received reflected “outstanding” work.

I’ve been a university professor in three different faculties at two different universities in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, all teaching Master’s level courses. Had I marked as I had been marked (and since, in my elementary school years, I was marked on a scale where 70% was the pass-fail point, and therefore was used to a demanding system) there would have been a riot in the streets. Every time I’ve taught, there’s been a line of whinging students at the Dean’s door complaining about having to be evaluated by oral examination, by written examination, and by presentation in a class setting with no multiple-choice in sight. Every time there’s been complaints about the red ink correcting their language (even though they, unlike me, didn’t lose marks for it). Anyone getting less than an A- moaned because I “wasn’t being fair”.

Every time, as well, the Dean would force me to “redo” my marks, to keep the institution’s “A-level reputation” intact.

You pass out students who don’t deserve bare Cs with As and you devalue your degree. It’s as simple as that.

Gone are the days when simply seeing Cambridge, Oxford, Toronto, McGill, Harvard, Yale, etc. on someone’s résumé meant you didn’t have to think about whether or not they were competent. The Ivy League and the Canadian schools have long ago gone down the same “can’t fail anyone, everyone’s ego is too fragile not to be classed as really exceeding expectations or being outstanding in some way” trap the public schools went into.

Take a look at business communication today. Riddled with errors. Unable to express coherent thoughts. Or business numeracy: missing in action (people who can’t figure change without a computer to tell them precisely what to pull out build spreadsheets which we all just use and treat as gospel). Or logic in decision making. I see a fair number of strategic plans that have contradictions on the same page — often in the same table or paragraph — and no one bats an eye.

No wonder employers now demand very specific additions to your degrees. After all, credentials like the Securities course (CSC), HR Professional program (CHRP), or Project Management credential (PMP) don’t come with the residual “odour of success” that a name-brand university offers. They have to be effective at transferring skills, or they go nowhere in the market (like the ISP that the Canadian Information Processing Society tries, year after year, to foist as the “mark” of an IT professional).

The on-going addition of more and more letters after your name, in turn, is driven because all that “effective skilling” comes at a price: it’s not education (giving you abilities for a lifetime) but training (giving you specifics that expire as the world changes). That the typical method of job evaluation to set pay grades used in most organizations is driven by educational qualifications — and because managers’ pay bands go up if the staff under them are raised — the quest for pay increases has led to the specification of increased qualifications, one piled on another.

Your responsibility is to ensure that you get value for money in your education. That means, first and foremost, that you get one. A paper dripping with red ink and an honest “C” will teach you far more about communicating effectively than any degree program in “communications” will. Find the toughest old-school types, and learn from them.

Then recognize that in today’s world your institution of higher learning is probably debasing your degree anyway. But if you’ve really learned (as opposed to just passing through) you’ll be prepared for what life throws at you.

With 3 out of 4 white Americans (just about 4 out of 4 blacks and Hispanics) now expected to experience at least one period of significant unemployment and poverty in their lifetime, you had better have gotten something permanent out of it, eh?

Narrowing the gap between employer and candidate

Stories about university graduates who were meeting with limited or no success finding the work they had hoped to find were a regular feature of the print and electronic media in the first half of 2013. The idea that they might have to adjust their thinking and expectations in the face of a market that hadn’t delivered what they felt it should have delivered had never crossed their mind. There was no discussion of how they came to have their expectations in the first place or whether they had tested the assumptions behind them.

The stories were silent on the subject of the quality and relevance of their résumés and why they had targeted the employers they did. There was no mention of whether they had diversified their search portfolios in response to the 2008 financial meltdown by reconfiguring and repackaging themselves. We don’t know whether they had developed strategies to deal with abnormally long interview cycles or how they performed in those interviews. Did they recognize the law of diminishing returns or the need to cut their losses?

They may not have realized that job search is subject to the rules of the market and not the rules of the campus. The shortest distance between two people with a mutual business need is a well thought-out and conducted, business-driven conversation. They weren’t prepared.

Current and future graduates face a labour market that has a different perspective on the value and usefulness of higher education. Employers have deployed an array of obstacles designed to screen candidates out, not in. Some are software-based. Others derive from the fact that it’s a buyer’s market for labour. The number of degrees in circulation has risen as has the cost of acquiring them even as the market value of many of those degrees has plummeted.

Applicant tracking systems (ATS’s) were designed to counteract e-mail tsunamis that contain more than their share of “tire-kicker” résumés. To make matters worse, most managers have neither the time nor the inclination to look beyond or behind the filters in their ATS search engines.

For all of the science in hiring, there is still art in hiring. Superior managers are committed to the recruitment process because of how it impacts on them, on newly hired employees and on the company. They’re prepared to look for diamonds in the rough and to think outside the box. They’re in the minority but you want to seek them out and work for them. For insights into what a superior hiring manager for the times should look like, please read Bruce Stewart’s August 20th post by clicking here.

Deep labour market intelligence and labour market risk management are the drivers behind Personal Due Diligence. Both of these concepts elude most job seekers, regardless of age or experience. That includes the graduates in the stories. No one will be sought, let alone hired, to perform work that doesn’t need doing. The logic is inescapable, but people keep trying.

Then there’s the grossly misunderstood and under-appreciated résumé, arguably one of the most critically important documents we’ll ever generate about ourselves. It can easily take 10 hours to prepare one because of what has to go into it and why. Aesthetics is roughly 10% of the equation; the other 90% derives from how well the candidate understands what the employer needs and how well he or she communicates that understanding—to the person preparing the résumé and to the person receiving it. This is the point in the process when many applicants stumble badly. The 90% reject rate is proof that too many job seekers are opting for the low-price spread.

The object of the diagnostic you’ve just read is to demonstrate that the times demand a higher level of thinking about and execution of job search. Full-time work after graduation is no longer a foregone conclusion. Personal Due Diligence is here to help you understand what you’re up against and how to deal with it.

“Who would rather not be called a salesman?”

Five people in our class of 20 raised their hand in response to that question on our first day of sales training at IBM. Mine was one of them. Not coincidentally, those hands belonged to the 5 youngest IBMers in the room.

Selling, as I would learn over the next 2 weeks, had nothing to do with back-slapping hand-shakers in hound’s-tooth jackets with loud ties, porkpie hats, toothy grins and big expense accounts. This was the era of the IBM 3-piece, dark blue suit, white shirt, conservative tie and wing-tip shoes. (I may be dating myself here.) It was about asking customers and prospects the kinds of questions they wanted to be asked so that they could talk about becoming more effective, more efficient, more profitable—and more successful.

IBM had taught us what our capabilities were. Now we were being taught how to listen, how to present and how to target our solutions. The better we listened, the more relevant and more welcome our solutions, and the greater the likelihood that someone would buy them.

That was and still is consultative selling and relationship building. It worked because everybody won. IBM changed our perspective on selling permanently. It also taught us that business is a 1-to-1, face-to-face transaction and that people do business with people they like. The greater the interest we showed in what our customer needed, the more the customer liked us. And the record shows that nobody did it better than Big Blue.

For all practical purposes, job search and prospecting for business are one and the same. It takes time to build a relationship because it takes time to build credibility. Understanding what your customer needs isn’t about flattery; it’s about genuinely wanting to help make somebody’s life easier and bottom line fatter.

If you believe that you’ve accumulated enough education, knowledge and experience to do that—or will—you’re halfway there. The other half is putting that information where it will do you and your client/future employer/prospect the most good: on his or her desk or his or her screen. Researching and preparing a winning presentation and business case for hiring you will be hard work. But it’ll lay the foundation for future business whether you’re on your own payroll, someone else’s, or on his or her list of approved vendors.

A résumé is neither a proposal nor a business case. It’s a brochure. Unless you do your homework, it’s not likely that anyone is going to see themself or the solution to their problem reflected in it. That will take a carefully thought-out, customized cover letter and addendum that speaks directly to the person to whom you’re trying to peddle your wares. The same applies to your persona on LinkedIn and to any other social media you may be using.

Now for Side “B”.

You could usually count on an IBM business card to generate one audience. From that point on, the sales rep was on his or her own. IBM had competitors, those competitors had solutions, and not every IBM proposal was rewarded with an order. IBM customers had the inalienable right to not package their needs and wants to dovetail neatly with IBM’s offerings and they exercised it. IBM still has competitors.

Job seekers may not be able to find work in their “chosen field”. Customers are under no obligation to help university and other graduates pay off their student loans. The secret to finding work whether as a self-employed consultant or salaried employee is to position yourself to address the employer’s “chosen field” or some consumer or industrial need: the sooner the better. If you’re going to be starting Grade 11 in the fall, now would be an excellent time to start.

There’s been considerable discussion and anxiety about the role and place of the Arts graduate in today’s technological society. My colleague Bruce Stewart has written some excellent posts on the subject. Please read them. He’s also written excellent posts on entrepreneurialism. Please read those, too.

Technology may be at the heart of developed societies, but we can’t get the job done with technology alone. Brilliant, game-changing perspectives and the business and academic opportunities that flow from them aren’t the exclusive purview of technological disciplines. How many times have we heard about intuitive computing that isn’t as intuitive as we thought? Who are the ultimate consumers of technology if not human beings? What else do human beings consume?

Companies may be prepared to concede that seeing their internal operations and markets through the lens of the humanities as well as through the STEM lens might be in their best interest. Young people in North America have been staying away from information technology in droves. Some would like to blame the IT industry for not promoting itself well enough. But is it possible that a society that puts tablet computers, smartphones and the Internet into the hands of children who aren’t old enough to be able to reach the accelerator and brake pedals has grown blasé?

As of this writing, Googling “wearable computing” generated 9.2 million hits. There are already vacancies. Here’s what Apple’s up to right now.

There will always be a market for ideas and a need for someone to sell them. Whether the world beats a path to your door because you’re onto what the Next Big Thing will be, or you know someone who does and you’re excited at the prospect of helping them develop it, you’re going to have to let the world know.

The Next Big Thing could come from the likes of Apple or Google or a garage around the corner. Someone’s going to have to sell it, but they’ll have to sell themself first. Or would you rather not be called a sales rep?

If you have questions or comments, brickbats or bouqets, PDD would love to hear from you.