Should your college degree dictate your job, career?
So you finished a degree in Philosophy but realized on your last year that you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg. Your parents forced you to take medicine and your heart just can’t beat (pun intended) for it to save a patient’s life. You earned an accounting degree, but fashion means more than anything else to you.
My sincere condolences. There are millions of folks like you who feel that life has betrayed them with such fate: you finished a course that doesn’t match the passion you realized later in life. And now you fear what the real world will bring for you.
Should your university degree dictate your job? No, it shouldn’t.
In today’s times when technology has greatly revolutionized the way we work, getting your dream job regardless of your educational background is now more possible.
You can pursue a job based on your degree, but you’re not required to, success-wise. The good news for folks who don't want to practice the courses "they got trapped with" is that “changing your mind” after school is still possible. Here are some insights you can reflect on:
1. Yes, it is possible to “change lanes” after school
One thing that usually surprises people about my career is that I’m a marketing guy with no formal degree in marketing. I finished BS Economics, an intensely mathematical course suited for governance and policy-making. I wanted to become a lawyer when I was 15 years old and figured this course may complement as a pre-law course.
But my life changed four years later. I decided to ditch law and enter the corporate world instead. I got recruited by Globe Telecom as a management trainee and gave marketing a try. Because I was always fascinated by convincing people’s minds to buy a product, I said yes. I made that one fearless leap that forever changed my life.
Thankfully, I realized later on that marketing wasn’t just about having the creative genius. More than the glamor of doing TV commercials or YouTube videos, my job required a very crucial skill related to my course in university: forecasting. Regardless what the product or service is, marketers will always spend their careers working with spreadsheets to forecast inventories and sales.
As an example, I can confidently vouch that folks who graduated with degrees in finance, statistics or accountancy (coupled with a touch of creativity) can succeed in the marketing world.
I have tons of friends who finished degrees in engineering but now work as sales executives for Apple, Samsung, and HTC. They didn’t limit themselves to technical or science‐related ranks.
After all, selling can be learned over time while rudimentary knowledge about computers is not gained overnight. In other countries, anthropologists or ethnographers aren’t limited anymore to careers in museums, academe, or social work. Google, Intel, and Microsoft now hire them to work on human interaction with technology.
All those folks in Silicon Valley who are now entrepreneurs and owners of start-up companies? They’re likely IT or engineering graduates too, not necessarily business graduates. The key is to be fearless enough to dismiss the common concern that HR won’t consider you for an interview just because your course is different. (READ: 4 reasons why you still haven't found your dream job)
2. You will learn the most while doing the job, more than what textbooks taught you
In most cases, what you learn in university is simply the general discipline of “doing things efficiently.” For example, you learn a more advanced level of arithmetic, a more sophisticated vocabulary and writing ability, and a deeper understanding of culture, the world, and the ills of the society. Any university degree can give you this which applies to any job that involves administration or management. But these are just the basics. The bigger picture is applying them to a specific role at work.
You may have heard of the popular 70-20-10 model of learning and development based on a research crafted by Morgan McCall and his colleagues. In this study, they concluded that lessons learned by successful managers come from the following sources:
- 70% from doing the job (doing the job routinely and repeating what works, and avoiding next time the things that don’t)
- 20% from people (feedback and observation shared by your boss, colleagues, etc.)
- 10% from courses and reading (ex. school, books, online articles, case studies of other businesses, etc.)
What does this mean? It means that even if you miss all the lessons in university (or in my case, never even took marketing lessons at all!), you still have the opportunity to catch up because the job alone will teach what is required of you.
This is why I think experience will always trump even the most prestigious Ivy-league diploma over time. I made countless mistakes when I developed my earliest TV commercials and printed posters for sari-sari stores for Globe Telecom. I made fewer mistakes later as I got better at it.
Learning by doing was my mantra. I embraced failure. I wanted to fail early and fast so I can avoid them in the more critical and more adult portions of my life. I have no regrets today.
I was always a curious learner. I loved asking questions from my mentors and bosses even if it got to the point of irritating them. I requested to sit down in meetings of other marketing departments that had nothing to do with my project because listening alone taught me a lot of things. I went to events and concerts organized by even the most unusual industries like those that sell napkins or mosquito zappers.
I watched to steal best practices that I can apply for my brand. I was mature enough to ask people for feedback about my weaknesses even when they can hurt my emotions. Little by little, wound by wound, success by success, I got my way into becoming a marketer despite my lack of formal training. It was only sweeter when my first ever boss told me “You’re now one of them.”
3. Soft skills matter a lot, and you can’t learn them inside the classroom
What does it take to become successful in your chosen field of career? Getting a degree specializing in that field can give you the easy advantage of course. But theory is useless if you can’t even apply them in the real world.
Your boss won’t care if you graduated with straight As or as valedictorian of your class. Rather, he’ll care if you can get along with your teammates, or if you can lead a project even if your teammates are twice your age.
He’ll be worried if you can’t present a 10-slide Powerpoint deck with undeniable confidence. He’ll observe your energy and check how good you are in making decisions in times of ambiguity, and during those moments when he’s not around.
These make up a person’s soft skills: your attitude, your personality, your motivation, and your EQ, which can never be taught in schools. They are the most critical weapons you will need when the going gets tough at work, especially during those moments when you just want to give up or because your boss is the most evil person in the world. (READ: I hate my boss! 5 Tips To Deal)
Employees who get to climb the ivory towers of the corporate world aren’t necessarily the smartest ones in the room, but they do know how to hire people smarter than them and influence them effectively to get things done. Thanks to their soft skills.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy soft skills at the nearest 7-11 stores. They’re likely part of your DNA influenced by how your parents or your environment raised you. Soft skills can be developed, however, and be improved over time by exposing yourself to more mistakes and more role models—a beautiful proof that degrees are just a small part of the bigger picture.
Take this advice with a grain of salt
Not everyone of course will fall into the same situation as I did. I am arguably a fortunate case of being at the right time, at the right place and with the right heart—but there will be many of us, and you can be part of that statistic especially if you persevere more than the lazy-average. The only enemy of the ambitious is time.
So if you are somebody reading this article with a university course you feel you have wrongfully chosen (and is painfully forced to stick it out for 3 years or more), know that the possibilities remain abundant.
Imagine the amazing things that have yet to come 5 years from now! And when you do succeed, please reach out and share your success story with the rest of the world. We all need reminders and pockets of inspiration from time to time. Good luck! – Rappler.com
Jonathan Yabut is the proud Filipino winner of the hit Asian reality TV show, The Apprentice Asia and is currently based in Kuala Lumpur as a marketing director for the Tune Group of Companies. Jonathan is Asia’s leading motivational speaker on topics involving leadership, Gen Y, and career management for Fortune 500 companies. He is also the author of Southeast Asia’s 2015 best-selling motivational book, From Grit to Great In 2014, he founded his marketing consultancy firm, The JY Ventures Consultancy Group. Visit his official website at jonathanyabut.com