t’s the time of year when thousands of students graduating from college and professional school are entering the job market. Some are joining the job market for the first time as “rising professionals”, while others are completing degrees after working for years, perhaps in a different field.
The first job search at graduation time, I’ve learned, can seem discouraging. We gain accolades in school and at home. Then, we hear about a few students who are heavily recruited by corporations, or that start their own companies. The reality for many new graduates, though, is that it takes time and effort to land the first job.
The question for many is whether the degree will pay off now and in the future. It will, based on the experience of people that have been in the workforce for years, and Federal Government statistics.
The degree you just earned, and even some seemingly irrelevant classes and projects, will pay off in many ways throughout your career. For example, you are likely to:
- Earn more money,
- Gain a network,
- Acquire indispensable knowledge, and
- Use transferrable skills even if you work outside your initial field.
As usual, unless noted otherwise, the comments below are based on my experience, colleagues’ experience, and information from clients. Although this is anecdotal evidence, the ideas should still be useful as you plan for the post-pandemic future.
Expect to earn more money with your degree.
The Social Security Administration’s research on education and lifetime income assures us that people with college and graduate degrees earn more money over their lifetime. “There are substantial differences in lifetime earnings by educational attainment” according to the SSA. They go on to say “men with bachelor’s degrees earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with bachelor’s degrees earn $630,000 more. Men with graduate degrees earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with graduate degrees earn $1.1 million more.”
This does not mean you will earn the great salary your college said you would garner when the admissions counselors encouraged you to apply, or the salary you feel you are worth. It means you will probably earn more money during your career than you would have earned without your degree.
You gain a lifelong network from college.
Another way education benefits your career is through the network it creates for you. Experts say college connections are the most powerful. Steve Dalton, in his book “The 2-hour Job Search” urges his readers to contact alumni they know, and additional alumni they identify through LinkedIn and other alumni social media channels.
College professors are also a valuable source of referrals for job and business opportunities. Today, I still get prospective client referrals from a professor that taught a class I attended more than 20 years ago!
We know that most people get jobs through their offline and online contacts, so growing your network is a major benefit of continued education.
New knowledge is always beneficial.
A major reason for attending school is to acquire knowledge and skills, although most of us think in terms of getting a job. Naturally, then, if you majored in marketing or history, for example, you would want to get a job related to marketing or history.
Our world and the economy don’t always work that way. A recruiter told me that he rarely searches for experienced professionals with specific college majors because many job candidates are working in fields they did not study in college.
Numerous clients I have worked with are not working in the fields they studied in school. An engineer I’ve worked with, for example, has a law degree. A chief operating officer at a tech startup that I worked with several years ago had a history degree.
The recruiter told me employers he works with are more concerned with whether the candidate has a degree, and the school he or she attended. The school can be important because some companies have more success with job candidates that attended specific schools. Some hiring managers, of course, are alumni of schools they prefer recruiting from.
A broad range of experience and training while in school can be valuable. For example, Steven Schutz, Ph.D., Scientific Programs Manager at a public health agency in the San Francisco Bay Area told me recently “in general I encourage students to get as broad experience as they can in lab techniques, equipment, etc. because you never know which random thing will come in handy someday.”
Dr. Schutz feels he got a better education at a small, less well funded, graduate program because he had to fix his lab equipment himself instead of calling someone else to do it. He explained that “for example the ultralow temp freezer in my lab started failing a few years ago. It was an older model and I knew from experience that if I called a repairman he’d just try to sell me a new one for $12,000, which I didn’t have the budget for. I had messed with thermostats and heating/ac systems before at Rutgers so I was able to diagnose the problem as a faulty relay and find a replacement for $35.” In other words, seemingly irrelevant graduate school training has turned out to be useful on the job..
It is frustrating to spend time, energy, and money on a specific field of study, or expend time or funds on seemingly irrelevant classes and projects. Your degree and coursework will still add to your job market value.
School teaches us transferrable skills.
Perhaps the most useful takeaway from education for many of us is a set of transferrable skills—writing, analyzing data, working as a team with other students, and much more. We took notes in class, so we know how to take notes at meetings. Then we organized the information from class and completed assignments on-time, just as we are expected to do at work. In fact, this is what I recall telling the hiring managers at an interview for my first professional job.
All of this does not mean new graduates and experienced workers should not pursue careers in the fields they studied. It means that you have not wasted your time and money if there are not enough jobs in your field, or if you discover the work isn’t what you expected it to be. Use what you learned to move forward into the next challenge.An important part of what we do when consulting on career communications—resumes, job search letters, and LinkedIn profiles—is to present education in the most advantageous way. Contact us today for a no cost consultation to get started.
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