Should Your College Degree Dictate Your Job Or Career?
By JONATHAN YABUT
The dilemma: You finished a course that doesn’t match the passion you realised later in life. What now?
You finished a degree in Philosophy but realised in your last year that you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg.
Your parents forced you to do medicine but your heart just doesn’t beat (pun intended) for the sick.
You earned an accounting degree, but fashion is your passion.
So, should your university degree dictate your job? No, it shouldn’t.
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 practise 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’s 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 Bachelor of Science in Economics, an intensely mathematical course suited for governance and policy-making. I wanted to become a lawyer when I was 15 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.
I got recruited as a management trainee and was led to give marketing a try. Because I was always fascinated by the art of convincing people to buy a product, I said yes.
I made that one fearless leap that forever changed my life.
I realised that marketing wasn’t just about having the creative genius.
More than the glamour of doing television commercials or YouTube videos, my job required a very crucial skill related to my course in university: forecasting.
Regardless of what the product or service is, marketers will always spend their careers working with spreadsheets to forecast inventories and sales.
And I’m not alone. I have 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 learnt 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, academia, or social work. Google, Intel and Microsoft now hire them to work on human interactions with technology.
All the folks in Silicon Valley who are now entrepreneurs and owners of start-up companies; they’re most likely IT or engineering graduates too, not necessarily business graduates.
The key is to be fearless enough to dismiss the common misconception that human resources won’t consider you for an interview just because your course is different.
2 You learn most while doing the job, not just through textbooks
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 society.
Any university degree can give you this, 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 learnt by successful managers come from the following sources:
- 70% from doing the job (doing the job routinely and repeating what works, and avoiding the things that don’t)
- 20% from people (feedback and observation shared by bosses, colleagues, etc.)
- 10% from courses and reading
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 you.
This is why I think experience will always trump even paper qualifications from the most prestigious university. I made countless mistakes when I developed my earliest TV commercials and printed posters for my previous employer.
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 could 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 even went to events and concerts organised by the most unusual industries, like those that sell napkins or mosquito zappers.
I watched for best practices that I could apply to my brand.
I was mature enough to ask people for feedback about my weaknesses even it hurt my emotions.
Little by little, wound by wound, success by success, I made my way into becoming a marketer despite my lack of formal training.
Success was made sweeter when my first boss told me, “You’re now one of them.”
3) Soft skills matter 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 specialising in that field can give you the easy advantage of course. But theory is useless if you can’t apply them in the real world.
Your boss won’t care if you graduated with straight As or if you were on the dean’s list.
Rather, he’ll care if you can get along with your teammates, or if you can lead a project with teammates twice your age.
He’ll be worried if you can’t present a 10-slide PowerPoint deck with 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 emotional quotient (EQ) – all of which can never be taught in schools. T
hey are critical when the going gets tough at work, especially during those moments when you just want to give up or because your boss is the evilest person in the world.
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 – all thanks to their soft skills.
Unfortunately, you can’t buy soft skills at the nearest convenience stores.
They’re part of your DNA, influenced by how your parents raised you or how your environment shaped 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 pinch of salt
Not everyone will fall into the same situation as I did. I am arguably a fortunate case of being in the right place, at the right time and with the right heart – but there will be many of us, and you can be a part of that statistics if you persevere. 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 painfully forced to stick it out for three years or more), know that the possibilities remain abundant.
Jonathan Yabut is a faculty partner with Leaderonomics and is the winner of The Apprentice Asia. He has a consultancy firm based in Kuala Lumpur. He also engages in motivational talks about youth and leadership across South-east Asia, and is also the author of From Grit to Great, which recalls his inspiring journey in winning the show. To engage him for organisational work in your organisation, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reposted with permission on Leaderonomics.com