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Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Education vs. Knowledge
Two of the most common concerns that we see among our executives clients are the fear of age discrimination and the fear of not having a degree. Both concerns, while legitimate to some degree are given more weight than they deserve in the effects these two issues actually have on job search.

Today, I want to look at degrees – both the importance of them and the impact of lack of them. We see clients from both ends of the spectrum where this issue is concerned. We work with senior researchers who have more than one PhD to their names and then we work with C-level executives who never finished college. And we work with clients who are everywhere in between in terms of education.

For many years of the past century, especially in the first six decades, the most common goal of education was a high school diploma. If you graduated high school, you were pretty well assured of being able to attain a job that would support the average middle-class lifestyle. As the twentieth century came to a close, that had changed significantly. Now, most people consider a four-year degree to be the lowest bar needed to achieve the average middle class lifestyle.

Institutes of higher learning have really “sold” the value of an MBA over the past twenty years, so much to the point that now an MBA doesn’t hold a lot of weight because it is a common degree. There have been several studies that indicate that the money spent on an MBA is not always recouped in higher wages. (Equate it over-improving your house for the neighborhood—you may not get your investment back.)

My question is – can you be highly educated but have little knowledge. I think the answer to that is a resounding yes. Knowledge comes from study but it also comes from experience and between the two, experience wins the battle. Think about your own experience in college. How much of what you learned do you actually use now? Remember that ballroom dancing class you had to take for a PE credit? How about that college algebra class?

Success is not predicated on a college degree. We have plenty of highly successful entrepreneurs to prove that correct – Michael Dell, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to name three. At the senior executive level, there is a higher percentage of people who have earned their degree at the School of Hard Knocks which is harder to obtain and more expensive that a Harvard degree. No real college teaches the lessons learned at good old SHK. Those lessons, or that knowledge, if you will, can only be taught by life – experience.

Companies that are seeking senior executives are going to be looking at experience. They want to hire a leader who has been in the trenches and won’t be blown about by the winds of the business world. They want someone who has the T-shirt and knows the answers before the questions are asked. They are not going to find that knowledge in an educated twenty- or thirty-something who has very little real world experience.

Does that mean you won’t get an edge if you have a degree? No. Having the experience and the degree may very well give you an edge but again the employer is going to be looking at the whole package. If you have the experience, the great track record, and are the right fit, not having that degree will probably not eliminate you from the running.

Want a great book to read while you are snowed in over the next couple of weeks? I highly recommend “The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America’s Wealthy” by Thomas J. Stanley and William D Danko. (Both have PhD’s by the way). You will be amazed at who the rich people REALLY are and how they got there!

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We specialize in working with professionals in the high tech, engineering, and manufacturing industries to organize, direct, and accomplish their career goals. Our knowledge of technology and our expertise in these rapidly changing industries set us apart from all other career services firms and provides outstanding value to our clients. See how we can help your Career by reading our Blog.
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