Sep 05, 2009 | Post by: Vikki Pachera Comments Off on Back To School

Back To School

For weeks now, particularly as our friends haul their kids and their stuff off to colleges, I’ve been wanting to blog about the increasing value of an education. Now I find myself talking about this in the midst of an apparently heated conversation about whether our President should evangelize the topic to schoolchildren next week–he absolutely should.

Early on in my career, I was asked to speak to troubled high school kids and try to get them to understand that their earning potential was much higher if they got a high school diploma. The fact that I was an appealing recruit as a successful female engineer wasn’t lost on me then and it isn’t lost on me now. When people identify with someone, they are far more likely to be an influence.

More recently, my husband and I tag team nearly every year on the same mission. I have to admit that I dread these sessions–it’s really hard to know if you are getting through to these kids. And, while I fully realize that studies beyond the high school level are not for everyone and out of reach for too many, I’m even more of an advocate for getting the best and most marketable college education you possibly can.

It used to be that when you had no experience, your educational credentials, including your GPA, were of top consideration for a job. And as you progressed in your career, it mattered increasingly less.

As an executive recruiter, I’ve noticed a new trend over the past year, tied to the economic slowdown. Companies are putting more weight on where a candidate when to school–even those who graduated 20 years ago. As the job market tightened up over the past year, the professional openings that do exist have a far higher bar than in years past. It’s not uncommon today for a CEO to weigh in on a hiring decision several tiers down in their organization. I was discussing this with a hiring exec recently–his belief is that if someone earned a degree from Berkeley or Stanford, that’s a good proxy for an assessment on their IQ and their drive.

Of course this isn’t the only indicator; that’s why we conduct a minimum of six references, value work experience, and do in depth interviewing. And yes, being well rounded, able to string together a coherent sentence, being energetic, confident, well presented, etc. are all important. But those attributes have become the floor, not the bar.

The competition on the educational front is astounding. As we continue to compete for talent globally, I find that there’s no shortage of people who were born and raised abroad, who earned an engineering degree in their home country who came to the US, earned another technical undergraduate degree here, one with a perceived better brand, went on to earn a technical masters and more often than not an MBA on top of it all.

If you want to maximize the chances that you’ll stay employed the majority of your adult life, you need a highly marketable degree. There’s a lot of passion around the liberal arts program but I thought a colleague of mine said it best a couple of weeks ago, “Yes, I got a liberal arts education but then I went to trade school.” He’s a lawyer and CEO.

Earning the best education you can and making sacrifices to do so, whether it’s a night program that eats into your personal time, or a loan to pay for that big brand school, will pay off. I’m delighted that the President choose to speak on the topic and I hope that we put an increased focus and emphasis on education.

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