Demographics of unemployment and education

I saw a mention of the Tweet My Jobs jobs posting service, so I went by to take a look. I looked for local jobs involving social media and marketing, and found that the job requirements for these positions were all over the map, but most of the them still required a college degree, and some preferred higher education still.

What’s interesting to me is that I know a lot of people in the digital media sphere who are immensely talented and experienced, but many of whom do not yet hold a degree. There’s a lot of debate, especially with the cost of completing college these days about the value of a degree, and if it outweighs the opportunity costs of getting to work sooner than later. I also have a child who is starting high school this year, so saving for college and starting that whole college prep stuff is very real to me right now.

(I should disclose now that I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and have a JD from the Dickinson School of Law at Penn State, so I am clearly biased towards the power of a formal education.)

We all hear about how important college is, yet some schools have a completion rate around 50%- only half the freshman class makes it all the way to graduation. So starting college and finishing are by no means a guaranteed thing.

It seems to me that in times of economic stress, when the job market is tight, having a degree becomes an advantage that helps sorts you out for a closer look compared to every other CV in the pile. Many jobs require it as a credential, regardless of major. The question still looms why a college degree is important- is it a necessary requirement, or a trivial filter to sort candidates? Many people will tell you it matters a lot in getting your first job, but if you are out of work or looking to switch fields, the importance of a degree comes into the fore again- it’s a credential you need to move forward.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics backs this up- the current unemployment rate for people without a highschool diploma is 15.4% and those with no college 9.4%.  If you have some college or an associates degree, the rate drops to 7.9% and down to 4.7% if you have a bachelor’s degree or higher.  That means that currently, the recessin, the tough times, are disproportionally affecting those with less formal education.  And this is true regardless of race.

Beating the System

Now all of this talk about education and credentials is to tell you that they act like long term insurance against tough times.  These “merit badges” seem to insulate the owners from rough seas- it’s not perfect, but it helps, statistically, anyway.  But none of this replaces the fact that a degree doesn’t have to be a requirement for anyone.  The lack of one shouldn’t be an excuse for not achieving everything you want.  The lack of one may require you to Gatejump- to not take no for an answer, to convince people you are better than people with degrees, because of your passion and experience.

CC Chapman wrote a great post today about the importance of developing a gatejumping mindset for his kids. Having a sense of going and getting what you want, or convincing someone that you are qualified for an opportunity is important.  I had to convince CC that I was the perfect person at one point, to do an interview, over someone with a bigger audience, because of what I could bring to the table.  As it turned out, he gave me a shot, and I had a fantastic opportunity to speak with Marcus Buckingham, someone I long admired, about his book, The Truth About You, which helps young adults find their strengths and capitalize on them.

There are lots of opportunities out there, but you have to go and grab them, or make them yourself.  Dale Brown, who helped found the self-help movement for people with learning disabilities, uses a technique she calls “interviewing for information”- where she encourages people to go on job interviews just to find out more about the company, where you might be able to fit in- because frequently, by just getting a chance to meet someone, you can find out you might be the perfect person they were looking for, even if all your credentials didn’t seem to match up perfectly.

Being successful at anything requires finding ways around hurdles and barriers.  It means being able to build an effective case as to why you are perfect for a job.  It means not just taking No for an answer, but being willing to ask them why they said no, so you can do a better job next time, and know more about your strengths and weaknesses.  Being more aggressive without being abrasive isn’t always easy.  It’s all in the approach, in making a case, in convincing someone that you are worthy of a shot, of taking a risk, because you took one first by doing something out of the ordinary to try to get an opportunity to strut your stuff.

I’m currently involved in digital media- producing podcasts for clients, speaking and consulting.  Running your own business is tough, and as my husband says, frequently, I am a cruddy boss and need to manage my employee (me) better.  But running your own show requires that you be creative and strategic in what you say yes to and what you decline.  It requires that you stretch, from time to time, and take on something that’s going to be hard, rather than constantly going for the low-hanging fruit.  It means being willing to make mistakes, to fail, but to learn and fail better next time.  Each time, you learn more about yourself, more ways to try to be better, and eventually, wins start to outweigh losses, and you get on the path where you need to be.

All of this starts by not letting your credentials, or lack of them, pigeon hole you or define you.  Because I have a law degree, does that mean I have to be a lawyer?  No, but that degree and what I learned there does help keep me out of trouble frequently in business.  But it also means I have to convince people that I know what I’m doing on this new path, because I don’t always make sense to them, because I have taken untraditional paths.

And for those of you hung up on credentials, wouldn’t you rather have someone enthusiastic and passionate on your team?  Someone who knows they can do the job you require and then some, regardless of their resume?

In the end, nothing will even win as well as learning how to circumvent barriers, jump that gates, and get to what you want.  This means convincing people that you have the fire and passion to do the job, and do it well, and better than every other person out there.  And it means knowing that you are the best fit, and not being afraid of the No.  If the no comes, well, it’s really their loss for not seeing your fire to do the best job.  But more opportunities will come your way, and maybe even because you were willing to stretch and try to fit yourself in a spot where you didn’t necessarily qualify.

Don’t let words on a piece of paper, a job application, or anything keep you from your dreams,  Construct your own path there, and remember that any disappointment along the way just gives you a chance to do better in the future.