Perhaps this will become a regular feature here but I’ll definitely be posting this type of format on a regular basis moving forward where I discuss topics that have come up over the last few days or weeks that I think merit discussion. So…here we go.
Graduation season is upon us. #SNHU2018 has been trending my twitter feed and it reminded me of last year when I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with my MBA. My experience as a student was tremendous, my visit to campus for commencement was revelatory, and this last year as a member of the alumni community has been truly enriching. I continue to feel that SNHU should be looked to as a template for centers of education ranging from high school through to colleges, trade schools, and universities.
One of the true pleasures of being an alum of a university so focused on outreach and engagement is that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with current and prospective students as they decide whether or not to attend, what degree they may pursue or what life may look like after graduation. That the university goes to such great lengths to connect students is emblematic of their entire philosophy.
One of my recent conversations with a student led to perhaps the most enduring question concerning employment opportunities and job applications:
What’s more important: Education or experience?
I won’t try to dig too deep into this rabbit hole given today’s format but I’ll give a short answer and an anecdote.
Answer: It depends. (I know, I took the cheap way out. haha)
Here’s the anecdote:
I worked with an incredibly talented leader who had been charged with righting the proverbial ship for a national retailer. The first thing he did when given the rather robust stack of applications for sales positions was look for those that listed non-sales experience or were students.
He was attracted to applicants studying communications or philosophy. He wanted to talk to waiters and waitresses. His philosophy was that it would be easier to teach someone how to sell than it would be to “unteach” them.
Experience can sometimes be a hindrance. It can bring bad habits or preconceptions about strategies and culture that may not apply in a given work environment.
Within one year our location led the entire region in gross sales, gross profits, and number of unique transactions….with a sales team comprised almost entirely of people lacking any sales experience. Not too shabby. 🙂
I’ve found similar opinions regarding education.
Over the years I’ve spoken with many managers and human resource leaders who agree that diplomas do not necessarily equate to subject mastery. They place little-to-no emphasis on whether the applicant’s degree is directly related to the position…or if they even have a degree.
These employers look for skills that transfer from one industry to another or for soft skills developed through a candidate’s background. A history or philosophy graduate may be the perfect fit in a change management consultancy despite a lack of “business” experience, academic or otherwise. Their personality and skills honed during their academic career may provide them with a sense of context and strategic fluidity that are essential with helping organizations implement new strategies and navigate complex communications projects.
This will make a great topic for a longer piece. It’s a fascinating concept and one that is dynamic in nature, has different answers depending on the industry and position, as well as the culture of a given organization.
So what would you say you do here?
It comes up all the time doesn’t it? Maybe it’s time to introduce yourself to a new employee. Maybe you’re at yet another party or at your child’s school function.
What do you say?
Do you know what you do? Can you describe it in a sentence or two?
It seems so simple and for some maybe it is.
What do you do? I’m a doctor. I diagnose and treat pulmonary disease.
What do you do? I’m a communications manager for a Montessori school where I write newsletters and announcements for parents and the community.
For others, myself included, the answer can be a tad more…nuanced shall we say.
I don’t like the “jack of all trades” moniker because it begs the coda, “master of none”. If I’m a master of something it’s at being flexible and agile.
There are many of us who at any given moment could be doing forensic analysis and reconciliations of expense and invoicing data, preparing client data presentations, writing annual reports, taking bids from telecom, office equipment, or real estate vendors, or planning international special events.
These hats, however, are not rotated as a result of a lack of mastery but rather because the individual has the agility and versatility to fill gaps across the organizational structure. They can, in short, put those fires out that pop up all over an organization.
Not every company has the capacity, budget, or need to have a full-time communications or purchasing department. Many companies outsource the bulk of their human resource needs but still require someone in the office to field all those inevitable questions that pop up that don’t necessarily merit submitting an inquiry or calling the hotline.
From a company’s standpoint having a “utility player” can be vital and for an individual seeking employment it is essential to demonstrate your ability to perform multiple tasks, simultaneously, under different timelines, across the organizational structure, collaborating with different stakeholders.
That’s about it for today. Have a productive rest of the week but most of all…
Be Well and Kind,