Underemployed College Graduate

On 01/02/2011, in Formal Education, by Jordan Wilson

An interesting article, with statistics, showing that many people today possess university degrees but work in jobs that do not require them.

For what it is worth, a few quick thoughts from my side.

And as an added bonus, a lesson in investing based on the author’s analysis.

Avoid Low Demand Degrees

Many students pursue degrees that have very limited employment options. Unless you want to become a professor in the field or are waiting for your trust fund to vest,  you may want to avoid areas with few job prospects.

Concentrate on degrees which have employment potential. Supply and demand for different professions is often in flux. Find something that should be in demand when you graduate.

Sometime Employers Like Degrees – Any Degree

With increased competition for open positions in any industry, some employers view advanced education as a positive when comparing candidates. Although I do not agree with this approach, I know that certain employers use this in their hiring process.

A candidate with a degree may have an advantage over those who do not. Even if the degree is irrelevant to the actual job function.

For individuals that do not want to get degrees just to level the playing field, there are other options that should assist your job hunt.

If You Avoid the Degree, Develop Industry Relevant Skills to Compete

While some employers take the easy route and initially sort candidates by degree or no degree, better companies look past irrelevant degrees and want the best fit for the position.

So you may not need a degree for the job. But you will need the skills to perform the tasks and show the firm you are the best person for the role. Degree or not.

To do this, look at the industry in which you want to work.

Then take steps to enhance your non-formal degree skills that are beneficial to that industry.

Language Skills

I harp on language skills, but this is another example where they provide an edge.

Consider the jobs listed in the linked article. In many cases the workers will deal with clients, often with foreigners (flight attendants, baggage porters, hotel/motel employees, taxi drivers). Even the other positions will involve interaction with people whose native tongue may be different than your own.

Being able to assist customers in their own language (and hopefully understanding their cultural nuances) will make them more comfortable. And a satisfied client is something that companies desire.

Complementary Skills

Developing complementary skills can also be important.

Taking individual courses or seminars relating specifically to the industry in which you intend to work, will greatly aid employees in their field.

If you shop at Best Buy, is your comfort level (and likelihood to purchase something) greater when dealing with a retail employee who knows the products? Or someone that is clueless?

Who do you think the Best Buy manager wants on the floor? The girl that knows the ins and outs of plasma versus liquid crystal? Or the guy that can explain the hidden meaning of Shakespeare’s sonnets?

The same holds true for those in the tourism related trades. If you possess strong knowledge in travel related areas, you will be an asset to your company. More so than someone who might have a non-relevant degree, but no relevant skills or expertise.

Personal Data

Consider any personal details that may help you differentiate yourself from other candidates.

Hobbies, interests, areas of personal uniqueness.

Perhaps you run marathons (or something similar). That might be seen as an asset for mail carrier as opposed to someone with a sociology or fine arts degree.

You can even volunteer in activities that help you gain exposure and experience that may help you get an edge on the competition.

The employer knows nothing about you other than what is on your resume. Make sure you tailor it to show the company how good a fit you could be, even without a degree.

A Lesson for Investment Analysis

One final thought on the article that actually relates to investment analysis.

The author saw the data and made certain assumptions to arrive at his conclusions. He could be correct, but he could also have made some faulty assumptions that destroy his results.

For example, he simply considers degrees as a whole. It would be interesting to see the breakdown of education in each category. Those working in tourism fields may have tourism related degrees. That might lessen the apparent problem he finds.

Perhaps the secretaries have degrees in the fields (engineering, computing, etc.) in which they work. But they are using the position to get their feet in the door to a company or industry.

Also, he does not explore the number of graduates who did work in their education related field and left for reasons other than a lack of open positions.

I know many people that possess degrees in one field and for personal reasons make big shifts over time. Historically, women left the work-force to raise their children and then often returned to different industries once the children grew up.

Or consider immigrants. For some, degrees earned abroad are not recognized in their new countries. As such, they have degrees, but cannot work in their original profession without going back to school. So they take jobs in industries for which they do not require degrees.

There are other examples as well that potentially put a dent in the author’s conclusions.

When analyzing financial data, in investing or business dealings, always consider all the reasons why things occur before coming to conclusions. If you ignore certain variables or possible factors, you may reach faulty results.

Make sure that you look at the problem from all sides.

It will help you greatly in your analysis.

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