Why Your Personal Qualities Matter More Than Your Degree

We’re part of a generation where young people believe that getting a degree will automatically entitle them to a good job in their chosen field.

This belief explains the large numbers of people starting university each year, and the willingness of students to put themselves into large amounts of debt in the process.

Even when all around us many graduates end up not being able to get the jobs they wanted or expected, we often explain this away by believing that this is because of a poor economy – or that companies are just not recognising young people’s talents.

We tend not to question whether, in reality, university degrees are as valuable as we were led to believe.

Why degrees and other credentials are less important than we are led to believe

Smart employers know a number of things about degrees, and other official credentials.

They know that good performance in exams is often just down to the ability to cram in the days leading up to the exam

They know that obtaining a degree is largely something somebody achieves on their own, and that it doesn’t tell you anything about how someone relates to other people or works in a team

They also know that, for the most part, studying for a degree in a subject area is only one way to develop your skills in that area. For example, if you had a marketing degree, you may think you’d have an edge over people who studied other subjects when applying for marketing jobs. But companies understand marketing in a broader way. They know that deeply understanding psychology and human behaviour, or being a good writer, might also make you great at marketing

What to focus on instead

If degrees and qualifications on paper aren’t as important as we thought, what should young people focus on instead? A few things are really important.

First, looking at the needs of companies and employers before your own is crucial.

Many graduates start from the perspective of looking for jobs which suit the degree they have achieved. But this thinking is the wrong way round. A better approach is to start by thinking about the needs of other people and companies, and then to position yourself as the person best able to fulfil those needs. Your degree may be relevant to the job, but only to the extent that it shows you can fulfil the needs of the job – beyond that, the degree itself is irrelevant.

Being proactive is also incredibly important. After graduation, if you don’t put in the effort to finding a good job, it’ll be tough to find one. Creativity when you’re applying is also essential. You won’t be able to rely on your degree alone to get interviews and job offers – instead, consider how experiences you have had in your personal life demonstrate your suitability for a job.

A word of warning

It’s actually liberating to realise that degrees aren’t as important as we thought – it means we don’t need to worry about where we went to university, whether we studied the right subjects, or got the highest marks we could have achieved. It also means that by doing certain degrees we are not locking ourselves into particular industries.

Nevertheless, all of this does not necessarily mean you shouldn’t attend university. Whilst there are definitely forward thinking companies who take a broader perspectives of the skills job applicants have, many still require a degree as a requirement. Just be aware that a degree on its own will never be enough to carry you into the jobs you want.

Further listening

In our podcast episode The Cold, Hard Truth: Why You’re Unemployed, we gave some tough love by explaining the real reasons you might be unemployed, including relying too heavily on your degree, and what to do about it.

Further reading

Meet the graduates who end up in jobs that don’t need a degree (BBC News)

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