Beyond Blame

Freeing yourself from toxic emotional bullsh*t

How to Get a Good Job

Do I really have to have a dumb college degree?

Dear Dr. Alasko: Last year I had enough of studying subjects I found useless and quit college. I've since learned that employers are biased in favor of a college graduate. I find this stupid since they need to train you for a specific job anyway. No one graduates ready for a job. But my parents never stop insisting I return to complete my degree. I really resent their pressure. I'd like to hear your opinion about this issue.

Dear Reader: Your letter touches on several complex issues: The value and validity of a college education. The bias of employers toward applicants with a degree. And finally, your relationship with your parents.

There is, however, an overreaching theme in your letter, and that’s a general resentment toward the way the world works. Colleges teach "useless" subjects. Employers are "stupid." You resent your parents' pressure to complete your degree because, obviously, their pressure is wrong.

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I remember one of my graduate school professors haranguing a class in psychology about students who were angry at society. He acerbically accused those students of being lazy, self-indulgent and (worst of all) stupid. Ultimately, being angry about the obvious injustice perpetrated by every  institution (political, governmental, commercial, religious, familial) was a pathetic waste of energy because most human behavior could be seen as unfair or wrong to someone. He insisted it was far better to figure out how this unfairness functioned, and then work around the system in order to prosper. The world is structurally unfair. Nihilists and anarchists are simply lazy and emotionally immature.

His argument was wide-ranging and could easily, admittedly, be challenged. But it did point toward a truth involving how we manipulate our own inner states.

From a psychological perspective, being angry at the entirety of society allows us to slip quickly into assigning black/white, good/bad categories to people, which is adolescent thinking and intellectually lazy. People and life, and even nature itself, are far too complex to use yes/no, good/bad thinking. So while railing at a particular unfairness might well be justified, expanding the idea of unfairness to include the value of the entire societal structure mostly damages ourselves and our own intellectual maturity.

Now let’s discuss the value of a degree, which includes more than just the academic learning involved. In fact, it indicates a lot about a potential employee. Achieving a B.A. proves that you can do it. Dropping out demonstrates instability. Suppose a company hires you and you decide that their training program is useless and then quit. They've lost time and money. Why would the company take that risk? And isn’t that less likely to happen if you’ve already proven to be someone who sticks to things? That’s one big reason employers look for those who have completed college. It’s an indictor of discipline.

It’s true that lots of people create excellent lives for themselves without college degrees. These people, however, have a fierce work ethic. They work at something with whole-hearted effort and don't quit when they don't like something. Instead, they figure a way around or through the problem. They don't whine, they persevere. And I’m not sure that you indicate, in your letter, possessing that degree of perseverance.

As for getting a job — with or without a degree — here are some basics:

Before an interview, do research about the company. Be able to cite data you've learned about them. Be constantly positive and convinced within your heart that you really want to work for this company. Even a slight lack of enthusiasm can affect the outcome.

Find an experienced friend to rehearse an interview. Better yet, make a video. Be rigorously critical about your performance. And never give up improving that performance.

And finally, be prepared for rejections, and don’t waste your time getting angry at the perceived unfairness of them. Just get better at your interview skills for the next time.

I hope those tips will help, and that whether you finish college or not (which would be good to do, but that’s your choice), you get a good job that you can happily work at.

Carl Alasko, Ph.D. is the author of Beyond Blame (Tarcher Penguin), and like his first book Emotional Bullshit, it has been published in five languages.

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