How to Get a Job with a Useless Degree
When we head off to college, we’re often warned by our parents and teachers about so-called “useless”, “dead end” or “unprofitable” degrees. Usually, these are defined as liberal arts degrees like English, Philosophy, or Sculpture; degrees that, should we choose to pursue them, will never help us find a job. However, according to our expert Dorie Clark, an unprofitable degree is a degree program through which you learn nothing, and gain nothing toward the betterment of your life or thought.
We sat down with Dorie Clark to discover the benefits of pursuing the degree you want, while focusing on the career you need. Read our interview with her below for her brilliant insights on the subject, and learn how you can take that “unprofitable” degree and earn the position you deserve.
Dorie Clark is the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and the forthcoming Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It (Portfolio/Penguin, 2015). A former presidential campaign spokeswoman, she is a frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and Entrepreneur. Recognized as a “branding expert” by the Associated Press and Fortune, Clark is a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, Microsoft, Yale University, Fidelity, and the World Bank.
She is an Adjunct Professor of Business Administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and a Visiting Professor for IE Business School in Madrid. She has guest lectured at Harvard Business School, the Harvard Kennedy School, Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, the Wharton School, the MIT Sloan School of Management, and more. She is a frequent guest on MSNBC and appears in worldwide media including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. Learn more at dorieclark.com or follow her on Twitter.
Question #1: In your opinion, what is an “unprofitable” or “useless” degree?
Dorie: A college or graduate degree is only “unprofitable” if you feel you received no value from the experience. I’m a strong supporter of the liberal arts, and got my undergraduate degree in philosophy and my master’s degree in theology. Neither is directly tied to the work I do now as a marketing strategist and business school professor, but I consider them both valuable as part of my overall development as a person and a thinker.
Question #2: Taking the workplace into consideration, what are the important questions we need to ask ourselves when choosing a degree?
Dorie: When you’re entering a degree program of any kind, it’s useful to ask what type of job you want to get when you’re finished, how easy or hard that will be, and if the degree prepares you directly for it – and if not, how you’ll obtain the skills you need. If you want to study theology to become a minister, that’s very practical. If you want to study theology and become a business consultant, that’s also fine, but you need to find other ways (such as internships or self-study) to make sure you know what you’re doing and can convince a hiring manager of that.
Question #3: What are the challenges certain degrees are facing today regarding the hiring process?
Dorie: Many large companies have delegated the first pass of their hiring process to computers, which scan for relevant keywords. If your degree and course of study doesn’t match those keywords, you risk being eliminated before you’re even seen by a human. That’s a frustrating reality, but it doesn’t mean you should choose your educational path based on what you think a computer wants to see. Instead, take on volunteer activities and internships to bolster your experience in relevant areas, and also network so that you’re able to bypass the computers and get your resume into the hiring manager’s hands directly.
Question #4: As a personal branding expert, which skills are most valued today from recruiters? How can we build those?
Dorie: Recruiters are looking for candidates who are entrepreneurial and innovative, because the world is changing fast, and you can’t afford to hire people who are always waiting for instructions on what to do next. In my book Reinventing You, I interviewed Steven Rice, Executive Vice President of Human Resources for Juniper Networks in Silicon Valley. He told me he believes adaptability is the fundamental skill employees need to have, because the job they’re hired for today is not going to be the job they have in two years or five years. You have to be able to embrace change.
Question #5: Which are the most effective ways to brand ourselves and our “useless” degree to recruiters?
Dorie: You can’t be defensive if you have a degree that’s outside the norm of what recruiters think they want. Instead, be confident and explain how your skills are exactly what they’re looking for. In a company filled with engineers, what they most need might be an English major who can help them translate their ideas to the wider world. Own your strengths.
It’s essential to identify the career you want when pursuing a degree. Take a look at our Careers page to lean more about every industry, and discover more information about each position including educational requirements, salary, and potential job growth.