Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Graduation season

There are a ton of reflective pieces offering advice to graduates at this time of the year.  However, a recent article in the NYTimes where the author implied that employers are no longer impressed by a fancy diploma from schools like Yale really got people up in arms (particularly those that have just finished paying about $50k/year to attend Yale).

"Since jobs are evolving so quickly, with so many new tools, a bachelor’s degree is no longer considered an adequate proxy by employers for your ability to do a particular job — and, therefore, be hired. So, more employers are designing their own tests to measure applicants’ skills. And they increasingly don’t care how those skills were acquired: home schooling, an online university, a massive open online course, or Yale. They just want to know one thing: Can you add value?"

This really struck home with me because it was the exact conversation that I'd had with my kids just a couple of weeks ago.  I reminded them that old-timers like me grew up in an era where you got good grades, went to a good school and hopefully landed a great job.  That era seems to be nearly over and schools, guidance counselors, parent and students need to recognize this shift.  Employers want people that can get the job done and they don't really care how you were trained to get the job done.

I'm not saying everyone should abandon the traditional college model, but I am saying that students should do an honest cost/benefit analysis of a higher education degree.

In a related note, I really like this list of the keys to modern success which I've modified a bit via David Kerpen...

1) Be passionate.  The idea of taking a vacation or a sick day from your job should seem like a foreign concept.  You should be itching to get out of bed and get to work everyday.  I was passionate about stocks, I started writing a newsletter.  That caught someones eye and away I went.  I still can't go to sleep without checking the Asian markets and European Futures. My current passion is sharing a love of math and science with kids in the North Country -- unfortunately, not everyone seems to share my passion :)

2) Learn to use a phone to talk.  I'm constantly amazed by the lack of conversational skills most kids possess.  It's not bad among young kids but by the time kids hit the "texting years" their ability to answer a phone with a smile is lost.  Be great on the phone and people will notice.

3) Be afraid, but take risks anyway.  This is a hard one for a parent to relay to a child b/c we are constantly telling them what not to do in order to stay safe.  However, I always say there are acceptable risks - jumping off a 5 foot slide is acceptable, while jumping off a 35 foot cliff would not.

Start a business and if it fails you've learned from that experience about sales and taxes and customer relations.  Stand up for something you believe in and actually start forming your own set of beliefs instead of parroting your parents and friends.  These are scary propositions but they will make you a better person.

4) Take care of yourself.  As the original author stated I too put on weight in college that I've battled my entire adult life.  Yes, you may get struck by a bus or get some horrible disease but if you can increase your odds by exercising and eating better shouldn't you?

5) Be a great listener.  I've had to work hard at this because of a past career.  In one of my old jobs we met with 500-600 startups a year which meant 2-5 meetings per day with new people.  The reality was that within 5 minutes I knew whether or not I was ever going to speak to the people presenting again.  If it was a a NO then I usually tuned them out to work on a project in my head.  This was a bad habit that I carried with me for many years.  I believe I'm a better listener today but I'm still not perfect.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

PS - If anyone is interested, I am planning on running summer science camps at NNY Math in the Mall this July.  You can CALL me at 315 212-5577 or email brian@nnymath.com.


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