For a while now, the American Dream has led young people down a predictable path.
We do well in school so we can get into a good college. We get good grades at this college so we can graduate with a degree at the top of our class. Then, we use the degree to find a well-paying job so we can live comfortably.
For decades, a college degree has been hailed as the ticket to a good life.
And to be fair, for a while, it was. A college education was a mark of status and helped people get elite jobs.
But things have changed. A college degree is no longer a VIP pass, it’s a ticket for the nosebleeds. It’s a bare minimum requirement for many careers but it isn’t particularly distinguishing.
Imagine your student wants to be a software engineer. Forty years ago, they may have been able to land a great job armed with only a degree. Nowadays, however, they’re entering into a job market where just about everyone competing for software development jobs has a degree. What was once a distinguishing factor is now commonplace.
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So what’s the new distinguishing factor?
There are three critical pieces, besides a degree, that distinguish job-seekers now.
Can you get the job done?
Whether your student wants to be a carpenter or an accountant, their work is going to require some level of skill. Those include hard skills like swinging a hammer or filing a tax return; and soft skills like showing up on time, being productive, and creatively solving problems.
Skill is knowledge applied. While college classes teach you the ins-and-outs of architecture, for example, it takes skill to actually design a functional and beautiful building.
Experience is the evidence of skill. It’s one thing to say that I can code an app; it’s another thing to actually have done it.
Employers are looking for experience. They want someone with a demonstrated ability to do the job. In fact, some employers would rather have someone with experience and no degree over someone with a degree but no experience.
The ability to demonstrate skill through experience on a resume is powerful. If a hiring manager has to decide between two people with the same degree but different levels of skill and experience, you can imagine which candidate gets the final offer.
The third critical piece of job-seeking is a network. Many have heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.”
A network is particularly helpful in helping a young person stand out from a stack of resumes. When a student doesn’t have a decade of experience, their application will probably be among the first to be thrown out, even if they are qualified for the job.
A professional network is powerful because it can help open doors that otherwise would remain closed.
While having a degree may have been enough to get a job in an advanced career several decades ago, it isn’t enough now. Your student will be competing with candidates with similar degrees. The degree itself won’t distinguish them.
Instead, building in-demand skills, gaining real world experience, and connecting to a powerful community and professional network will help your student stand out from the rest of the job-seeking crowd.
Jace Bower is a Copywriter for Unbound. An Unbound alumnus, he has experienced firsthand the powerful advantages of doing college differently and participating in an intentional community. Jace graduated with his bachelor’s degree in History in 2016 and has worked in restaurant management and marketing since then. He also served on the Unbound Student Cabinet in 2019.
The author of two books and a semi-regular blogger, Jace can often be found doing something with words. When he’s not, chances are he’s reading about theology, listening to music, or playing pool or tennis with his wife Shannon in their Virginia home.