I have been railing against grad school for a long time, and I’m starting to believe that you should leave grad school off your resume if you are not working in the field you studied.
Here are five reasons why putting grad school on your resume makes you look bad. (And at the end of this post, there’s a game plan for what to do with any gap you’ll have when you remove grad school from your resume.)
1. Grad school on your resume is a formal announcement of a mistake.
If you are working in the exact field that you went to grad school for, then this advice does not apply to you. But most people do not get jobs that are directly related to their graduate degree. Most people did not need to go to grad school to get a job.
Which begs the question, “Why did you go?” For most people the answer will be that it was a mistake. It was a lot of time and money spent for a degree they didn’t need.
Other people will say they love to learn. This is not a good thing to say because it is not remarkable. At least, not among the people you need to be better than to get hired. Those star employees are learning all the time and do not take time away from work to go to grad school. Are you so stupid that you cannot learn without getting grades? Because this is what it looks like if you say you went to grad school because you love to learn.
You might say that you went to grad school because your parents were paying, or because it was a free ride. But this does not bode well for your work ethic. Because your time is valuable. Or at least you need to talk like it is, so that you can get someone to pay you for it. If you just went to grad school to kill time, you will probably kill a lot of time at work, too.
2. Grad school on your resume makes you look like you’re worth less money.
Going to grad school in a field unrelated to your job is like having an irrlevant job on your resume. And you already know that people leave stupid jobs off their resume. Grad school is like that — a stupid job that detracts from your story.
The story is really important: A resume is a story of how you managed your career in a way that is focused on what you want to do right now. You don’t need to tell your life story. You need to tell a story that makes you look like the perfect candidate for your perfect job. If your resume shows that you’ve done tons of things—like study law and work at an online marketing firm—then you look more like a generalist, and you won’t be as desirable. Specialists get more money than generalists.
3. Grad school on your resume makes you look like you’re scared of adult life.
Generally speaking, people who have huge excitement about creating their own path in the workforce do not go to grad school. People who have excitement about deciding for themselves what to read and what to learn are people who stop going to school and join the workforce. The workplace, done right, is a place for self-directed learning.
Most people who went to grad school did it to prolong adolescent needs for grade-based approval. (Note: This analysis comes from writers at the Chronicle for Higher Education.) This is because the model of grad school is generally outdated for today’s workforce, and high performers see this flaw before they enroll. But people who are scared to try holding their own in the workforce see grad school as a way around the inevitable difficulties of finding a job one enjoys.
4. A Ph.D on your resume often makes you look like a poor self-learner.
Graduate degrees in the humanities are totally useless. I should know. I went to graduate school for English, which served only to give me a little break from real life.
But it’s not just English programs that are dead ends. The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported that one would have had a better chance surviving the Titanic than getting a job as any type of humanities professor. Humanities PhD programs suck up time and energy with little return.
Most people who go to grad school for humanities defend their decision by saying they love their topic. But look, if you love your topic, open a book and teach yourself, after work. You don’t need permission, or a graduate degree, to become an expert in something you love. There is little correlation between education and success in the workplace. There is huge correlation between success at work and ability to be a self-learner.
5. Business school on your resume makes you look timid.
If you went to a top-ten school—top ten in the nation, not in your state—then the selection process is so stringent that it’s meaningful that you were accepted. Put the degree on your resume. For those who went to business school anywhere else, the selection process was weak because they make a truckload of money from each student admitted. So having made it into an MBA program there is no big achievement.
But really, if you think you’re good at business, why did you dump $100,000 into business school instead of investing it into your own company? And even if you wanted to learn about business, there are reams of data proving how you learn faster by having your own company rather than talking about other peoples’ companies. So putting business school on your resume makes you look like you don’t have faith in yourself.
Solution: Leave a gap in your resume. Really.
The strongest candidates have gaps in their resume. Taking time off is an honest way to learn about yourself. The interviewer will assume you did odd jobs to support yourself. (Which is what most people do when they are starting off in adult life.)
Instead of putting your graduate school degree on your resume, it will look better if you focus on the other stuff you were doing during that time. Travel, maybe. Or training for a marathon. Or learning to dance. You can tell people you took time off from the typical workday life of sitting in front of a computer. There’s intrinsic value to physically doing something, and you can talk about that when you talk about a gap on your resume.
When an interviewer says, “What did you do during this gap?” They don’t mean what did you do every second. They mean, what did you learn? And they want to hear self-learning, and self-knowledge. They don’t want to hear spoon-fed grad-school learning.
Some of the hardest parts of adult life are gaining self-knowlege and applying it to get a job that is right for you. The best way to show that you’re a strong performer is to tell the story of you facing this challenge head on, day after day, year after year.