New paths to a great job

Of course I have to open this post with something about how stupid college is. Colleges are finally responding to the problem they charge tons of money and then graduates are unemployable and in debt. Colleges are responding by becoming job preparation centers. And Frank Bruni, opinion editor for the New York Times, says this is a waste of time and resources. Here’s what’s better:

1. Skipping college.
The real issue we have with admitting that college is not a path to the work world is then we have to ask ourselves why we send our kids to high school. There is plenty of data to show that teens are able to manage their lives without the constraints of school. The book Escaping the Endless Adolescence is chock full of data, and a recent article by my favorite journalist, Jennifer Senior, shows that high school is not just unnecessary, but actually damaging to teens who need much more freedom to grow than high school affords.

2. Focus on internships instead of school.
Kids should be working in internships in high school. Because the best path to a good job is a bunch of great internships. But great internships don’t go to people who need money. They are mostly for young people. Yes, this is probably illegal and classist and bad for a fluid society. But we will not debate that here. Instead we will debate why kids need to go to college if the internships are what make them employable? Kids should do internships in high school and by their college years, they are capable of real jobs where they are doing work that people value, with cash.

You cannot take this route if you’re saddled with huge student loans. You can’t take this route if you’re inundated by homework in required subjects you don’t care about. You can’t take this route if you have no work experience when you graduate college. It’s too late. (Don’t tell me you need to go to school to learn, okay? People just do not believe this anymore.)

I was reading the Fortune list of 40 under 40 and I was struck by the career history of Kevin Feige (number 11 on the list). He’s president of Marvel Studios at age 39. He wrote that he interned with the Superman movie director as a film student and that was the last job application he filled out. That’s because if you get an internship with someone great, and your performance is great, your network will cover your employment needs for a very long time.

3. Start a company instead of writing a resume.
I’m struck by Marissa Mayer (number 3 on Fortune’s list) whose announced acquisition strategy is buying small, cheap companies. Which is, in effect, buying the team. Silicon Valley calls these acqui-hires. She is looking at young people who start companies that are not necessarily successful in terms of product or sales but successfully market the founders as visionaries, self-starters, and hard workers. You can’t show those traits in school, so if you have those traits, you slow yourself down by going to school where you cannot exhibit your best,  marketable traits.

4. Refuse to present yourself in a linear way.
Do any workaround that lets you forgo the linear obsession that LinkedIn has with career presentation. Because linear presentations favor people who have long, rule-following careers – which don’t necessarily make you look good anyway.  I could write a post ten thousand paragraphs long of all the new things people with nonlinear work histories are doing to get jobs.

People use twitter as a resume, according to the Wall Street Journal, which requires only that you publish ideas, not any sort of academic experience.

Young people are selling stock in themselves – paying out dividends for decades at a time.

Agents represent workers who pick and choose projects that match them rather than signing on for indefinite amounts of time. The Harvard Business Review calls this supertemping. Business Week calls it going Hollywood.

But here’s the big takeaway. A fundamental shift is taking place, where the path to getting a job is massively circumventing college credentials. And, at the same time, the American public is fed up with the insane debt that college are expecting new grads to take on in order to graduate. (Good essay: How College Ruined My Life.)

If you are not going to school in order to “fit” into the adult world, then why are you going to school? The love of learning, presumably. But school reform pundits are 100% sure that kids will choose to learn if you put no constraints on them. They will just learn what they want. Best example: The MIT program that gave iPads to illiterate kids in Ethiopia (pictured above), and they taught themselves to use it, program it, and read it in English. No teacher.  No curriculum.

The biggest barrier to accepting the radical new nature of the job hunt is the reverberations throughout the rest of life. If you don’t need school for work, and you don’t need school for learning, then all you need school for is so parents can go to work and not worry about taking care of their kids.

It takes bravery to go against the grain. It’s difficult to say that the great learning and the great jobs come from leaning out, doing things in a nonlinear, non standard way, and playing only by the rules that fit your own style for personal learning and growth.


111 replies
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  1. Natalie Ross
    Natalie Ross says:

    It doesn’t matter as much whether you go to college or not, it matters whether you’re inspired and motivated enough to solve the problems that arise each day in your chosen way of life.
    I struggled with accepting this for years, until I finally let go and embraced the unknown before me instead of trying to figure it all out at once.

    By dropping out of college in 2007 for the second time, and by taking the risk to let go of everything society was telling me to do, I gained the ability of listening to and trusting my heart.

  2. kr
    kr says:

    “The MIT program that gave iPads”

    Actually, they gave the kids Motorola Zoom android tablets…

  3. PensFan77
    PensFan77 says:

    Sorry, but what a ridiculous notion that one should skip high school. Of course high school kids find high school restrictive, it is developmentally appropriate for them to be so. Teens need structure and order. Internships are of course helpful and important. As far as college is concerned, many jobs require a degree: teacher, nurse, social worker etc. For every Steve Jobs that quit college, there are hundreds who would have benefited from an education and are now stuck in low paying jobs or below their ability level.

  4. Ery
    Ery says:

    “If you don’t need school for work, and you don’t need school for learning, then all you need school for is so parents can go to work and not worry about taking care of their kids.”

    I just wanna show that this is the big wow *interesting

  5. Lauren Simonelli
    Lauren Simonelli says:

    Such a great article! Great point about refusing to present yourself in a linear way. It’s so true that you need to do something different to stand out. I like how you mentioned Twitter for job searching too! I work for a company called Gozaik, a platform for job seekers to create an online personalized multimedia resume. It gives them a way to be different with video, images, social media, etc. It also has a job search which organizes the 50,000+ jobs that are tweeted daily by employers, so job-seekers can search and apply all in one place.

  6. C
    C says:

    Penelope, you are so far behind on what current public school programs look like it is not even funny.

    In Canadian schools, students are now (more than ever) self-directing their learning. There are in courses that have students work as a team to develop their own particular strengths. For example, in a middle school applied technology class, students create a business to sell a product they develop on their own.
    Students particularly inclined to science and engineering, focus on the design process. Other students market the product and manage the team. At the end, real engineers & business people come to analyze their business plan and product.

    Schools now (In Canada, at least) are all about personalization and “real-world” applications. Students no longer need to “fit the mould” like they did before. Your vision of a regular school house just no longer stands.

  7. Whiz Chua
    Whiz Chua says:

    I simple can’t agree anymore. Education without a chance for a proper internship simply doesn’t make sense. And of course, there are also a great number of employers who simply use internships as a way to save costs. ( exploiting – hard fact but its true ).

    Sometimes, I see education as a “great time buffer” to the real world problems.

    Flexibility* makes the world around. Hard implementation of Laws & policies do not and normally, its is used by powerful people to control the weak or the disabled. ( very abstract, if you know what I mean )

    Maybe it’s pointless to discuss about that – but it should hit some sense into some minds of this living world.

  8. Bee
    Bee says:

    I suppose it depends on what you want. If you are only living your life to make money in the moment, and not do anything more, then don’t go to college.

    Yes, there are those *few* cases of people who don’t go to college and become millionaires that change the world. But the majority of people who don’t go to college do not do this. They graduate high school, get a miserable job at the local supermarket, and do nothing else.

    I cannot even express how grateful I am that I went to college. I have gained experience in my field (my college required me to complete an internship to graduate), extensive knowledge about my subject that I would never be able to learn on my own, I have developed invaluable contacts and references, and most importantly I have gained so much confidence in myself to succeed that I would not have had if I just skipped college.

    Not to mention if you want to work in the sciences (including social science like psychology and sociology), mathematics, engineering, business, and just about everything now that I am making this list, you NEED a college degree.

    I have not yet found a job in my field (psychology) that does not require a degree.

    So to those of you that are a part of the VERY few that happen to be unconventional and can obtain a job without a college degree: congratulations.

    But you are not the majority, and the majority of us need a college degree or we will not even be given the chance to succeed.

    And I think the most important thing that people are missing while in college and the reason why they can’t find jobs is that they need to get an undergraduate internship or two before they graduate. If I agree with one thing in this article it is that you must get an internship, payed or not, in order to get a job outside of college.

  9. scott
    scott says:

    This is just an article to validate people that didn’t go to college. Good luck climbing your way up in 90% of jobs out there without anything beyond a high school diploma. Do you have any idea how many employers will junk your resume immediately when they see you didn’t finish or attend college? Yes, you can still make lots of money without graduating from college, but better hope you don’t mind hard physical labor that beats down on your body and leaves you in poor physical shape by age 45. I’ve seen it. I’ve done both styles of work. Hard blue collar labor with high school dropouts until age 26, then went back and got my degree in economics, now sit comfortably at a desk and make 15k a year more starting out than what I was making doing 50 hour weeks of lumping boxes onto pallets in a warehouse overnight.

  10. LRC
    LRC says:

    I completely agree with finding a completely, authentic way to represent yourself to potential future employers….but, or rather and , the best combo, I’ve found (after 16 years of full time employment) is to continue your education in that which interests you (e.g. certifications rather than undergrad degrees speak volumes in many careers nowadays) , in order to show you have the gall and interest in higher learning. Continued education is good for your brain. Period. That being said, I believe kids need to work and pay for college. Why? That’s reality. You want a taste of what it means to have drive? Work your way through college. If you have to take some time off, do it, or take one class at a time while keeping yourself in the workforce.

  11. Joshua
    Joshua says:

    Rush? How depressing. Penelopes main point is clear enough.
    College is a waste of time and money, unless absolutely necessary.
    My question is: how does Penolope handle the majority of these comments? They’re crazy.

  12. Gwen
    Gwen says:

    Cheers to the plug on the non-workable Linkedin. It is in my opinion a glorified rolodex. Real access to jobs is going through non traditional methods. Nick Corcodilos from would agree with this article. To add, doing a startup is genius, whether it’s mildly successful or wildly so.

  13. casinos
    casinos says:

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  14. ChrisH
    ChrisH says:

    Some points here make good sense. Others might be a bit….impractical in the real world.

    I ageee that college study should be focused and deliberate. For most people it is not. I’d be willing tl bet that about half of the people who go to college don’t end up working in the field that they study.

    As a hiring manager, if a person didn’t submit a resume and instead sent me a redirect to their twitter feed, they’d get about 10 total seconds of my time before I threw their resume in the rejected pile.

    The big theme is that some social norms cannot be bypassed. These are the generally accepted practices.

    One thing that you left out is that military service can be a very compelling road to higher education. 4 years of service opens up GI Bill, and for those willing to stay active, all of the branches train doctors and lawyers, too.

    I personally think that everyone should cultivate a trade skill first before heading off to higher education. Gives you a greater appreciation of learning, takes the youth fantasy edge down a couple notches, and provides you with something to fall back on if everything goes to shit.

    Rearview mirror is always 20/20. I wish I had gotten better advice and support like this when it mattered.

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