The value of a degree? It is the person you are, not your CV that will get you a job

By | February 7, 2011

EmployabilityI watched last week’s ITV Tonight programme on the value of a degree with dismay.

The focus of the investigation was on the importance of employability. But “employability” to them meant whether a degree certificate and CV of work experience results in a more highly paid job. All institutions aim to provide impressive figures on employment rates of their graduates but who is to say that these are jobs they couldn’t have got without a degree? What is it that universities can offer that really add value and give graduates something extra for their fees over their long term career?

At induction, I stress to new students that a degree certificate and CV of work experience may get them an interview but it is who they are as a person that will get them the job and career they want. University should not just be an educational experience, but a transformational one; it should shape who you are – your values, beliefs, interests, passions.

Prospective students need to be thinking beyond what degree subject and work experience placement they need for their chosen profession. They also need to look at what personal and professional skills and values they will be able to bring to an organisation when they graduate. Three important things to consider are:

1. Choose a degree subject you are passionate about

Your choice of degree subject should be led by what you are passionate about. That way, you will be motivated to extend your learning and experiences beyond the classroom. Employers don’t look for teams of people who are all the same. Any good team needs diversity, strong values and the ability to challenge each other. I know big accountancy and law firms that take on English and History graduates because of their ability to research and delve into issues or physicists and chemists because they are trained to challenge premises and solve problems.

2. Make sure you can gain university experiences beyond the classroom

We encourage students to think about what life experiences they can gain to make themselves a more interesting, well rounded person when they leave university. This could be anything from pursuing hobbies, joining campaign groups and volunteering to travelling, work or studying abroad. In the classroom, we teach students to be independent learners and assess them on what they bring back in assignments that they weren’t taught by the lecturer. But ensuring that the ability to learn independently translates into their personal lives is important because it makes them the sort of people that strive to continue learning and gaining new experiences throughout their careers and lives. These personal transferable skills make them effective communicators, problem solvers, leaders and innovators.

3. Look at what values the university celebrates

The values you learn in and outside of the classroom at university will help to shape who you are as a person and what you can bring to an organisation. The values of the institution you choose will run through all of their programmes, both curricular and extra curricular. At Bradford, we are highly focused as a university on sustainability and this runs throughout every module on every course and into other experiences we encourage students to gain. And by sustainability, we mean that we teach students to do things in a way that will continue into the future and have longevity. This gives them the ability to take a long term, well informed approach to decision making, problem solving and relationship building, whether as a leader of an organisation or valuable member of a team.

How did you or someone you have employed get the most out of university and how has it benefited your / their career?

About Damian Ward

Damian studied at the Manchester School of Management before beginning his academic career at Bradford, where he now teaches business economics to postgraduate MBA students. His research interests focus on the financial services sector and he has acted as an advisor to the UK Financial Services Authority. Damian is also the author of the leading textbook, Economics for Business.

Specialties: Business economics, Financial services, Efficiency of the UK mortgage market, Economic predictions

7 thoughts on “The value of a degree? It is the person you are, not your CV that will get you a job

  1. Adelphi

    Interesting post. I personally went through a similar scenario as described in this post, particularly regarding companies seeking employees with special types of skills. A degree is clearly helpful as the average college graduate will earn almost $20,000 more salary than the average high school graduate, but the person behind the degree is of equal, if not, more, value.

  2. Damian Ward

    Interesting post, good to hear of similar experiences in the US.

  3. Bushra

    I am from Pakistan. I got a Degree,but I am feeling helpless. I am thinking that the Government should think about the people who got Degrees abroad like Asia. When they come here they feel that all their hard work was useless, because of many reasons like, first of all, language.They did the hard work and they deserve to have a good job and secure future. The Government should think about that community as well. Thanks.

  4. Minuetter

    What you say may be true of the sort of degrees that don’t teach anything in particular but it’s certainly not true of mathematics or medicine. I did a mathematics degree and easily got a good job in a computer consultancy as they needed mathematicians. I didn’t have any work experience. Later on I got a job in the City as they needed a mathematician with experience of computer programming. I had no previous experience of the City. Who I was and my interests counted for little. No one could do those jobs without the skills I’d learnt, even if they’d been president of every club at University, a great character and a great communicator.

    My step-daughter has a degree in medicine and is a doctor. Lots of abilities go into being a good doctor but having a medicine degree certainly trumps all the rest!

    I haven’t a clue what values either of the universities I attended celebrated. I don’t think anyone told the mathematics departments: they just celebrated mathematics. My step-daughter says she hasn’t a clue what values her university celebrated either. Surely you’re not seriously suggesting that universities have such values? How do they bring about such a uniformity across a diverse body of thousands of highly opinionated individuals?

  5. Naimah

    Studying at the university has been a great long experience, through gaining knowledge and learning new skills. I feel it is essential to have experience, as a degree is not always the first thing an employer would look at, but the new skills learnt and how you as a person can bring them to the company. For many this is hard, as employability is not at its highest point due to recession and has left many graduates unemployed. For me I feel it is unfair that employers look at high standard qualifications and not the skills that one has to offer.

  6. Kulbir Sandhu

    Really interesting posts here.

    Just in response to Minuetter – the job market is probably different today than in the past, i.e. no more jobs for life, decline in manufacturing / growth of services, increase in immigration etc. The last government’s approach of encouraging many young people to go to university, when perhaps a vocational qualification would have been better, has also had an impact.

    The worst recession in many decades hasn’t helped either…

    Has anybody got any experiences of networking and personal branding as a job search strategy??

  7. Superb Search

    Personally, if a college student asked me if they should go to university, I would say no.

    1. A degree is not what people make it out to be. It seems that now a degree will increase your job prospects by 10% than those who only have A Levels in contrast to increasing job prospects by at least 50% five years ago. It’s 90% about experience now. If you don’t have it then good luck with getting a job. That’s all I can say.

    2. From my experience at SoM, universities do not push and advise students enough to look for good experience. It’s all good saying that students are independent, but they’re STUDENTS for a reason. They still need a push and good advice, not just from the careers service, but also from their lecturers, something I feel was greatly missing from my studying experience at SoM

    3. Uni fees are just not worth what you pay for. Building your career up from A Levels is a much better route. No debt and gaining experience in a extremely competitive job world rather than blowing at least £30,000 for a route that doesn’t provide relevant experience, guidance and help to students and then throwing them out in the big wide world when they’re not ready for it is beyond ridiculous in my eyes.

    In answer to the question of your blog, Damien, a degree is worthless without good experience.

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