Education Is A Commodity

Ever hear the talking heads on CNN discussing the stock market and talking about the “commodities market”? They’re talking about stuff like coffee beans, wheat, corn, etc. We call these things commodities, which means there isn’t much difference between coffee beans in Africa or Jamaica or Guatemala. Sure, there are subtle variations in quality and flavor, but at end of the day, a bean is a bean is a bean. It’s not like the difference between a Ferrari and a Ford Fiesta.

So, where does your education fit into all this? Is a college education simply a commodity, the same everywhere? Well, yes and no. It’s what you make of it: what you decide to learn and master while you’re in college determines whether your education is a Ferrari or a clunker. But in terms of the way you represent that education on a resume, it’s pretty much all the same. Everyone applying for your job probably has an education of some sort, and your resume entry probably looks like this:

Bachelor of Whatever
Wherever State University, 2002

As you might guess, there isn’t a lot of difference between these entries: only the names, places and dates change. And as we discussed earlier in this book, when everything looks the same, it starts to mean less and less, and your prospective employers just tune out the entry altogether.

Here’s the deal about the education section of your resume: In most cases, it’s hastily scanned at best, and even then, it’s just to make sure that you actually have an education of some kind. Very rarely will anyone assign massive value to the school you came from; at the same time, it’s just as rare that you’ll be overlooked because you went to a smaller or lesser-known college.

Let me repeat that for the millions of parents out there who have children wanting you to spend an extra $50,000-$100,000 on a “name-brand” school. You will not be overlooked for a job because you didn’t go to a marquee school. Some of the greatest people I ever saw came straight from community colleges, and some of the most useless came from the Ivy League. Trust me – your future boss will not run to check your school’s ranking in the U.S News & World Report college rankings to help her decide whether you’ll be a useful employee.

On the other hand, let’s look at experience. The variety of different people’s experiences is absolutely unlimited. Each job has a different title and is performed at a different company and has different responsibilities and tasks that must be carried out every day. Two candidates who have exactly the same Bachelor’s of Whatever from the University of Wherever may have vastly different levels of experience. One may have done little more than make coffee and sort mail at her internship, while the other may have taken on a great number of critical responsibilities at his. As you may have guess, we employers tend to give much greater weight and respect to the latter.

Yes, but: I can already hear you now – “But I don’t have any experience!” Bullshit! Of course you do – you just don’t realize it. Everyone has experience of some sort. Have you lived in a cave for the last 20 years? If not, then you have experience. Here are some examples:

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