Being educated doesn't say anything about you being smart.
Here's the rub. A college degree is a specialization. That's why you "major" in something. It was never designed to be an extension of high school. So, you should get a degree in something that you are both passionate about and also accept the limited career paths that come with that particular passion. If the career paths are limited and/or not to your liking, assume that the degree will not help you find a job. You may as well use the money to travel instead.
The further you deviate from the career paths that are attached to the degree you obtain, the more worthless it becomes. Attempting even greater specialization along this field of study only enhances this effect; it will not correct it.
So, Mr. Masters in English: Why are you not focusing your search on the career paths that are attached to the degree that you have; assuming this is actually a passion of yours, namely teaching and/or writing?
Applying for random positions because you figure your degree actually means something is about as stupid as applying to the space program and for all the same reasons. You do not have a catch all pre-requisite. You have specialized training, and you receive little to no benefit over the random person on the street when you are evaluated for suitability to this position if the training isn't aligned with the job you are trying to get.
Not realizing this after years and years of education isn't very smart at all, really. Sadly I know you aren't alone.
I am incredibly glad that I majored in English and not CS or something "more practical." English in particular and Humanities in general teach you the most valuable skill there is: effective communication. Everything else you can self-teach or hire, but it's really, really hard to find a more efficient system for learning good communication than by writing 5-10 page papers 2-4 times a week for four years, while having to participate in class discussion (frequently on things you haven't actually read but were supposed to, which teaches you a lot about active and reflective listening).
Being a good communicator is a bonus, but - sadly perhaps - I've never seen anyone get hired for their communications skills alone.
I agree there is often something else required too - but not always in a 'first' or 'graduate' position.
I believe the topic however centred around communications skills as ancillary to other technical skills that were part of job description.
Sorry if I caused confusion.
Indeed. Norman Mailer believed that the highest moral good was to follow your own passions -- and if you happened to kill a few people along the way, so much the better. Serves 'em right for falling lockstep into the dangerous and dehumanizing machine of American culture. But despite this moral reprehensibility... damn, what a communicator he was!
(Yes, one of my undergrad English profs was a total Mailer fanboy.)
As an employer, if you see someone applying for a "billing specialist" (read: fairly unspecialized) job with a masters or PhD, you instantly think: "This person is not going to be satisfied working this job, this person is going to want to get paid too much, etc"
"People who received their PhDs in English between 1982 and 1985 had a median time to degree of ten years. A third of them took more than eleven years to finish, and the median age at the time of completion [BREAK] was thirty-five. By 1995, 53 percent of those with PhDs that had been awarded ten to fifteen years earlier had tenure; another 5 percent were in tenure-track positions. This means that about two fifths of English PhDs were effectively out of the profession as it is usually understood (146).
He goes on:
"It was plain that [by the 1980s] the supply curve had completely lost touch with the demand curve in American academic life" (147), at least as far as PhDs are concerned.
The point about careers in "humanities" are well taken.
I think the OP's sister has taken a really unusual route.
Maybe that's true, but for positions like the one she's in, the educational background tends towards the humanities, not towards STEM degrees.
Also, I always assumed that English PhDs take forever because people do it part-time, which is usually not an option with STEM degrees (although is often an option in CS).
I'm not disagreeing with you, but I wanted to note that Mathematics is, IMHO, as close to a "catch all pre-requisite" degree as you get, at least in the sciences and engineering.
I'd like to, one day, have the option of doing a Ph.D. in the informatics/CS field but am first doing a plain old math BSc because it opens so many doors if I choose to go a different route later.
You took bad advice from the wrong person.
You dumbed yourself down.
You played the role of some other person, not yourself.
You played someone else's game without expressing what you were really thinking.
You settled for an inappropriate job.
You're bored to death and wasting time in a dead end job for 6 months now.
And you call that "Damn Smart"?
[EDIT: The only smart thing you did (following up with a nice Thank You note) is the only thing that got you the job. Please don't attribute your "success" to anything else.]
If at all possible you should avoid wasting your time in a job you don't care about with people you can't relate to pretending to be someone other than your real self. Your time is limited, and it's a good idea to try to figure out what you want to do with your life, then act accordingly.
One of the questions that he was trying to answer, I would estimate, is whether it is advantageous to "dump oneself down"
Jay-z talks about it in his song moment of clarity.
"I dumb down for my audience
And double my dollars"
So, I don't think it's about being smart rather than trying something new and seeing first hand the result. And of course, writing about the experience so we can all learn from it[that's if it is in fact true].
But man I can relate. When I graduated with my Mechanical and Electrical Engineering degrees, I thought the world was my oyster. I found a sweet job called Marketing Engineer that required both a well-formed understanding of engineering and a knack for marketing and communication (I had those!). Turned out to be nothing more than a glorified technical support job (at least 6-7 hours of my work day). After 8 months, I was totally depressed, my side startup was suffering because of it, and I had to quit. No amount of money was worth that feeling all day, every day.
But I think your expectations for an entry level job are too high. One thing newly minted adults would do well to realize is your first few years at any job are going to be spent doing the grunt work. If you go into it expecting to spend your days oscillating between mind numbing boredom and hectic days filled with busy work, it's a lot easier to deal with. People with this perspective know opportunities for better work will arise -- and seriously, two or three years is just not that long.
Is this what most people experience?
The earliest bits of my career consisted of me getting thrown in to situations for which I was in no way qualified, then being expected to sink or swim without much help. Often nobody at the company really knew how to do the job I was hired for.
Great fun, really; by the time I figured out how to "swim" I usually decided it was about time for a new job.
I guess that's the thing... when there are problems... go solve them. If the boss doesn't give you more work, go find some.
I mean, I think the difference is more in the person than in the job. At yahoo, if my brother wanted to, he would have been able to skate by doing almost no real work at all... but he didn't. well, part of that was me pushing him a little... if I get you a job I expect you not to embarrass me. But I think he would have done useful things anyhow.
In my experience, yeah, you aren't always expected to accomplish much... but if you decide to do something useful anyhow, people almost never go out of their way to stop you. (they might not help you... but they won't stop you if you don't require anything of them.)
I remember my first programming job was littered with finished projects that were never put into production because that would have been work. (I converted our access billing system from a shared-file db that was crashing once a week because 300 people accessed the file over a NT share at the same time to an ODBC connected database... never implemented because the parent company was going to replace it anyhow. We continued repairing the database for the rest of the year I worked there.)
But enough of the shit I wrote had enough of an 'immediate need' (customer impacting seemed to be the line) to get implemented that I was pretty happy with the job.
Actually, that job was /really satisfying/ because so much was so obviously broken that a few small fixes on my end (a three line patch to apache to make dynamically configured mass virtual hosting work with our weird naming scheme/directory layout, and a few lines of c to make our pop3 redirector use a real db rather than a seperate file for each of our three million emails to determine where to redirect the user) made some really dramatic improvements to the service. Yeah, that was really, really fun. Honestly, I'm not sure I've been quite as productive since.
Part of it might have been that nobody knew what to do with. I was hired up from tech support (god, I sucked at phone tech support) to the NOC, but the rest of the NOC were network guys and i was hired as a programmer. (Hah. that was a laugh. I had read the white book in high school, and I taught myself perl while I was on phone support at night.) and the boss was some leathery EE who was great fun at first, then it was switched out to a MBA who wanted to be my friend, but otherwise pretty much let me do what I wanted as long as I didn't piss off the ops guys.
Funny story, I found one of the ops guys who worked with me at that job many years later, after the .com crash... working in a deli, and I hired him.
IBM or Lockheed Martin, probably quite a bit different. (I have in fact gotten in trouble for implementing something useful at one particular job I briefly held. It made people look bad, and I was written up for not staying in my lane.)
The only time I've gotten in trouble for 'getting out of my lane' is when I started to take over someone else's project, but didn't finish, which seems reasonable to me.
My first several jobs I was thrown into the deep end and expected to find my own way back up. Typically about the time I'd get a solid handle on what I needed to do, the job turned into something I was much less interested in.
However, at this particular company, it was actually the accepted culture to hate your job and hate the company. Seriously, people seemed to compete with each other at how miserable they were. 2-3 years would not have made a difference here.
That aside, assuming it would have gotten better in 2-3 years, is it really worth spending 2-3 years of your early-twenties being miserable, convincing yourself that it's necessary and will get better at a later time? Afterall, that's what everyone at this company had done, except replace 2-3 years with 20-30 years; they were in it for retirement.
Where do you draw the line? I guess that's a personal decision everyone has to figure out for themselves. My line was 8 months.
It's attributed to MIT's Paul Cootner, supposedly as a comeback to a money manager who asked him why, if Cootner was so smart, he wasn't rich?
Depends on your definition of smart.
I've spoken to plenty of friends/employers who don't care about degrees at all, but not many who would actively count that against applicants.
As other people have said, it most likely depends on the kind of jobs you're applying for. Being massively over-qualified for the position you're going for can certainly act against you as you're more likely to get bored and move on.
moral of the story: don't trust "careers counselors"
I wonder at some of these stories I read where people spend months looking for work as if it were some kind of game. Do they not eat or live under a roof? How do they pay for those letters and faxes?
When I left school, I temped in warehouses, factories, offices, whatever, while I was hunting for a programming job. When I lost my programming job some years later, I temped at a bank until I got another programming job.
Around the time I finished my undergrad, there was a recession (almost 20y ago), and most of my liberal arts peers were taking customer service jobs. When you're fresh out of school, you gotta start somewhere.
I have relevant experience going back to when I was 15 on my resume. sure, my first cable monkey jobs paid less than fast food, but it lead to better things.
If you are willing to work for menial labor wages, you can almost always get work that requires skills. there are many small businesses, all attempting to cheap out on hiring. take advantage.
my first job? I worked at a shady computer repair place run by an Iraqi woman. I was paid by the piece (usually a dollar or two below minimum wage) which, I was told, was more than the last (much older) guy got, though, as the woman explained, "You are much better than he was."
It was actually a really great experience (except, maybe for the lack of air conditioning in the living room where we worked.) and I got massive discounts on used computer parts until I moved out of the area, so even financially, it worked out okay.
The guy had a Masters in English. Having an English degree does not necessarily mean you are qualified to be a writer or teacher.
Depending on where he lives (small town vs. big city), I think the options could be more limited than you think.
I'm trying to say that the ability to write clearly is a valuable and marketable skill. Granted, it doesn't always get the pay it deserves, but people /will/ pay you for it because it /does/ add value to the business.
I don't think the copywriters in the media agencies I worked at had English degrees either.
I've only hired one English major in my career, and that was as a software developer. He was -much- better at writing code than he was at writing prose.
Frankly, a lot of people don't know what field they belong in when they first graduate. I have a social sciences undergrad and an MBA, and I've been "out of my field" doing technology for 90% of my career. Most of my friends in the tech industry also don't have engineering or CS backgrounds. A lot of them have diverse backgrounds like poli.sci, etc. And most of us started our careers doing stuff like "admin assistants" etc.
Yes, you need to add that to something else to be useful, usually, but the ability to write well is fairly rare, and it's a skill the guy has, so it's a good place for him to start.
>Writing documentation is a skill that requires more than a good command of the English language. The technical writers that I've hired in the past didn't even have English degrees, but were excellent at what they do.
non-technical products require documentation as well.
Like I said, he'll need to learn some other things to go along with the writing ability, but having the writing ability there up front helps a lot, and hopefully allows him to find an employer who might be willing to take a chance and be patient while he learns the rest of the trade (at a lower pay rate, of course, than an experienced documentation writer)
Really? what is the upwards path there? I mean, is it easier to jump from 'admin assistant' to IT than to just jump into IT with no experience at all?
My first job could be considered an "admin assistant job" by all regards - I had no official responsibilities related to tech. My boss saw that I knew computers well, and I got to work on their home-grown CRM system, and I set up a national BBS system (yes, I'm that old) for their not-for-profit. I also got to write a lot of technical documentation while I was there, and after that I made the jump into the tech industry as a documentation writer for a startup, which opened doors into development.
So yes, you can make your upward path into tech as an Admin Assistant.
But we've gotta consider two things:
1) We're currently in a depression/recession. Jobs are scarce out there.
2) He has a Masters degree in English! Compared to most of us on Hacker News, we don't have experience job hunting with an arts degree.
Instead of doing that, he could have done research in what opportunities his degree opens up for him and specifically target those areas in his job hunt.
As far as getting rich goes (at least in startupland), there's a big difference between "so, what can you do?" and "so, what can do to help me"?
If life isn't turning out quite like you expected, perhaps it'd be "smart" to be a bit more proactive?
Work on crap, but also work on your dreams while at it. What do you have to give up beside TV and idling? I bet this English graduate did nothing on his spare time but read Walt Whitman. If he is so smart, why hasn't he reverse-engineered human interaction and learned how to build rapport with people? Hint: you meet people on their terms when you need them. Learn to mimic their personalities and walk in lockstep with them.
Few years ago there was a lady from East Africa who walked around my work building and sold canned beverages out of a picnic cooler. I have watched her come pester us during our lunch breaks and sell us coke for a $1. The vending machine sold it for $1.25, but the lady had more variety in beverages. If you said you didn't have change, she would put a cold drink on your desk and was happy to collect her money the next day.
She then moved on to homemade sandwiches and coffee, eventually graduating to a folding trolley.
I went to visit the building a few days ago to see the people I knew. She no longer sells quick meals, but has her own office in the building where she runs a convenience store / clothing store / dollar store. She will sell you food, socks, deodorant, cigarettes and printer ink cartridges. Her son, now in his teens, doubles as a delivery boy and runs errands for the whole building.
Everyday success story that you wont see in Mixergy (unless Andrew wants an interview, and I will happily put my home-girl in the spot :-)
Have you ever read Fish? http://www.charthouse.com/productdetail.aspx?nodeid=11010
There is an art to everything it's just a matter of finding it and you can learn a great deal from even the most tedious work.
Go down to your local sweatshop and try telling that to some of the people working there. See what they have to say about it.
I am talking about an opportunity to turn crap work into at least challenging work.
I have worked some pretty crappy jobs myself from packaging crab cakes to cleaning at 3 in the morning to sorting packages. There is always things to focus on that will make it worthwhile.
When I was 22 I was head of sales for a small telemarketing business. The people working there where young and the job pretty freaking boring but hard as hell. The average number of individual orders that people would accomplish in a day ranged from 5 to 40. Which meant that I had some frequency to play with. So I invented a bunch of games that had bonuses attached to them.
Sales went up 200% and that is for the people on canvas.
You might not choose your own job, but you do choose how you approach it.
Maybe doing 3hrs worth of data entry this the most economic value this guy can provide. In that case, he better learn to settle.
The answer is right there in the article. “I learned all I needed to know in high school, ya know,” he argued. “I wanted to make money." The way to get a job is to convince your boss you can make him money. This is why businesses hire. Instead of trying to impress potential employers with yours smarts, or relate to them like a frat boy, impress them with your understanding of the value you provide and how you add to their bottom line. Then you'll get hired.
Nick A. Corcodilos talks about this in Reinventing the Interview:
(Great book, but probably not worth buying. If memory serves, it is a little repetitive, but it is short and you can read it in a bookstore in one sitting.) Or go read back articles from Ask the Headhunter.
Gladwell, in his great book Outliers, argues that IQ is only related to success to some extent: above the intelligence level that allows you to get a MSc without great difficulties (this is obviously a fuzzy metric), adding much more doesn't have a big impact. Other factors (was programming your hobby at 16 and you got access to a workstation when it was not common?) make the difference.
Brains can only take you so far. Passion, skills, experience, luck, timing, instinct... those elements are also in the success/riches equation.
Money certainly has utility, but it's not the be-all and end-all of my existence. It enables freedom in choices but doesn't become the reason I make choices.
And it certainly has let me chose not to work with someone who is impressed by 'dumbing down'.
Well isn't that nice for you? Too bad it's not true for everyone.
My point is that it's worth avoiding reaching a point that you need to be rich for some reason like "more = better".
But America is littered with over-educated, under-employed people for some reason. I recall working service jobs as a student with unhappy coworkers - career waiters, cooks or store clerks - in their mid 30's with Masters degrees and that was back when there was no recession to use as an excuse.
I'd attribute it to entitlement, maybe just a personal disposition of not being very driven, and the fact there are many people who's only real talent is excelling at school...
Fortunately, it’s not, and he has successfully brought attention to his personal site, which, because of the content, is pleasantly ironic. My left-handed compliments to the chef.
I've seen the pattern that internally many companies work the way the article noted. That is, insecurity and ass-kissing go way down to the bowels of the company.
However, I have found that the problems created by ass-kissing are solved when you sell yourself not as an employee but as a consulting expert/guru. Then, intelligence and other awesome qualities are then marketing tools.
I really expected to come to the comments on this post and see a lot of responses about that. It doesn't sound at all like he was trying to target his market at all. It sounds as though his plan was to simply spam his way to finding a job.
Most of the jobs I've applied for after I've graduated college, I was able to get at least an in person interview, and several times, was able to juggle between several offers; I've only applied to roughly five or six jobs in my whole career so far. Why? Because I actually took the time to look at their website, see if it was something I was interested in, and even come up with work-related questions that I could ask them in my cover letter.
Though, I would still say that it's a numbers game, but you still have to make a decent effort for each job you apply for. It's almost like dating, in a way.
This alone suggests you were in a somewhat different situation than that of the author. Resume carpet-bombing is what people seem to eventually do when they aren't getting offers.
 Note that that "reason" was no doubt due to my inexperience and not knowing how to properly market myself at the time.
Just another indicator not to take job hunt too personal and making sure to look into every opportunity available.
Actually I wouldn't, but my situation is probably different than most people just looking for a job. I wouldn't let it get to weeks of silence. I'd just move on.
A great many people contribute a little, so a few can excel. There wouldn't be universities if everyone had to hunt for their own food. Most people create value and asserting that this person doesn't is shortsighted, especially since this job enabled him to start a PhD... who knows what wonders may come out of that.
How on earth can you be smart and not realise the rules of engagement in the world? Not you personally, but the guy who claimed he was super smart.
#666666 for body text makes my eyes bleed
Unless you're debating esoterica of a specialized domain, the smartest people manage to communicate in a simple, effective manner(1). The person accused of using too many syllables, in contrast, tends to be someone who isn't actually terribly smart at all, and the compensation is a verbal find/replace of commonplace words with a cargo cult collection of "smart" words, because that's what they think smart people do.
When someone says "you're too smart", or "you sound too smart" or "try to dumb yourself down", most of the time they're not really saying that you're too smart. They're saying "can the act."
(1) - The best example of this, I think, was Richard Feynman. He never tried to sell the idea that he was smart -- anyone who needed to know that already knew it -- but instead managed to communicate the most incredible ideas clearly and effectively.
Perhaps some people who use big words are putting on a show, but that's far from universal. Big words stay in our language because they convey subtly different meanings than their simpler synonyms. But there's a trade-off between being precise and being easily understood, and to get it right, you really need to know your audience. A lot of people hear "you sound too smart" because they're going over their audience's heads.
I get this a lot - I come from an articulate, educated family, and I was brought up using big words. I think in big words and long sentences. I read lots of books. So I have to consciously simply my sentence structure and my vocabulary around most people. It's not necessarily that they're "not smart." It's just that they're used to simpler words and structure.
It's almost as if we speak subtly different dialects. I have to do the work to translate, so that they don't have to. Most people haven't read many books, and don't think in big words. People usually talk to similar people, so they may not even have a mental concept for this translation. But they know and notice when someone's unusually hard to understand.
Now, if you use bigger words than your audience, and you're also subtly condescending (because you think you're smarter, e.g.), people often assume you're trying to "sound smart," even though you're actually bad at communication and lack self-awareness. The same thing happens when you use lots of jargon and acronyms, only that alienates an even wider group of people.
I see people make this mistake all the time; it's important to recognize that the ultimate goal of language is to communicate.
Absolutely. There is an appropriate time and a place for such an exercise, however, and having the cognizance of when and where is useful.
>This is like trashing someone for working on an open source project - they're just doing something they love the best they know how.
I don't think it's anything like that. The submission is about a person who had purportedly been sending out thousands of resumes with nary a bite. Their angle is not "Clearly I'm doing it wrong", but they instead resort to the tried and true "everyone but me is stupid" angle. I don't patronize that thought process because it's the hubris of failure.
And I'll say what I like because this is the internet and I will care about you as much as you cared about my five minutes.
Your tone is patronising. You are shouting at me, I feel like a little child in a very dark room with a very tall man shouting at me and I have watery eyes and will any moment start crying.
First, English Literature. That is arts. Arts and business are two different things. With english lit you write the subjective rubish you did and make me feel very bad for no reason whatever.
Second, is this all fiction?
Third, how old are you? - just to say I didnt read it all, I didnt wanna cry and didnt like the darkness.
Fourth, it is not smart to study English Literature, you read book instead.
Fifth, it is not smart to apply to jobs you are not qualified for.
Sixth, get a proper degree!
Seventh. Are you saying that someone who went to Harvard would be looked down compared to someone who went to, well I dont know about there in the US, but a rubish university by reputation, unless you were appying to be a bin collector?
Or are you saying that really employers do not want smart people - smart by the standards of reality - that is great university reputation and numbers or letters in your paper- when applying for the jobs which kinda - if not in reality than perception - require a lot of responsibility and someone's intellect you can trust when making far reaching decisions?
To Conclude, I don't like you, whoever that wrote it. It is grim, it is shouting at me, at no point, as far as I read anyway, and if you were so smart you would have made my reading pleasurable and I would have finished reading it, did I think that you showed any reason for me to think that you are smart, your article is full of generalisation, opinions,
You know, perhaps if you are smart enough you will understand this, you article gives those same emotions as - and this is brutal - as those articles written by journalists in populous newspapers did when they were arguing for invading Iraq. I do not say it is of that grave scale, it gives those same emotions.
So god let me pray that you do not become a journalist and so too god I pray that your articles, if of the same kind, do not find their way to HN again.
2. Because it misses the point, in that the problem is the author, not everyone else being stupid.