Career Advice: College Degrees and the Long, Post-Interview Wait

I answer questions about Careers, Mentorship and other topics on Quora. A selection of these answers will be reposted on Medium with occasional, minor editing for clarity. Following are selected questions I answered in October.

Are you going to be an unsuccessful person without a college degree?

Answered October 13, 2017

It depends, of course, on what success means to you. A lot of successful actors and artists don’t have degrees. All successful doctors and lawyers do. And while you can be quite successful as a plumber or electrician without a degree, the overwhelming majority of business leaders have one. The reason people keep trotting out the degree-less Zuckerberg, Jobs and Gates is because – try to name one more. It’s not that easy. And by the way, did you drop out of Harvard?

You may be tremendously rich and successful without a college degree, but if so you would also be very rare. A college degree will get you ahead faster in most professions that require it or some level of certification. With a degree, you qualify for any job that does or doesn’t require one, but without it you won’t qualify for any of the jobs that do, so you are limiting your options. Without a degree you will be competing not just for jobs but also for promotions or for clients. You will need to fight to stand out and suffer not even getting the call because it’s an easy way to narrow down a long list of applicants.

Not all jobs require degrees. I’ve seen many government jobs that require a masters degree that will accept a certain number of years of experience along with a lesser degree, say a BA with 5 years of experience, or no degree but ten years of supervisory experience. You would need to calculate the cost of the degree and potentially lost wages over 5–6 years of studying against starting at a lower salary class and working many more years to qualify.

It is true that in some fields, particularly trades, where a degree not required, having one may actually hold you back. In this case, your competition for jobs has already spent four years perfecting his craft while you were in school. It is also true that the significant level of student loan debt you may accumulate can hold back your financial future, especially if you end up in a job that doesn’t pay well or didn’t require a degree in the first place, or if you struggle (either to pay tuition or academically) and fail to graduate.

I went for a job interview over a week ago and have not heard anything. I forgot to ask what their timeline for the job was. Does this mean I probably didn’t get the job?

Answered October 3, 2017

A week or even a week and a half is the perfect time to call or email to follow up, ask about your standing, offer an update on anything you may have discussed that was in progress during the interview or to forward some interesting article or news that is relevant to the work.

Getting beyond two or three weeks is somewhat long but I would still follow up in the same tone as if it had only been a week. As others have said, sometime the process does take long depending on the number of applicants or uniqueness of the role.

Beyond a month or two, they may have passed on you because it seems that you have passed on them. But there still could be a chance at that point that they haven’t settled on a hire or have changed the need or requirements somewhat. At that point I would make a simple request for a decision, i.e., has one been made, so I can get feedback and move on.