The Degree of Who or What You Know

I attended my friend’s 25th birthday dinner this past Saturday night. Surrounded by a few of her friends and a majority of her family, we indulged in plenty of alcohol. What should have turned into chaos instead evolved into a conversation about education. Included in the group of friends was one whom I had not seen since middle school. She, at age 24, has just completed her Masters whereas I, on the other end, am still struggling to complete my Bachelors. With two degrees she has yet to find employment while I have had no trouble finding employment. I have worked in a law firm, at a bank, in the mortgage industry and now in insurance.

Is it the economy, politics, or is it because employers truly aren’t hiring? I wonder  — is it everything else in between? I have friends who have recently graduated and cannot get hired no matter how educated their degrees prove them to be. I also have friends who know enough people, or their parents know enough people, to get them through the perfect doors of opportunity.

Then there are people like me — those who have enough work experience, great referrals, and that advantage of being able to convincingly talk their way through any interview (for now). But what will happen to me once I actually complete my degree? Sometimes it feels like I am balancing on a thin line but the minute my Bachelors degree is attained will I suddenly become ‘overqualified’ because we’ve been taught in this country that a degree automatically means a higher salary? Businesses are trying to cut salaries not cut more checks.

What I have noticed is that for most of the small businesses that I have worked for, the majority of the office managers — the majority of the people who are in charge of hiring — are people who never attended college. I think it is also safe to say that what we are taught to assume the ‘professional real world’ will be like is actually not. So how many small businesses are out there that are reluctant to hire young educated people simply because that prospective employee is a threat to the ‘uneducated’ office manager?

We grow up being told that a college education is a priority because education is what opens doors to success but, these days, it seems to just open doors to a bunch of confusion. For as many graduates as I know who have difficulty finding employment, I know just as many who are straight out of college, with a degree framed, and doing exceptionally well.

Once out of high school we also grow up hearing, “It isn’t what you know, but who you know,” and I am not so sure this is completely true either. I am beginning to think a lot of it is a mixture of luck, the right amount of education, and simply timing. It is devastating to know that what was supposed to be the paper that paved the way to a successful future is to some a symbol of an immense amount of debt. But for some people, regardless of the unemployment rates, the system has worked to their benefit.




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