An article on the “Huffington Post” blog yesterday by Lauren Bailey suggests that passivity among students is responsible for the demise of critical thinking, and an abundance of leisure time options (from Facebook to video games) offers too many distractions. But that’s only part of the problem. Worse, she says, is the notion that higher education has become a “product to be consumed,” fulfilling the expectation there’s a sure linear progression from education to job to lucrative paycheck.
She quotes author Ken Robinson who describes the linear expectation this way: You start here, “and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you’ll end up set for the rest of your life.” That is what many of us have been led to believe, and just about every job description is crafted on the same principle: specially prepared students are qualified for specific jobs and everyone else isn’t. Want a job at a utility company? Hope you majored in business or electrical engineering. Want a job in high tech? Hope you majored in computer science. Want a job in sales? Hope you majored in marketing.
And in case you think this is a problem unique to entry level positions, let me assure it is not. Senior Business Analyst positions ask for degrees in Business or Information Systems. Senior Market Research positions look for Applied Statistics or Financial Analysis degrees. This mean that, no matter your later experience, your degree is still your initial qualification. Ten years success in market research could be entirely undercut, according to current hiring practices, by an undergraduate degree in something other than EXACTLY what they’re looking for. (Applied Statistics? Really. As if the secrets to ascertaining market prospects are to be found in the analytics.)
Not feeling encouraged by this bit of news? Okay, sure, it’s dismal and short-sighted of hiring managers to “require” narrow specialized preparations for jobs that are likely neither narrow nor specialized. Here you are, English major, with broad preparation and a degree no one seems to be asking for.
You could just pack it in, get a job parking cars or slinging bento from a food cart.
Or you could recognize that “group think”—like the kind demonstrated by many hiring managers—is often misguided and rarely insightful. You know you have something to offer (communication skills, analytical ability, knowledge, systemic thinking). Just help those buried in group-think mentality see beyond their limited view of the world. Yes, I realize they’re decision-makers, people in positions of authority, and you’re not (yet). But your argument will be compelling:
“Want people who can communicate? Hire someone who’s spent years learning to write well! We English majors specialize in that!”
“Want someone who can organize qualitative information, handle abstraction? Someone to conduct research? Hire someone who’s spent years researching qualitative information! We English majors specialize in that.”
Using words like “specialize” won’t hurt your argument one bit, either. Hiring managers like that sort of thing.