Why Your College Degree Doesn’t Mean Sh**

on April 3, 2011 | in Education, Work | by

For the first time in his young life, Charlie Hoehn was stuck in a rut.

A recent graduate of Colorado State University, he’d done everything that he was “supposed” to do to prepare for a job in the real world— he was a member of the honor roll, had participated in several clubs, and had maintained an impressive 3.8 GPA during college.  He’d scoured the online career sites for job openings, worked his networks for leads, and had sent his resume out to scores of potential employers.  The only problem?  Three months after graduation, he still hadn’t received a single promising job offer.

His parents and friends offered their heartfelt words of advice. They dug into their deep wells of wisdom and came up with pearls of advice— advice like:

“A crappy job is better than no job. Lower your standards; you can always move up in the company!”

Or, “Move back in with your parents and come party with me every night, man!” (Don’t pretend like you don’t know this guy).

Charlie recounted one story about a college friend who was excited to have landed a position at a cell phone store. “In a few months, I could be promoted to middle manager!” his friend had exclaimed.

The thought of settling for a crappy job induced a sense of dread within Charlie that crept steadily upward toward his esophagus. Sure, it seemed like the safest thing to do, but could he stomach it?

For a slight moment, a part of him even thought about giving up altogether and joining that dude at the college bar down the street. After all, how bad could it be? Top Ramen for dinner every night… free room, board, and laundry service… no work, ever. Why not become Colorado’s very own Van Wilder, postponing the responsibilities of the “real world” until later (or never, as the case may be)?

But somewhere deep inside, Charlie knew that he was worth much more than that. He hadn’t invested years of his life and thousands of dollars in tuition for nothing. Is this all that my college degree has amounted to? Charlie wondered silently.

If you’re reading this article, then you’re probably wondering the same thing.


How do I put this?

As much as I hate to break it to you, the answer to Charlie’s question is…

Well, it’s a   big,  fat,


As I see it, yes

Flickr credit: greeblie

Now, before I get attacked by an angry mob of parents and graduates (let’s add teachers to the mix, too), allow me to qualify the statement above.

It’s not that your education is worthless- this is FAR from the truth. I highly value education—heck, I have two degrees myself, and I wouldn’t trade the knowledge I’ve gained for anything.

It’s just this: if you want to get noticed by an employer, make a good living, and do meaningful work, then a college degree alone is not sufficient.

Here’s why.


Yeah, I said it—and I’ll say it again.

You are not really all that cool.

Believe it or not, graduating from college does not cause you to suddenly morph into the “magical unicorn” of job applicants. It doesn’t automatically make you special or unique or highly employable. Sorry to burst your bubble, but it doesn’t make you awesome.

You need to understand that college degrees aren’t given to unique snowflake children.

-Charlie Hoehn

True, a degree can help you get your foot in the door (and in some fields it’s even a necessity). But consider it a prerequisite, not a qualification in and of itself. Why? Because unless you have something else to back it up, unless you have something meaningful to contribute to your workplace and to the world, then you ain’t got sh**.


You know that guy who sat two rows down from you in Business Comm? You know, the one who copied his homework from the Asian kid every day and then spent the rest of class flinging boogers at the girl in front of him?

Yeah, that guy.

Does he have a college degree?

Would you hire him?

Enough said.


It used to be that if you graduated from college, kept your GPA high enough, and joined a few clubs, you’d be the poster child of job applicants. This was once considered the “gold standard.”

Today, the “gold standard” has become the new boring.

That is, instead of making you stand out, it now makes you blend in. Guess what? There are thousands of other people out there just like you. They all have degrees, they’re all proficient in Microsoft Office, and they can all follow instructions. Some of them even live in India. Not to be depressing, but they’re willing to do your job for $3.50 an hour.

So what makes you different?


This is the very same question that Charlie was faced with.

He quickly realized that based on his degree, his resume, and his work experience, nothing really made him stand out. Although he had worked hard and done well during college, this wasn’t enough to convince employers that he was valuable, and it was killing his chances at obtaining gainful employment.

So what did Charlie decide to do? Did he roll over and give up, deciding that it was all worthless? Did he join his friend at the cell phone store, silently praying for an upcoming promotion? Or maybe he decided to go to grad school so he could avoid finding a job and continue racking up debt?

Nope. Charlie did none of the above.

Instead, he decided to do something out of the ordinary… something that would actually get him noticed by employers and show them what he really had to offer.

He sat down and crafted a strategy that was anything but traditional. Then he took action, proving beyond a doubt that he was much more valuable than any employer could’ve initially realized.


Like Charlie, you’ve also got a lot of value that employers just don’t recognize. You aren’t like every other graduate out there, but no one would know it by looking at your resume.

You want to do more than just “get some crappy job.” You want to truly make an impact, a real contribution… you want to give a piece of your best self. And you want to find someone who will pay you for it.

Here’s what you need to do: you need to stop sending in your crappy resume and expecting someone to hand you your dream job. Obviously, that approach hasn’t gotten you anywhere.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

-Albert Einstein

You’ve got to find a way to bend the rules and change the playbook. You need a new approach, an approach that will allow you tostand out from the crowd and dominate the competition.

In upcoming posts, I’ll show you how three young people like you have managed to do just this, using very different strategies (but the same core principles) to stand out and to score the work of their dreams:

– How University of Texas graduate Ian Greenleigh landed his dream job as a Social Media Manager… after his resume had already been screened out by recruiters… and after he had been turned down the week before for a simple job at a mall kiosk.

– How 27 year-old John Morefield went from being an unemployed architect, twice laid off from local firms, to becoming the owner of his own thriving design studio… by charging 5 cents per architecture question at the Seattle Farmer’s Market.

– How Colorado State alum Charlie Hoehn went from being a normal college graduate with no experience, no job offers, and no special connections… to working with top-notch industry experts, including four New York Times best-selling authors, a Hollywood producer, and numerous entrepreneurs— all within the time span of eight short months. (Seriously).

STOP playing by the same old rules and blending in with every other person who has a degree.

STOP getting turned down for stupid jobs at mall kiosks.

START changing the game… and start doing the work that you’re destined to do.


[Main image Flickr credit: j.o.h.n. walker]

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  • Natalie

    Is there a guarantee that if I keep reading your blog I will score MY dream job? :) Although I need to figure out what my dream job is before I go about trying to find it….I’m curious to know your insight for people who just can’t figure out what the job they were destined to do is?

    • therese

      Natalie: Yes, your subscription comes with a 100% guarantee that you’ll land your dream job!

      J/K… but I do think it’ll help your chances a lot ;)

      As for discovering what job you might want to pursue, this is an excellent and difficult question that I will explore in articles to come. I promise! :)

  • (Stumbled across this post from SeanOgle.com)

    Therese, this is the exact message more people need to hear, but aren’t willing to listen to.

    I’d be lying if I said that I’d have a good job working for someone else without a college degree and that getting it taught me a lot about myself.

    But what if I would have spent four years really focusing in on what I wanted to be, learning what I was interested in, and not so concerned about the paper at the end of the tunnel.

    The world needs more people doing what they are called to do, not what they think they are supposed to do.

    Keep preaching it.

    • therese

      Caleb, you definitely have it right: stop worrying about what you’re “supposed” to do and focus on what you are really called to do and how you can stand out in a way that brings value. Thanks for stopping by ;)

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  • Mandy

    My husband’s “stupid” job selling cell phones at a mall kiosk brought in enough to raise our family of 5. That was until he worked his way up to a district manager. Now his 40 hours a week (no more) bring in enough for our boat, private school, and exotic vacations as well.

    I would have considered sharing this article with my children had you not directly insulted their father. Perhaps next time a more vague generalization is in order.

    • therese

      Hi Mandy,

      Any man (or woman) who works hard and works smart can do well in most any situation, so props to your husband. That’s great! I didn’t have the intention of offending anyone; these stories came directly from Charlie Hoehn & Ian Greenfield’s experiences and were only meant to illustrate the concept in general– the idea being simply that most college graduates aren’t expecting to start out working at a mall kiosk after getting their degrees. This doesn’t mean, however, that it can’t be a viable option. There are always many ways to approach a situation, and this is only one of several. Nothing but respect to you & your family.


  • Yeah…. umm…. I feel like I’m in a bad movie. Everything in this article sounds like my last 3 months… it’s kinda depressing with a slight hint of hope at the end. It’s the truth though… you have to be a man on fire in the middle of a sea of hundreds of thousands just to get noticed.

  • Nur Safira Assyifa

    I just want to inform you, I’m Indonesian and I’ve just read your article (it means ‘somebody’ may reading too), nice..

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  • Hey Therese,

    great article. I scored a number of jobs by taking “my” path. Kind of hard to give advice on this subject, because I think everybody has to figure it out for themself.
    I have often wondered why people sending 50 or more applications to job offers getting shit back.
    Good stuff Therese. Are you actual german? Your name’s so like ours.


    • Agreed Kevin, everyone does have to figure it out for themselves and everyone has their own path to walk. My origins are German, but I’m American! :)

  • I knew my 2 degrees didn’t mean sh*t, but thank you for explaining why, lol;) There are millions of us out there filling out online applications till we’re blue in the face, revamping the resume, tailoring the cover letters…and wondering why we bothered to do everything right only to watch the booger flinger get hired because he’s more charming or fun to work with.

    We can’t get the jobs that people with GED’s get. We know we have to start doing something different, but have no idea what.

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  • Erik

    That’s true. In fact, they allways ask for my balance sheet in the bank, never for my degrees (that I would much rather show them)

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