What Do You Mean I Need a College Degree?
I find myself in a unique situation. I’m unemployed for the first time in my long career. I’ve been working since I was 14. I mean it; my Social Security records show earnings from 1976 to 1979, the years I was enrolled in High School.
Since that time, I was never really unemployed. Sure I had a couple 2 or 3 week vacations between jobs, but nothing like this. After high school, I joined the Army and received training in communications. When I left the Army, I immediately landed a great job working for the oil companies setting up communications systems. I was recruited to each position after that. And I enjoyed increasingly higher salaries and responsibilities. I never got comfortable with my role, no matter how well it paid. Once I mastered the job, I started looking for the next move up. It’s just my nature to be ambitious. Nothing wrong with a little ambition, right?
There is if you mix in a little impatience. See, despite the fact that for the last ten years I’ve been at the top tier of my industry earning well into six figures, I never went to college. It was never a priority, since I was making good money out of the Army and the Post-Vietnam era GI Bill was basically nonexistent. Besides, the money just kept getting better from there. Flash forward to today and for the first time in my life, I’m on the outside looking in. I’m having to learn how to job hunt. (Do they teach that in college?)
This hit home for me the other day, when I found a great position listed on the TN State Employment Agency web site. The description was perfect for me. It summarized everything I’ve been doing for the last ten years. It also required that if I wanted to be considered, I needed to come in to the employment agency to submit for it.
“A little odd,” I thought, “but sure why not.”
So I showed up and filled out all the requisite paperwork and after an hour of waiting (remember the impatience trait I spoke of?) I was allowed to speak with a state career counselor. I showed her the position I was interested in and she agreed that it was right up my alley based on my work history. So she began to check off her boxes. The gatekeeper emerged from its cave, teeth dripping with anticipation of the kill. She came to the box that said “education”.
“You do have a degree, don’t you?” she asks with a look on her face that I interpret as condescending.
“No I don’t, why? Is that important?”
“Well, I can’t send this to the employer without one.”
“Why?” I responded incredulously “You already said I was qualified for the position…”
“Sorry, that’s just the way it is”
“Well” I said, “let me ask you this; does it matter the type of degree? I mean, do I need to have a Computer Science major, Business, or what?”
“Well, no, just a degree” she responded, looking confused about the direction I was going with this query. The image of the prey standing defiantly before the predator came to mind. The prey is still going to die, but the predator can’t understand the defiance.
I continued, “In other words, if I had a degree in Ornamental Horticulture, I would qualify to manage a multi-million dollar contact center using the latest custom developed software in the industry? Software that I have been selling over the last ten years.”
“Well, apparently so” she responded. “I guess that really doesn’t make any sense, but there’s nothing I can do about it.” And that was the end of that. The gatekeeper slammed the door shut.
This is ridiculous and unfair, but that’s the way it went down. The perfectly qualified guy gets sifted out because I don’t have a degree. Anyone else have to deal with this? Is there anything I could have done different? I’d love to hear your suggestions.
Tony is currently looking for work. You can learn more about him at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/tony-ratagick/1/898/b77 or follow him on Twitter @ratagick.