Garrison Wynn
Speaker, Consultant, Author

Garrison Wynn

Founder of Wynn Solutions, this keynote speaker is a former stand-up comedian and author of "The Real Truth About Success

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Educated idiots

Q: The Wall Street Journal says big U.S. companies, when hiring for entry-level jobs, are picking bachelors' degree graduates of big state universities over Ivy Leaguers and other grads of more elite schools. Recruiters said they need people with practical skills. Would you take the same approach? Do you think your school prepared you well for whichever form of success you sought? In the long run, does it matter what you studied in college, and where you went?


I won't sugarcoat it; the primary skills I acquired in college were serial dating and how to study under the influence of alcohol! I will admit, however, that my formal education in marketing, psychology and history have helped me dramatically on my personal path to success.

So education is important, but not if you're an idiot! Knowledge and the ability to actually think seemingly have nothing in common. Good study habits and testing well will qualify you for ... what? school? ... which bears little resemblance to work or even life, really.

These days, a college education is essential to most people looking to live the American dream (or the Canadian dream, for that matter, which is very good these days but still involves a lot of hockey). Though most studies have shown that Ivy Leaguers have an advantage in getting promoted into upper management, where you went to school is not as important as actually being worth the money they are paying you at your entry-level position. I recently heard of a new hire from Dartmouth who had to be taught how to write a formal letter. His boss told me that his first few attempts looked liked he was channeling Moby Dick on acid!

I think we need to get real about the fact that young people are not being taught the kinds of things they used to be taught that prepared them for successful entry into the corporate world.

Here a couple of tips for employers and job seekers:

-- If you're hiring, ask candidates what they think success in the job they are applying for actually looks like. And if they ask, "Can you be more specific?" say no! Then you will find out who you are really dealing with: thinkers with vision and ambition, or people who could advance their career only by marrying into your family.

-- If you're a young person applying for a job, you'll help yourself immensely if you make the statement, "Unlike most people my age, I am willing to work long hours and I don't feel entitled." You will notice the interviewers' eyes sparkle after you've said this, and you'll instantly make the short list. If you are willing to throw your entire generation under the bus in the interview, your chances of getting hired will quadruple.

Personally, when hiring for my company, I look for talent. You can teach skills, but you can't teach someone to be naturally excellent at his or her job. Years ago, I was in the process of hiring a salesperson and the interview went very poorly. This guy was very timid, spoke with a slight stutter and had body language that indicated he needed to go to the restroom. My partner said, "This guy's resume is fantastic, so maybe he just doesn't interview well." I countered, "I am hiring him as a salesperson. Interviewing well is pretty much his job!"

Regardless of where someone went to school, my policy has always been this: Never hire anyone who gives you a strong feeling during the interview that they suck!

By Garrison Wynn  |  September 27, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Education and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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(raises hand)I'm available for the job that requires me to channel Moby Dick on acid. My only question is, am I the one taking the acid or is Moby Dick trippin?

Posted by: Rabbitsmoker | October 4, 2010 7:50 PM
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I don't think this is a debate of ivy vs. state school. It's liberal arts major vs. vocational major.

I studied English at an ivy league school and had no training in "practical" skills. In fact, this morning at the gym I heard two recent grads talk about their flash, web design, and journalism courses that were a part of their state school's "Mass Communications" major and I was jealous. At Columbia, we didn't even have the option to take a programing,, web design, journalism, accounting, or business course. As an undergrad, it was strictly liberal arts.

That said, the analytical skills I gained form my English major have absolutely served me in my career. In college, I wrote fifteen page papers on ten lines of poetry, and that attention to detail and analytical prowess has given me the ability to problem solve and vet countless business plans, marketing campaigns, and even web page designs. Those "softer skills" were honed through the dogged intellectualism of a liberal arts major.

So yes, my ivy league degree has always served me. But really, it's my liberal arts degree-- I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

Posted by: LaurenMcCabe | September 28, 2010 12:12 PM
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I don't think this is a debate of ivy vs. state school. It's liberal arts major vs. vocational major.

I studied English at an ivy league school and had no training in "practical" skills. In fact, this morning at the gym I heard two recent grads talk about their flash, web design, and journalism courses that were a part of their state school's "Mass Communications" major and I was jealous. At Columbia, we didn't even have the option to take a programing,, web design, journalism, accounting, or business course. As an undergrad, it was strictly liberal arts.

That said, the analytical skills I gained form my English major have absolutely served me in my career. In college, I wrote fifteen page papers on ten lines of poetry, and that attention to detail and analytical prowess has given me the ability to problem solve and vet countless business plans, marketing campaigns, and even web page designs. Those "softer skills" were honed through the dogged intellectualism of a liberal arts major.

So yes, my ivy league degree has always served me. But really, it's my liberal arts degree-- I wouldn't trade it in for anything.

Posted by: LaurenMcCabe | September 28, 2010 12:11 PM
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Surprise- employers want competent employees.

I have no idea what Ivy League schools teach or if admission to one has any relationship to performance in the modern work world. I know that 95% of what I've learned has come from my own reading, research, and action. College taught me very BASIC skills. What makes me valuable is a desire to continually learn and improve.

When I hire, I look for characteristics like that. I've had to hire for positions where the only people in the workforce with the skills we needed were too expensive for us. We planned to train them on everything- so we looked for the building blocks of those skills... plus good character.

The problem I'd anticipate from someone with "pedigree" is the entitlement you mentioned. Unless you're a government agency, you need workers who produce results and increase in value. Entitled people don't want to work hard. I'm sure there are awesome go-getters from the Ivy Leagues, but the college of origin in itself is not enough to determine a good candidate.

Great column.

Posted by: OhMyGoodness1 | September 28, 2010 10:45 AM
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This is a great article. I think my favorite part is when the author writes about the Dartmouth graduate-"a new hire from Dartmouth...had to be taught how to write a formal letter. His boss told me that his first few attempts looked liked he was channeling Moby Dick on acid!" I believe this anecdote brings up a valid point. Which is, just because you graduated from an Ivy League school doesnt mean you know basic and fundamental skills that others aquire while living less privleged lives. Hiring someone based off of a paper transcript or resume is simply absured, a fundamental grounding of real life skills and qualities is needed to thrive in any job and this is clearly shown in the article when the auther brings up the Ivy League graduate who 'doesnt interview well' but looks great on paper. While im not discrediting a formal proper edjucation or Ivy League schools, I am questioning whether or not they provide a completely rounded realistic edjucation with skills people will apply and actually use in the real world.

Posted by: athenasouliotes | September 27, 2010 10:43 PM
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"If you are willing to throw your entire generation under the bus in the interview, your chances of getting hired will quadruple."

Unless, of course, your prospective employer already has several employees your age with similar characteristics (and really, who wants to work for someone who keeps hiring slackers or has a bias against people your age anyway?). Then you've just made yourself look elitist, when you could easily have said "I work hard and I'm not entitled" and left the generation wars nonsense out of it.

Posted by: justvisiting73 | September 27, 2010 2:39 PM
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I work at a govt. agency (not Federal) that has ridiculously elite hiring practices. While they would never admit it, they won't even look at a resume unless it's from an Ivy. For low-level project management positions, we require an MBA or a masters in public policy. These are for jobs that barely pay a living wage. These people come in here and expect to have fulfilling jobs and then we expect them to do glorified assistant work. And they wonder why we can't keep any one longer than a year.

Posted by: LilyBell | September 27, 2010 11:37 AM
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