Prefer experience to education

So I’ve got another couple friends now who are dipping their toes into the first-job water, and finding that water mighty cold. Fairly typically, they are thinking about going back for post-graduate education.

I don’t think that’s wise, and I’ve said so. Remains to be seen whether they listen.

I’ll say it right out. Once you have a bachelor’s degree, experience matters more than education. A ton of education without experience looks suspicious to employers, and I can’t say I disagree, because of all the folks who flee into graduate school to avoid the bruising slog that is the first-job search. Who wants to hire frightened people? (Answer: nobody you want to work for, trust me.)

Thing is, the search for a first job is always, always, always a slog. If you’re going to grad school because you think a job will just magically fall into your lap afterwards, please, please don’t. It won’t happen, and you’ll just end up hating graduate school and hating yourself for going.

Go do some work first. There’s lots of work out there that doesn’t require any particular specialization. If you don’t know where it is, your first job is to find out. And yes, a lot of that work sucks, but that doesn’t mean you don’t learn from it.

My new-librarian acquaintance is still looking. I know her pretty well, and as much as I want her to find a job, I find myself stopping short of actually recommending her to people. I myself wouldn’t hire her. It’s not even the lack of experience—it’s all the rough edges that a first job knocks off you that she still has, and the ceaseless virulent childish cynicism that would make her terrible to share an office with.

I don’t know how to fix that. Any suggestion from me that her attitude is part of the problem is only going to be met with—you know, attitude. But I’d lay odds that if she’d had a few jobs in her early 20s, she wouldn’t be languishing without so much as callbacks now.

Given the choice between a bad job and a bad graduate education, always take the job; at least it pays you, whereas you have to pay professors to maltreat you. Given the choice between a bad job and a decent graduate education—if you have no work experience, take the job. It’ll be worth far more in the job market than the additional degree. I absolutely guarantee it.