What is the Fascination with Bachelor’s Degrees for Senior Managers?

I realize that many successful technical people have degrees. But the former Yahoo CEO was canned for lying on his resume about a bachelor’s degree Computer Science.

Now, let’s think about this for a minute. A senior manager with 20 years of experience who felt the need to lie about a bachelor’s degree?  Why does anyone care about a degree from 20 years ago?

If you were to hire me today, would you care about my bachelor’s degree from over 30 years ago? How about my master’s degree from more than 25 years ago? Do you care about those degrees? I would hope not. Do those degrees add to my credibility?

If you have graduated within the past 10 years, a technical bachelor’s degree has some technical meaning.  But what matters most if you graduated more than 10 years ago? Experience. Thinking ability. The ability to take that long-ago learning and adapt it to your current situation.

Experience trumps schooling every time. On the job learning, how you work in teams, your ability to think, the culture(s) in which you are successful, how you solve problems–all those things trump formal education. I was a pretty good student. I was and am a much better on-the-job learner. Why? Because on-the-job is real. Even simulations in workshops are more real than what I did in school. I could tell. (Do not try to tell me that Towers of Hanoi are anything like a real problem. Do not.)

I am adaptable to a number of cultures, to a number of different kinds of organizations. I can think, so I can solve problems. I bet you can, too. That is what organizations need. Does a BS in Computer Science guarantee that? No.

Yes, I have a BS in Computer Science, back from the early days of Computer Science degrees. I am quite proud of that degree. I did well in those courses. It was the non-major courses I had trouble with 🙂 I have a Masters in Systems Engineering, which was not requirements gathering, but how to engineer a system. I learned a lot in my courses, which were advanced for their time.

But, the world has changed since I went to school. I have learned a ton from working. I have learned from my clients, as they have learned from me.

The problem with requiring a Bachelor’s degree, especially in a technical area, is that the Bachelor’s degree is shorthand for a hiring manager’s requirement of:

“the ability to think, to be adaptable, to solve problems”

Well, why not say that? Don’t ask for “a BS in CS or equivalent” if you don’t need it. Ask for what you want.

In a senior management position, you need experience with the ups and downs of reacting to the what happens when your original market moves. You need to know how to move an organization’s culture. You need to manage the project portfolio, so you can select which projects to do and which projects not to do. I doubt that you need a BS in Computer Science.

One Reply to “What is the Fascination with Bachelor’s Degrees for Senior Managers?”

  1. A few years ago I was e-mailing with a company trying to figure out what I would actually do if I was hired. They wouldn’t tell me, but they did say I could skip the phone screen because my degree is from an elite university. Twenty-five years earlier.

    And those are the two reasons why I said no to interviewing at Google.

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