Not long ago a degree may have been the best signal most people could get. There weren’t many ways to demonstrate your value to the market, so a degree was one of the better bets. Things have changed dramatically. Technology has opened up the world. The tools available to you now have lowered search and information costs, and you can create signals of your own that are far more powerful than a degree.
There’s nothing wrong with getting a degree. I spent enough time in the classroom to get both a Bachelor’s and a Master’s. Degrees can be valuable, but they don’t set you apart as they did 10 years ago. There’s a clear path to getting a degree that’s relatively easy to navigate. The steps from start to finish are pretty clear.
Creating a powerful signal is much more difficult. There’s no clear path for you to follow. Your signal is completely unique to you so just mimicking what someone else is doing isn’t likely to get you the same result. Creating a better signal is hard. The upside to doing hard things is that you have less competition.
The competition among degree holders is fierce, while the competition among those who build a better signal is almost nonexistent.
If I was only able to ask potential job candidates one question, I would ask this:
Tell me about a skill you taught yourself recently and walk me through the process from start to finish.
This tells me a few things about the candidate that a degree can’t:
- How do they deal with frustration? Do they persevere when things get difficult?
- When given a clear objective, can they create their own path to get from start to finish?
- Are they capable of taking abstract ideas and turning them into concrete items?
I loved how Morehouse finished his essay:
You have in your hands the power to create your own brand, to broadcast it to the world, to demonstrate your ability to create value. You can built a better signal than the generic one in the hands of tens of millions of other young people.
With the tools at our disposal, the future really is bright. We just have to do the work.