Why Most Managers Need Degrees

For many management jobs a bachelor's degree is the bare minimum.

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Suzanne Lucas

I am in the utility business and would love to get into management. I currently do not [have] a degree, but I really like coming up with solutions and processes that get managers and union employees to better understand how they can be more productive in a very diverse workforce. Is there a certain reason why most companies look at formal education as a must? I also think I should be attending some school on my off time, is that correct?

[See the best careers for 2010.]

I know nothing about utility companies, other than the fact that when I moved I asked multiple times for my former utility company to send me a final bill and they wouldn't and wouldn't and wouldn't and then they put it on my credit report as an unpaid bill. (If you people had just told me how much to pay, I would have paid you!!!! Aaargh.)

Sorry, a momentary distraction. But, if you can solve that problem, they should make you CEO.

You are right that you should be attending school in your time off. For many management jobs, a bachelor's degree is the bare minimum to even be considered. In some fields, you'll need a master's degree to be a viable candidate.

[See the trouble with your blog.]

Why is this? Well, there are lots of reasons, not all of which make a good deal of sense. On the sense-making side, a degree is something that demonstrates you can make and achieve long term goals, other people have judged you as competent in many areas, and that you have been exposed to ideas. In theory, this should also prove you can write well, because every college I've ever heard of has writing requirements, but judging by some of the E-mails I get, not all of them do this.

Some jobs require degrees in specific areas. For example, if you want to be an accountant, it makes sense that you know how to, you know, do accounting. If you want to be be a chemical engineer, you should know a great deal about chemistry. Some jobs just require a degree. This is where the sense thing kind of breaks down.

I have a bachelor's and a master's degree in political science. My husband also has a bachelor's and a master's degree in (drum roll please) political science. (Yes, we met in grad school, in case you were wondering.) The funny thing was, when we both hit the job market our academic skills were similar. Now, 12 years later, our career skills are worlds apart. He went into market research, I went into human resources and both of us vowed never to touch politics again. I took the communication skills we learned and grew those. He took the statistics skills we learned and grew those.

[See if you should follow up with a phone call.]

We learned our careers on the job. But, we learned how to learn and do the basics in school. You are gaining career knowledge on the job. This is extremely helpful. But the powers that be want someone other than your bosses to certify that you have book knowledge. Hence the degree requirement.

I've always argued that it makes little sense to consider four years of college from ages 18 to 22 as superior to 20 years of on-the-job experience. But that's the way it goes. So, yes, go back to school and get that degree. Consult with your managers about what would be the best major in order to pursue the career you want. Make sure you take plenty of writing classes. Yes, even if you want to be an engineer, someone that can write clear E-mails and presentations is a highly valued commodity. It may or may not be fair, but it is reality.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of human resources experience, most of which have been in a Fortune 500-company setting. She holds a Professional in Human Resources certificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady.


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