A business degree creates a signaling function to employers that entails the following benefits:
- Formal Credentials
- Exposure to Knowledge
- Talent or Skills
- General Intelligence
- Diligence or Work Ethic
- Fit (Beliefs, Interests, Values)
When seeking a management position or professional service position in a business field, you will likely be competing against other job candidates.
Unless you have some level of personal connection that secures the position (or opportunity to interview for the position), the prospective employer will look to your credentials.
For better or worse, many employers will only consider candidates who have a college degree.
The increase in the number of colleges in the United States (including the prevalence of online colleges) has driven up he number of college graduates each year.
The downside of this growth in education institution is that traditional methods of employers seeking new employees through on-campus recruiting has begun to dropped. Now, 50 – 80% of new graduates find jobs without the assistance of their school.
Students who do not do the leg work of making connections through networking and internships find themselves graduating with no immediate employment opportunities. In fact, 43% of students graduating from college accept jobs that do not require a college degree.
The result is that you may be competing for a position with college graduates, even if the position does not require one. In turn, employers are also looking college graduates for positions that otherwise would not require a degree.
Whether this is a good idea for the employer, having a degree will make certain that you are not automatically disqualified from a position due to a lack of required formal credential.
Exposure to Knowledge
Having a business degree is an indicator that you have some level of knowledge or exposure to the skills necessary to effectively perform in the position.
I think that this is a good time to talk about employer perception about learning in college. Most employers realize that college will not make a student and expert (or even proficient) in most employment skills or functions. Rather, college offers a level of exposure.
Most business degrees are organized by major or by concentration. You can see our various articles on What You Can Learn in Business School for more information on the various fields of study.
The exposure is generally fairly comprehensive, in that it provides students an extensive introduction to the various theories and functions within a given career field. For example, a marketing concentration may consist of 8 – 12 courses with a specific focus on marketing theory or practice.
With that being said, a wide range of exposure is optimal for future development of the employee. Having this level of exposure will allow the employee to grow within the firm without having to learn exclusively from experience. We know that training someone to perform a task without additional understanding of why this is the appropriate method leads to close-mindedness or a lack of innovativeness on how things are done. Employers want the students to ask:
- How do we do things?
- Why do we do it this way?
- Is there another (or better) way to do things?
- Should we be doing these things at all?
- Are there other things we should do that would be better?
Also, a college degree, in general, provides a student with a holistic education. That is, they receive instruction in history, science, math, social science, liberal arts, etc. This results in a more well-rounded student. In theory, the student will be better equipped to understand and relate to their customers, clients, employees, and colleagues. In a separate article, Competence and Fit, we discuss the benefits of relating well with those around you in the business environment.
Talent or Skills
If an employer expects to fully train new employees on the knowledge and skills required in the job, simply demonstrating a willingness and capacity to learn is generally adequate.
There are, however, many entry-level, professional services positions that require some level of ability or skills to qualify for the position.
This is true for most technical jobs, such as mathematical calculations, data analysis, IT functions, etc.
Also, having specific skills or certifications can certainly make you a more attractive candidate. Employers are not going to be adverse to a candidate who already has some level of skill or ability that directly translates to the job at hand.
There are many ways to acquire job-specific skills. There are some business classes that focus primarily upon teaching skills to the employee.
Also, most business schools provide access to resources to facilitate one’s skill base. The most common resource is LinkedIn learning. Since combining with the very popular website, Lynda.com, LinkedIn stands at the forefront of providing skill-based learning resources.
Other resources might include access to industry software, instructional guides, and skill-based learning sessions put on by faculty or staff.
Often a business degree is seen as a representation for one’s intelligence.
While research and experience tells us that this is far from certain, many employers believe that a degree signals a base level of intelligence.
It is worth noting that, outside of finance, consulting, and accounting firms, few employers really care about GPA.
With this in mind, undertaking a business degree is an opportunity demonstrate your willingness to learn, dedication to the task, and the knowledge you have acquired during the process.
Diligence or Work Ethic
An individual’s accomplishments in a degree program may not actually demonstrate their true intelligence; at a minimum, it does demonstrate an individual’s work ethic.
Of course, employers want an individual who is apt to work diligently. This can be demonstrated by school GPA, prior work history, personal interaction with the employer, etc.