Educated and Unemployed

By Barry Maher

Dear Barry,

Like a lot of recent graduates, I’m having trouble finding employment. I’ve got an impressive academic background, including a Ph.D. in marketing, but that actually seems to turn off more employers than it interests.



Dear Fred,

I don’t mean this personally because I don’t know you, but the first question you’ll want to answer is this:

        Is it your background that’s turning employers off or is it you?

It goes without saying that you want to impress any potential employer but you have to avoid sounding like an academic or a theoretician. You need to appear knowledgeable and intelligent yet deferential to those who already have the real world experience that you’re eager to learn.

Nothing is more flattering to a businesspeople, (and especially those who may have doubts about their own academic background) than someone with a Ph.D. who’s excited about learning from them. The Ph.D. who realizes that he or she may actually have a lot to learn from those “real world” types might well be perceived as offering the best of both worlds.

Beyond that, every graduate has some real world experience. Yes, even Ph.Ds. The more you can demonstrate that experience and/or show how whatever experience you do have (internships,  part time and summer jobs, teaching, research) has armed you with applicable skills, the more successful you’ll be.

Obviously, during the job interview you need to come across as real world and practical, not ivory tower and theoretical. So use your research skills to find out everything you can about the company and the problems it faces. And knowledge of street level problems is more crucial than high-level, big picture (more theoretical) problems.

Your appearance should, of course, be appropriate for the specific business, not the classroom. And if you can use some of the jargon of their industry that’s a plus, as long as you’re using it correctly. Using it incorrectly can be the kiss of death for anyone running the risk of being labeled “over-educated.” It can come across as condescending. And even a whiff of condescension at any time during the hiring process can be fatal.

Again, you turn a strong academic backyard into the plus it should be by linking it to real world experience and, above all, demonstrating that you’re eager to learn from your new boss. Come across as eager to teach your new boss, and you’ll probably never get the chance to do either.

Las Vegas, Nevada, Sept. 2012

When a Motivational Speaker or Motivational Speakers Can’t Do the Job.

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