A College Degree is a Driver’s License, Not a Self-Driving Car

Earth Study at a Christian College
It’s graduation season and you may be wondering, “Now what?”  A college degree is a ticket to accomplishing your goals, but you still have some responsibilities to shape your future. Win or learn!

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Christianity can seem like a lot to understand and take in, especially to a newcomer. In the By The Slice podcast,, I tackle this problem by taking key concepts and ideas from the Christian faith and Christian higher education and serve them up by the slice. Whether you’re a newcomer to the faith or a Christian looking to reconnect a little deeper, let’s work through these issues together.

Hello and welcome to the By The Slice podcast. My name is John Gallo. I’m the Dean of Programs at Geneva college in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. And this past weekend here at Geneva college was commencement or graduation as it is called, and it’s a great time in college life. The grass is green, the flowers are blooming, students are excited, parents are here. People are walking around looking like medieval wizards in these fancy robes and gowns and things like that. It’s just a great opportunity. And so if you’re one of those graduates that maybe just graduated, whether you’re a traditional undergraduate student or you’re an adult student or a graduate of our master’s program, maybe the question that’s on your mind is, “okay, I just graduated. So now what?” And so I want to leave you with three encouragements. Maybe they’re more exhortations as you think about what life is like now that you’ve completed your college education.

And the first is that I want you to think about your college degree as being a driver’s license and not a self driving car. You know how we have these self driving cars now that are on the road in some cities and like 99% of the population, you know we’re literally terrified of them because we know what a self driving car ultimately gets you. It gets you into massive pile ups and crashes and fiery deaths and things like that. But an education sometimes, sometimes graduates think that just getting a college degree means that the world is going to open up for them and fall over for them. The reality though is that a college degree is nothing more than a driver’s license, and you know that there are lots of people with driver’s license on the road who have various qualities in how they drive, so it’s a driver’s license that opens up a new class of vehicles for you to drive.

If you have a bachelor’s degree, you’ve now opened up the potential for bachelor’s level positions in the world. If you have a master’s degree, it opens up a new opportunity of positions for you, but the reality is that you still need to get the job. I’ve been a hiring manager before and never once have I ever seen someone come in and say, okay, I’ve looked at their resume and I say, “Oh, you have a bachelor’s degree. Guess what? You don’t have to interview. We’ll just, we’ll just put you right at the front of the line.” It’s never happened. The reality is that there are millions of people out there with college degrees now, and so it is still your responsibility to get the job, which means you’re going to need to have a good cover letter. You’re going to need to be able to have a resume that articulates our strengths well and that catches the eye of a hiring manager.

And then you’re going to have to actually interview. You can’t just bring in your college diploma and just plop it down on the table and say, “I’m done.” You’re going to have to interview. And so how you present yourself, how you articulate yourself, how you show that you’ve learned about the company or the position, all those kinds of things are ultimately going to get you a job. So keep that in mind. It’s not a self driving car, it’s just a driver’s license. You still need to drive that car.

The second thing that I want a college graduate to understand is that there is no such thing as a failed interview. You know, my daughter does gymnastics and in her gym they have this sign hanging up that says “we never lose. We either win or we learn.” And I think that’s a great sign and it’s the same way that I feel about a job search.

Practice Interview Tips and Techniques

You know, there may be job interviews that you go on that ultimately you don’t get the job. And that’s okay because each job interview is a learning experience. It’s an opportunity to get more practice at interviewing. As a hiring manager, we often look for different qualities in employees. We sometimes, to be honest with you, there are some times in which I have not hired the best qualified candidate. And the reason that I haven’t is because I wasn’t looking for the best qualified candidate. I was looking for a good fit. Especially if you’re in a small organization with a small culture, one person can really impact that culture positively or negatively. So sometimes it’s more important to hire for fit and then train the person in the kind of job that you want.

But you can go online and you can go on all the big job search websites and Google job interview questions, and you could practice in front of a mirror and you can do all those kinds of things, but nothing can replicate the job interview better than a job interview. And for the vast majority of us, a job interview isn’t something that we have a lot of experience in. We go through a job interview, we get a job, we stay at that job for a few years and then we move on to another job. And then we interview again. So over the course of our lifetime, we maybe interview once every few years, depending on how much you hop around from job to job.

So job interviewing is a skill that we often don’t have a lot of experience in. So recognize that. Again, I’ll go back to my daughter’s analogy with gymnastics. They practice and they practice twice a week. And when they practice, they’re practicing their skills and their fundamentals and their routines. But nothing can replicate what it’s like to be at a competition other than being at that competition. So keep in mind this, with a job interview process, there’s no such thing as a failure. You’re either going to win or you’re going to learn.

And the third thing that I want to leave you with is that learning doesn’t end at graduation. You know, in our culture today we tend to view education as a means to an end. We go to college and while we’re in college we study, we read books, we write papers, we take tasks, we take exams and we graduate and we stop and then we go back to college and we do the same thing again. And unfortunately that doesn’t work in our economy now. We have moved in our culture away from being a manufacturing and production economy to being an information and knowledge-based economy. That means knowledge is important.

And understanding what’s happening and trends in the field is really important. So I want to encourage you to never stop learning. You know, I’ve been where you are. I’ve had numerous … because I’ve been in college so long in my life, there’s been three times in which I’ve graduated and each time I took a break. It’s okay to take a break. You deserve a break. But then you should get back into the swing of things in terms of reading about latest advances in the field or the discipline that you’re in, understanding a little bit more about what’s happening. Imagine how impressed a hiring manager will be of a company if you walk in having just read some of the latest advances in the field and been able to articulate how you would incorporate those latest advances in that company. So it’s a great skill to have, but most importantly in our culture today, we value knowledge and we value learning.

And so there’s the concept now of what’s called lifelong learning, which means this idea of you, you go to grade school, you go to junior high, you go to senior high, you go to college and then you stop learning, just doesn’t apply anymore to our culture. What typically happens is it’s a lot of starts and stops. You go to college, stop college, you go back to college, you finish college, you go back to college again for a master’s degree, or you go back for specialized training or things like that. We’re an economy where all of us need to be learning and constantly learning in order to grow in our job, in order to keep our job, in order to get promoted or in order to get new jobs. So never stop learning and value, value that learning.

Think of it this way, at least you’re not getting graded on it. At least you don’t have to write a five page paper on it or something like that. But learn and enjoy learning and enjoy reading about the discipline in your field. One of the fields that I’ve been in is the field of HR and in the field of human resources, stuff is changing constantly. So it does you no good to graduate college in 2010 and then try to get a job in 2019 not having any knowledge over what changed over the past nine years. You constantly have to be reading and learning about the latest laws and the latest governmental regulations and things like that in that field. And I’m sure that field is not an isolated instance.

So my hope is that you’ll take these three things with you. Remember that a college degree is a driver’s license. It’s not a self driving car. That there is no such thing as a failed interview and that you should never, never stop learning even after graduation. Hopefully this helps you and best wishes in your future. Thanks for listening to the By The Slice podcast.

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