Why I Value Experience in Service Industry More Than Education

by Nov 4, 2012Talent Management

Ever since I was a talent agent in the entertainment industry, I have continuously improved my patterns for detecting gifted people. After all of these years of observing what kind of people do well, I can bravely say that I got at least a couple of patterns down pat.

1. I want to know if you have ever worked in retail or as a waiter, waitress, busboy, or delivery driver. Why? Those, who have tasted what it is like to be disrespected, stiffed on tips, underpaid, and otherwise poorly treated, tend to exude higher humility, compassion, patience, resourcefulness, and hustle. These personality traits make them good teammates, managers, and executives. It does not matter if we are talking about an entry-level marketing person, software developer, or Chief Revenue Officer – the mentioned traits help them unite the team and get past some incredible obstacles.

2. I don’t care what school you went to! I mostly ignore that part of your resume.

Before we go any further, let’s establish a distinction between precision education (aka scientific degrees) and general education. With every year, the quality of general education is sliding. I am not the only one who sees universities and colleges turning into un-taxed for-profits. How many classes are taught by TAs and assistant lecturers? When was the last time professors had any exposure to the real world’s needs and updated their own knowledge to catch up to what is out there? In general, the answer is not a positive one. There are still some schools, like Boston University, Northeastern, Babson, WPI, RISD, and Wellesley, to name a few, that are graduating good talent because of the precision in curriculums and professors with relevant industry experience. But if we only hire from a certain subset of schools, we end up with monotonous and monolithic teams. We need diversity of views, knowledge, and cultures. In fields not dependent on the education of precision, that degree has more value to the individual than the company.

So if you are reading this and are interested in working for one of my teams, please do not hide your service industry job – it may just help you land a position after all.

Photo credit: Kirk Siang

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