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In seeking my first full time position related to my college major, I was at a "cattle call" type job fair. One of the managers I was sent to looked at my resume and commented that I didn't have any professional experience. I tried to explain that I had relevant part time jobs while a student, and that I had spent 4 years studying the field in school. His response was to dismiss my part time work and state that college was a waste of time and that a single year of "real world experience" was better than a college degree. That left me dumbfounded. The manager then said the interview was over and left.

What could I have said to keep the interview going?

Note: This is well in the past for me, but hopefully it could help someone going forward.

  • 3
    If you have an answer, please write an answer, not comments. – Monica Cellio Feb 20 '18 at 3:54
  • Was this job fair at your college? I assume not because this would make no sense unless he was testing you. Although a college is the most common location for a job fair. – WetlabStudent Feb 21 '18 at 11:47
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    @MHH: Not at my college. It was put on by a single company to fill a sudden need for jobs after they won a new contract. It was advertised as "All levels welcome". – GreenMatt Feb 21 '18 at 13:32
  • How to respond to “You should have skipped college”? "I should have skipped this interview. Next, please" – Mawg Jul 28 '18 at 7:59

17 Answers 17

339

What could I have said to keep the interview going?

Anything you would have said would have been a waste of your time at this point. Shrug it off and keep looking; you can't win them all. The manager had made it perfectly clear that A) he wasn't interested in hiring you and B) he wasn't very good at communicating.

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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I'm not personally interested in working for companies that start out with those BS tests and attitudes, but even if you did it would be clear that this wasn't a "test" when your response was dismissed and the manager stopped talking to you. – Erik Feb 17 '18 at 18:52
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    I agree with this answer. Some day, maybe, I'll share the story of my interview with Bear Sterns, about 15-20 years (forget exactly) ago. It went, basically, along the same lines but, I think, it went a few notches beyond, with the person interviewing me going out of his way to insult me. After Bear Sterns croaked, and I read about its internal culture and politics, many confusing things about that decade-old interview suddenly became clear to me; also that moving on forward without a 2nd thought was the right decision then, and, I'm sure, is here as well. You don't want to work in this place. – Sam Varshavchik Feb 18 '18 at 2:39
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    I agree with this answer. In the industry I work in, "You should have skipped college." would likely not have been a "test question" to check your nerve. It more likely would have been rather blunt feedback saying "You are not a good fit for this job because your college work is not relevant". Attempting to pass the "test" by arguing would be very risky, and (unless you understand the industry incredibly well, and can sell yourself in a way the recruiter doesn't know) it would likely have just changed your status to "You are not a good fit for this job, and you are not cooperative." – jrh Feb 18 '18 at 17:40
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit There is one reason to assume it wasn't a deliberate test: In my experience people who conduct interviews are often not that good at it, and not usually subtle enough to run a test like that. I'm sure it happens, I just think it's less likely than the person just being a bad interviewer. All of the interviews I've had have been conducted by people who have duties at the company completely unrelated to HR or hiring. When HR people are present, they generally say nothing unless they have to chime in about prohibited questions, etc. – Todd Wilcox Feb 19 '18 at 0:57
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    I think the best thing to respond with at this point would be something like "Thanks for the tip, I'll consider that next time." It's a pointless thing to tell someone that they wasted the time at school. There's nothing you can say in response that will mean anything either. – JimmyJames Feb 20 '18 at 14:35
159

This manager didn't want to hire you. We have no idea why that would be the case, but there is no reason to believe that it must be because your education.

I would assume that this interviewer was older and more experienced than you, and had plenty of themes ready to reject you in a painful way. If the next interviewee comes along with plenty of practical experience, but never been to college, that interviewee will be told that without a college degree they are unemployable.

No need to try to keep an interview like this running. For two reasons: They don't want you, and you don't want to work with them. Or do you think working for this interviewer would be a good idea?

PS. You shouldn’t have skipped college.

  • Completely agree with this. Some places won't employ people without a degree, so you win some, you lose some. Getting your first full time job is always difficult with the "You don't have experience, so people won't employ you" conundrum. When looking for my first job, I got turned down for multiple reasons including "over qualified", "under qualified" and "hockey is not considered a good example of teamwork"... -Anyway, it is important to remember that you have to like where you work, otherwise life will be miserable. I would have walked away glad to have dodged an unpleasant workplace. – HockeyJ Feb 19 '18 at 13:44
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    Actually, I think the guy was serious about not hiring me because of my lack of professional experience - at least in part. He's not the only person I've met with an attitude that college is a waste of time - invariably I've found they didn't go to college (for those I've gotten to know enough background about). – GreenMatt Feb 19 '18 at 20:21
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    @GreenMatt Regardless of whether college is a waste of time or not for a certain profession, college education is so prevalent that any sensible workplace will not turn you down because of it. Even more so any place you actually want to work at. – R. Schmitz Feb 21 '18 at 13:34
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    I disagree with the last sentence. I have no degree and I have a very good paying job because I'm working with people who care more about my knowledge and skill. Sure, I've lost out on positions who expect a degree, but I couldn't care less. If I compare that loss to the massive student debt I would have accumulated, then I made the right choice. But that's just me. – The Anathema Feb 21 '18 at 21:14
28

His response was to dismiss my part time work and state that college was a waste of time and that a single year of "real world experience" was better than a college degree. That left me dumbfounded. The manager said something about how since I didn't have anything else to say, the interview was over and left.

Well, I am completely unsure of what field you are in—or what position you were applying for—but if the person at the job fair said something like that, it’s simply… Weird.

It could be a test to see what your response would have been, but the fact the interviewer left fairly immediately is kind of odd.

If you somehow really care about working for the organization that person represents, you could have waited a short amount of time—maybe an hour or so—and come back and asked again about the position and your potential role. Don’t pretend the shunning didn’t happen, but embrace it. Say something like:

“Look, I am sorry if my resume and short span of experience turned you off, but perhaps I can state that I believe I would be a good fit for this role and can prove my worth relatively quickly. Can you give me a second chance?”

If you get blown off again, then something is odd. Perhaps the person was not happy to be at a job fair? Who knows.

What you could do after that is write to HR at the company and state something along the lines of:

“I saw your organization represented at this job fair, and I would like to come in for an informational interview. According to the person at the job fair, I was not experienced enough to be considered for a role in your organization. And if that is the case, I accept it. But perhaps an informational interview could help me better understand why I was not considered and help me better understand what strengths and weaknesses my professional experience might have.”

I say this coming from my own personal experience in the part-time job market in college: I would apply in person for rinky-dink jobs and be pushed off… I would then insist on talking to a manager if possible and when I did that, I got a job. Happened twice.

Sure things would be different for professional/career-like jobs, but the general idea is the same: Being persistent, firm and not pushy can impress potential employers more than you think.

If you want something don’t give up! And if it’s clear they don’t want you, be polite, accept the reality and move on.

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    +1. I found it quite common in job interviews that there would be a challenge on some point, just to see how I would react. Flustered or calm? Standing my ground or evading? – o.m. Feb 17 '18 at 10:10
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    "the fact the interviewer left fairly immediately is kind of odd" I don't think so, given that the OP failed the test. Anyway, AFAICT, this is the only correct answer here at present. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 17 '18 at 18:41
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit Well, leaving immediately and leaving abruptly are two different things. In this case, it’s implied the departure was abrupt border-lining on rude. It could be a matter of perspective and perhaps interviewer style, but I would find it odd if this interviewer is truly reflecting the organization in a good light at a job fair by doing something like this. – JakeGould Feb 17 '18 at 19:16
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    @JakeGould: I don't think we know enough about the situation (or have heard the story from enough vantage points) to assume it was rudely abrupt tbh. I realise the OP seems to have automatically taken it that way but I don't think that necessarily says anything. The very fact that it would be unusual behaviour makes me think it's unlikely that it occurred that way. But your point is taken. – Lightness Races in Orbit Feb 17 '18 at 19:19
  • Unless this job was for a sales type role, i doubt it was a test. – WendyG Feb 21 '18 at 13:24
24

Two things come to mind.

  1. Stand your ground: "I found my college education personally beneficial and I couldn't imagine not having that experience." - this shows confidence in your decision to pursue higher learning.

  2. Challenge his suggestion that you should have gone straight into your chosen field: "If I sat here in front of you four years ago with the same work experience and no college degree, would I be any better off than I am now?" If he doesn't want to hire you because you don't have relevant work experience, then the his decision has nothing to do with your college education.

9

Personally I think you may have dodged a bullet there. Was this at a university career fair? If so that person's reaction would seem especially strange.

HOWEVER, one possible approach to take would be to not get defensive and set ego aside. I have been in similar conversations with people who have a very binary view of a certain career related topic and make clear they aren't looking to consider different perspectives. For this situation, I may have said something like, "You know I really considered that. I had a tough time choosing between going to University or straight into industry. I'm still not sure I made the right choice and I appreciate your view on the since you see so many candidates."

This person has (what appear to be) quite strong views on the subject. You're unlikely to change those views, especially considering the dynamic of that particular interaction. Instead try to pump as much information out of the situation as you can. You may glean some insight into the industry, hiring or that particular company that otherwise would have been lost.

Don't take their point of view personally. Once your interaction is over who cares what that person thinks of you, from the sounds of it their impression is unlikely to improve. There is freedom in that. Freedom to ask questions. Ask them what ideal candidates look like, did the interviewer get a degree or just jump into the field? The more info you can pump out, the more info you are armed with when you talk to the next recruiter, next company, next hiring manager, etc. The more comfortable you will be discussing similar topics in the future.

If the person seems to purposefully be an abrasive jerk however, just end the conversation and bid them good day.

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    I read it as a sign of someone who got forced to go do interviews for college students when he didn't want to because he came up without a degree and saw them as useless. But honestly if that is his opinion, the OP didn't want to work for him anyway and should be grateful not to have more time wasted. – HLGEM Feb 19 '18 at 15:21
6

I suppose you could have said:

My best friend's cousin knows this stuff and he just graduated from high school, does that mean that if I pass along his resume to you, you will interview him?

Or does it mean that I'm the one-thousandth potential job applicant you spoke to today, that you're tired, and that you just want to go home?

But frankly, by focusing on what you could have said, you're over-optimizing the wrong skill since you're unlikely to remember what to say and when to say it, should a similar-enough interaction happen again.

Anyway, "Cattle calls" are like speed-dating events, except they're exhausting to a hiring manager because of the sheer number of job-hunters that all think they can build rapport and win a manager's approval in such a short amount of time.

Think about the name of the event for instance and the metaphor it uses. "Cattle".

I suppose that if you're exceptionally good cattle and your CV checks all the right checkboxes, you may win yourself a golden ticket, and that's fine. And I suppose that if your plan for the night was to watch TV and eat ice cream, you didn't lose anything by going to it. In fact, it's always a good idea to keep the momentum of looking for a job going, so I don't fault you for going to it one iota. You did the right thing.

But otherwise, know there may be better ways for you to focus your mental energy on than just rehearsing what you could have said, or taking what he said too seriously. The fact is. If you're looking for a break in the industry without much relevant experience. You have to differentiate yourself from all the other "cattle". And you can't be shy about that.

Go door to door. Talk to your own Professors. Talk to other Professors in your school. Ask for advice. Talk to you friends and family. Cold call people. Warm call people. Interrupt people, but also know when to interrupt them. If they're super busy, or if it's their busy hours, or if their body language is defensive, or if they can't give you their full attention, or if they keep looking at their watch, come back at a later time, or ask them if they could pencil you in at a later time when they have more time.

If those people tell you to submit your resume to a website. Preempt their objection. Submit a digital copy of your resume the same morning you go see them. Then tell them you submitted your resume today already, but that you wanted them to attach a face to the resume, and that's why you came by in person and brought along a paper copy of your resume. That's it. Many people will thank you. Many won't interview you on the spot, but some will.

And for others still, that you can't visit in person, call them. Then tell them that you submitted your resume to their website already, but that you called because you wanted them to attach a voice to your resume. Just don't be shy. Be persistent, but be polite and considerate too.

  • You make some valid points about job hunting in general, but completely fail to address the question. -1 – GreenMatt Feb 18 '18 at 3:18
5

I can react from a programmers perspective.

Back in the day, about 20-years ago the college (not university) education you could get to become a programmer was horrible. Following a course was taking a time machine and going back to the stone ages of IT. That's how fast the world of IT was moving.

It was the time that a smart high-school kid would outperform a college graduate.

That's when a years worth of experience as a programmer was better then 4 years worth of college education.

Fast forward 20 years to present, and during your career that little piece of paper that showed you completed college has paid off and career-wise you left behind and earn more then most of the people that skipped college and started programming right away.

Yes that manager was right. (but not in the end) But there wasn't really a way for you to keep the conversation going because the statement he made was a "closer" he had already made up his mind.

3

His response was to dismiss my part time work and state that college was a waste of time and that a single year of "real world experience" was better than a college degree. That left me dumbfounded.

This is a common attitude in my industry. But, really, what's better?

In my industry, there are three major paths of positive credentials. Real world experience is good. The formal educational process behind getting a college degree is good. And there are industry certifications, which can be more relevant than a lot of college material due to being more updated, and may be training that is more formal than some job experiences, can also be good.

The experience (whether educational or professional) that will serve you the best is whatever resonates most with the person who will be making the hiring decisions. And since there are multiple people who make hiring decisions, and some of them have different attitudes than other people, you're not going to be able to follow one strategy and have the most perfect possibility for all interviewers.

The best combination is likely to have them all. College degrees don't expire, so they're great to get. Experienced professionals who have several years, or even decades, really don't get a whole lot of additional benefit for just one or even four more years. (For instance, if a person has 38 years instead of 34 years, those extra four years may not have as much of an impact as also having a college degree.) Yet some people will not value the time as much, or at all, with some even calling it a waste of time.

What could I have said to keep the interview going?
And... I'm here right now to get that valuable single year of "real world experience" by becoming part of your organization. That is the next career step. I'm well prepared to accomplish that by effectively using the foundational skills that I have mastered, as well using the techniques that your company embraces. I know this, I'm quite good at that, and have a great aptitude for another task. How can these skills be used in your organization?

Get the focus off of the decision that the hiring person has already expressed a disagreement with. Attempting to win a disagreement is unlikely to work well. Moving on from a conversational topic which is not working well, and directing the conversation onto a different task that will work well, is much likely to cause the interview to spin off in a positive direction that involves the employer thinking good things, like how well you would contribute to the team if the employer decides to cooperate with your idea of having the employer hire you.

2

Assuming you wanted to keep the interview going, I can see two responses, both questions.

1) Simply ask "Why do you think that?" If the interviewer responds in any reasonable way, at least you learn something about their mindset (which may serve you in future interviews), and you may present yourself as an enquiring sort of person.

2) A bit more confrontational response would be something along the lines of "How am I supposed to get real world experience in my field without a degree?" Depends on the field, of course, but most people don't have the family connections or pure BS-ing ability to get tech jobs without one.

1

I can offer a second programmer's perspective: modern software shops want: a very narrow set of skills in a very specific milieu, and evidence that you're house-trained. By the latter I mean that you can operate in an office environment without distracting the other workers. The problems faced by and the time horizons of real world work is far more rigid and far less forgiving of "creative" solutions. They want a workable solution in the least time.

This environment is so unlike college course work (though like college group projects!) that taking outside internships is the desired form of college work.

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    The new trends of programming are Data Science, AI, etc. which require math/stats knowledge taught in the college. – scaaahu Feb 19 '18 at 4:22
  • True. But that's not yet the bulk of jobs. We don't have enough information about the OP's prospective job to know if that matters here. But more importantly, I'm not suggesting now college. I'm suggesting a different, internship-focused choice of jobs while in college. – Derrell Durrett Feb 19 '18 at 4:45
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    My point is that modern software shops will need math/stats knowledge soon. So, the hiring manager who said "You should have skipped college" may be right yesterday, but will be deadly wrong tomorrow. – scaaahu Feb 19 '18 at 5:12
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    @DerrellDurrett-I believe your experience with the real world are quite limited and is actually the opposite of a "modern software shop". There are plenty of places that employ people to create software that allows them to use their creativity and requires knowledge and SW skills well beyond just the part of writing code. If the type of environment you describe would make someone miserable, as it would me, then that is exactly why a degree is worth it many times over, even if we ignore that college graduates make on average a million dollars more than non-graduates over their lifetime. – Dunk Feb 21 '18 at 21:06
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    @NPSF3000-I believe that scaaahu's statement boils down to the definition of "good". There is a strong push to make computers "programmable" by the masses and will be common-place in the next 10-20 years. That means, if your programming expertise lies only in GUI, Database or Web page development then what may be a "good" job now is probably not going to pay well in the near future. What is not known is if there will be some niche for those people to flow into to maintain a "good" job. People with a degree are likely to have more wide ranging options because of their breadth of knowledge. – Dunk Feb 21 '18 at 21:26
1

To directly answer your question "What do I do to keep the interview going?", the answer is "You don't."

  1. Part time work IS professional experience.
  2. A college degree is NOT a "waste of time". It is valuable, especially if it is related to the industry you're working in.

Personally it impresses me that you worked part time while studying. I worked full time in my final year and, to be honest, I took on too much. So something which doesn't impress him will impress someone else (and most others, in my opinion).

You do not want to work for this manager as he is uninformed and, ironically, unprofessional.

Also, the currently most up-voted answer states "Shrug it off and keep looking; you can't win them all" but you did win because you're not working for this manager and you've learnt from this experience.

  • I worked part time in college for 1/2 my time in college. When I graduated the area I lived in was severely depressed economically and the best I could do for a while was a part time job that was only tangentially related to my field of study. That was part of the reason I was desperate to get a full time job. – GreenMatt Feb 19 '18 at 20:16
  • @GreenMatt And what you just said now would've been a great response to the manager at the time. But who wants to work for the small-minded? Certainly not me :) – Jamie Butterworth Feb 20 '18 at 8:25
1

Based on:

His response was to dismiss my part time work and state that college was a waste of time and that a single year of "real world experience" was better than a college degree.

The guy was either trying to incite an emotion for fun, downplay your qualifications in hope of offering low pay for work, or he has a few loose squirrels and is unable to deduce that this was the beginning of your "real world experience".

I would chalk it up to my latter conclusion but any of these conclusions would be a red flag that you do not want to work for a person like this.


If you were really desperate for a job then you could have tried:

This is the start of my "real world experience".

0

If you really wanted this position, you could have said something like

Yes, I've come to learn that real world experience is important, and that's why I'm here now. I'm hoping you'll hire me so I can gain some relevant experience, to stand me in good stead in the future.

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    companies don't hire you to do you a favor, they hire you to improve their business. – WetlabStudent Feb 21 '18 at 11:53
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Your interviewer was extraordinarily unprofessional.

Great candidates come from a variety of backgrounds, and dismissing a college education so brusquely in an interview means your interviewer isn't interested in diversity on the team. It's possible the manager just doesn't want to hire someone at the entry level. If that is the case, you are lucky not to have this job—the manager handled a common situation (believing a candidate is underqualified) really poorly.

Having said this, might you have come off as arrogant about your college education and the experience gained from your part-time jobs? That is a reasonable red flag for an interviewer.

  • Regarding your last paragraph: The whole conversation was over in a couple minutes, so I don't think I had much chance to come off as arrogant ... or anything other than except young and inexperienced. – GreenMatt Feb 21 '18 at 19:31
  • I'm not saying you did, just saying that it's a possibility. – La-comadreja Feb 21 '18 at 21:51
0

The high vote answer assumes the interviewer in question didn't "like" degrees. Some people certainly do take against people with particular degrees, through jealousy or fear for their own job when they see young MBAs rising around them...

But this is pretty unprofessional behaviour during an interview.*

They were prompting you argue with them; to fight back, defend yourself.

Not all discussions in your professional life are going to be Q&As and this flagrant dismissal of an education seems more likely an attempt to get you to disagree, to justify yourself, to see how assertive you are and how well you can communicate under pressure.

It's not a nice interviewing technique, but it's not invalid.
It's certainly not the type of prompt you should ignore.

A good candidate, in this interviewer's eyes will be able to explain what transferable skills you get from formal education, and be able to compare what they would have got from straight work. It may be that the balance in your case does tip towards work, but that's not the point of the exercise. Being able to acknowledge your situation now, and hold a conversation under fire is.

I'm not saying any of this is appropriate —it will depend on the job— but that's just how some people tick. They want a fighter, a "chip of the ol' block", somebody they can work with, rather than order around all day.

* Unless you're advertising a BA in David Beckham Studies and want to take a technical job. Some degrees are a waste of time and money... But even so, this isn't a dead end. The interviewer has given you an opportunity to continue.

  • Unfamiliar with David Beckham Studies ... is that similar to Trump University? Also, I don't think this guy wanted me to defend my life choices, I think he just didn't want a "fresh out" and wanted to end the conversation ASAP. And yes, he was "pretty unprofessional" IMO. – GreenMatt Feb 21 '18 at 19:33
0

None of the other answers appear to mention this angle:

He was looking to hire almost-graduates or non-graduates, because then he could pay them less. Since you have a degree, you would be expected to ask for a full salary of the level you would be working as.

  • That may happen sometimes, but doesn't really make sense in my case, since the guy ended the interview (virtually) immediately after stating that degrees are worthless and a single year of real world experience is worth more than a degree. – GreenMatt Aug 14 '18 at 19:14
-3

I've taken part in many interviews, and here is hopefully my helpful perspective in answering this.

I believe that each person at the table carries a unique approach and value system (On all sides of the table).

  • Some people like to examine your response, such as eluded to in the comments.

  • Some people like to weed out most people by encouraging them to walk away.

  • Some are simply showing up, and getting paid to be there.

Regardless of all of these things, there is a leveraged way to handle the situation, and it is pretty consistent across these types of reasons of what interviewers are looking for.

In this particular case, a good response could be as simple as:

I would like the opportunity to gain such an experience! Where do I sign up?

This shows that you can roll with the punch that they just served, and if you can put that kind of positive spin throughout the conversation, this will set you above the rest.

The key ingredients:

  1. Positive attitude - people in general (but especially business people) are looking for this character trait. IMHO, the reason is: business is challenging, and the ones who would rely on you to be valuable to them, need to feel that you would help to move them in a positive direction. In other words, positivity equates to success, because it implies willingness, energy, fortitude, etc....
  2. Respect - when you say something that does not challenge a statement that somebody just made, but at the same time walk in agreement with them (even if it is not for the same exact reason), it shows that you are capable of respecting them. This is important, as it also shows that you are capable of working within their team of employees, who have already proven their worth so to speak. In other words, it makes you shine as a good citizen to that person and that company.

protected by Mister Positive Feb 19 '18 at 17:06

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