Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Can my daughter be the next Carly? Should I want her to be?

Carly Fiorina graduated from Stanford University (medieval history major!) and holds a Masters from MIT. She was CEO of HP, ran for the US Senate, chairs and supports several non-profit organizations, was diagnosed, treated for, and beat cancer, and is now running for President of the United States. At one time named the most powerful woman in business by Fortune Magazine, she is now hoping to become the most powerful woman in the world.

Whether you disagree with Carly's political views or believe that she made the wrong choices for HP while acting as CEO, it is hard not to be impressed with her achievements. HP is one of the biggest companies in the world. At the time of Carly's leadership, it was in the top 20.

Years ago, at my sister's graduation from Barnard College, the Managing Editor for the Weekend Edition of the New York Times (a prestigious position) gave the commencement speech. I remember her telling the all female graduating class that while her rise to the top of her field was rewarding, she had also made sacrifices on the way. Her message to the young women was, "You can't have everything. Along the way, everyone needs to make choices."

When I began researching more about Carly to write this article I expected to find a similar sentiment. While she certainly rose up through the ranks of business, she must have made choices that she regretted, right? Being powerful is a nice achievement but is she happy? I found myself wondering if this is a life I would wish on my own daughter? Is the price one has to pay for fame and fortune worth it?

For anyone to climb the corporate ladder, long hours, dedication, persistence, and an understanding of company politics are just the beginning. Even to be considered for the top job in a Fortune 100 company means that you have already had an impressive and successful career. Carly no doubt has proven that she is dedicated, ambitious, and intelligent. She took on challenging roles and showed that she was capable of handling them.

In her autobiography from 2006, Tough Choices: A Memoir, she talks about advising a fellow employee with the following:
You cannot sell your soul. Don’t become someone you don’t like because of the pressure. Live your life in a way that makes you happy and proud. If you sell your soul, no one can pay you back.
This does not sound like someone who wishes her life had turned out differently. She goes on to say that she has no regrets. While I don't know for sure if she is "happy", I believe that she is satisfied with her life and is confident in the choices she made. Add to that ambition and belief in herself. "Yes" I would like my daughter to be the next Carly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

If our kids can't get jobs anyway, why bother going to college?

As a follow up to last week's article and all the accompanying statistics about the challenges our kids will face finding a job after college, I began to think that it might make more sense to put it off for a few years. I still think that college is important (necessary). If our kids are not qualified to flip burgers now without a degree then they better get one. But, does it have to be right after high school?

There is a reasonable period of floating around after college before settling into a job that requires a degree anyway. According to the Fed research, the unemployment rate drops steadily for college grads from a high at 22 years old to level off around 27 years old*. Would it be more valuable and less depressing for our kids to get the coffee shop job after high school and start college later when they are 23 or 24?

Consider two identical applicants: Bill and Bob. Both young men graduated from college this year with a 3.5 GPA and a BA in Business from the University of Arizona (acceptance rate of 77%). Both men finished their degrees in four years but that is where the similarity ends. Bill is 22 and he went directly from high school into college. Bob is 27*. Bob finished high school and went to work as a Barista at the local Starbucks for 5 years working his way up to Shift Supervisor before leaving to go to college. If you were screening resumes, which one would you wish to meet? Or, more importantly, is there any difference at all? What if we add a 3rd candidate? Bryan is 27 and went to high school with Bob but then went straight to college. When he graduated he found a job as a Barista and has worked his way up to Shift Supervisor in the 5 years on the job. Bryan is applying for the same corporate, entry level position as Bob and Bill.

Age College Graduation Current Status Experience
Bill 22 2015 Recent Grad none
Bob 27 2015 Recent Grad Shift Supervisor
Bryan 27 2010 Shift Supervisor Shift Supervisor

Of the three "recent college grad" applicants described above, Bryan is probably the least attractive applicant in my opinion. As a recruiter, there is always the question for applicants like him, "Why didn't you get a real job sooner?" or "Is there something wrong with this applicant?" The same thinking does not apply to Bob who had his coffee job before college. The sad thing about this result is that Bryan may be the the most likely archetype for our own kids.

Of course, the potential danger for our Bob candidate who started college late is that he may also require another 5 years of floating around "after" college before he finds a job that requires a college degree which puts him at 32 years old before his career gets started. I don't believe this will be the case though. My educated guess about the reason behind the "floating years" is a lack of focus and career goals for most 22 year old grads. Something our Bob and Bryan candidates will have worked through already.

Starting college late may not be the right choice for all kids but given the job market and (probable) lack of stigma for late grads I think it is a reasonable alternative to consider.

*According to the powers that be in people statistics (U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), "...recent college graduates are those aged 22 to 27 with a bachelor’s degree or higher".

Thursday, June 11, 2015

More kids, same number of jobs...

In the year 2000 (when the economy was booming) 36 percent of employed college graduates age 22–27 worked in jobs that did not require a college degree. In 2014 that number was up to 46% (source).

Some kids do need time to adjust and to find a good job after school and this statistic includes those grads. However, can our kids (or the parents paying) afford to cover student loans, food, rent, gas, beer money on minimum wage (roughly $8 in most states)?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, from 2001 to 2012 the number of degrees earned increased by 39%, more college students competing for jobs. But that is OK since the number of available jobs increased as well, right? During the same period, the number of jobs increased 1.9%...(yes, I found that stat on wikipedia). So we have more grads competing for essentially the same number of jobs.

I am particularly critical of the number of business undergrads these days as I tend to believe that specializing makes our kids more employable so I searched for data to back up my hypothesis that the number of business grads had also increased as a percentage of total college graduates. I was wrong, the percentage of business degrees in 2012 was identical to those in 2001. In fact, the only degree with a major change in this time period is Education, which was 8.5% in 2001 and dropped to 6% in 2012. Interestingly, in a report by the Federal Reserve Bank of NY in 2014, students majoring in Education were among the most likely to get a degree related job after college. The only degree that beat Education was Engineering and the difference was too small to matter.

The increase in competitors (other kids with college degrees) has not kept up with the increase in jobs. The excerpt below from the Federal Reserve article sums it up:

What can students do to increase their chances of finding a good job upon graduation? It does appear that one’s college major matters: unemployment and underemployment rates differ markedly across majors. In particular, those who choose majors that provide technical training, such as engineering or math and computers, or majors that are geared toward growing parts of the economy, such as education and health, have tended to do relatively well. At the other end of the spectrum, those with majors that provide less technical and more general training, such as leisure and hospitality,  communications, the liberal arts, and even the social sciences and business, have not tended to fare particularly well in recent years.