Archive for December, 2009

Comparing the Value of Degrees

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

In today’s Wall Street Journal article, The Alternative M.B.A.: One-Year Master’s Degrees, students are faced with a dilemma:

  1. Get a degree that is time-consuming, expensive, broad in scope, and widely-recognized.
  2. Get a degree that is faster, less expensive, narrow in scope, and untrusted in the marketplace.

You may not be in the market for an MBA, but these same choices face anyone seeking to continue his or her education, or even, to some extent, when selecting job openings for which to apply. As I mentioned in Boost Your Career with Professional Certifications, there are credentials you can acquire in a very short amount of time, but often for very specific skills that are not transferable to a wide variety of jobs, and that may or may not be highly regarded within your industry. The same is true, of course, for degrees.

At a recent industry event, I saw representatives from a local university promoting some of their degree programs:

  • MS in Computer Science
  • MEng (Information Engineering and Management)
  • MBA

Each program is interesting to me, but each one has certain limitations. For example, the MS in computer science is in a well-established and rigorous program. It would be a time-consuming degree, and once obtained, it would qualify me for a wide variety of technical positions. The MBA is also a widely recognized degree, which would qualify me for a wide variety of managerial positions. The MEng degree is a much newer program and the degree is not widely recognized; however, the program is designed for working professionals and can be completed while working full time. It would qualify me for managerial positions in IT.

Venn Diagram: Degree Programs and Skills

The MEng degree represents a much smaller area than either of the other 2 options. Specialization has advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that if a position is available that requires the intersection of those 2 skill sets, your qualifications will put you above candidates with only one or the other. The disadvantage is that such positions are far more rare, and that your qualifications for more general positions (in this example, in either IT or management) are not as strong.

Acquiring a more specific qualification in an in-demand field will be an excellent short-term strategy, but as a long-term strategy it is riskier: it is hard to predict today what skills will be in demand tomorrow. In either case, a degree (or an additional degree) will certainly put you above the competition.

Laugh Your Way to Success

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

In the article Success requires stepping outside your comfort zone, Gladys Edmunds relates how important it is to stretch yourself and broaden your experience into unfamiliar territory in order to succeed. Her example–taking a public speaking class–is one that a lot of people can relate to: it’s been said that more people are afraid of public speaking are afraid of death! She says that not only did she master a new skill, but she developed the confidence to stretch and grow again and again.

If public speaking experience is what you need, you could try Toastmasters, where people practice both prepared and impromptu speeches in front of a small group. However, I’ve observed that another venue has helped a lot of people, and may be more entertaining to boot: comedy.

Sketch and improv comedy classes are widely available in cities, and offer many of the same benefits: practice speaking, confidence in front of an audience, and preparing concise presentations (only funnier!).

Additionally, one participant mentioned that he believe improv comedy has made him a better listener. Many people, in the course of a conversation, become so focused on what they plan to say next that they stop listening to the speaker. Improv helps develop good listening habits so that you can better respond to the speaker and acknowledge his or her thoughts and ideas.

One place where being a good, responsive listener can really come in handy? Job interviews. Sure, you’ve read the list of 50, 100, or even 500 most-frequently asked interview questions. You’ve prepared your answers to, “What is the area in which you are weakest?” and “Tell me about a challenge at your last job that did not go well.” No matter how prepared you are, job interviews are bound to throw you a curveball: the ultimate high stakes improv!

Not convinced? Improv groups like The Brave New Workshop have been offering corporate training for years. Take a look at Improvisation: not just funny business for more examples.

Since the business world has taken an interest in improv and sketch comedy, you may find that such classes and groups are also a great place for casual, low-pressure networking.

With benefits like these, comedy is a great way to succeed:

  • Practice speaking in front of an audience
  • Improved writing skills (sketch comedy)
  • Improved listening skills (improv)
  • Personal growth and confidence
  • Networking
  • Laughs!

If comedy is one of your interests, this might be a compelling and engaging way to pick up practical skills.