How to Prove You're as Smart as Your Degree

Do you know what an Allen wrench is?

The engineer my friend hired a few years ago didn’t—despite his degree.

His employment status changed after that. You see, it’s one thing to be able to list a college, graduate program, or certificate on your resume. Competence is an entirely different matter, however.

What does this mean for you? How do you prove that you’re as smart as your resume implies? I’m glad you asked.

Keep Learning

There’s simply no replacement for learning. Certainly there are traditional routes you can follow to further your education like attending grad school or enrolling in an intensive course.

But it’s silly to assume those paths are the sum total of a good education. Growth is a constant and lifelong process, and information is more accessible than at any time in our history. You can take free online classes, listen to podcasts, watch videos, read voraciously, listen to audiobooks—the list goes on, and the variety of topics which you have access to is endless.

And certainly, since you have access to endless topics so long as you have an internet connection or a library card, you don’t really have any excuses.

Continuing to learn and push yourself is the best thing you can do if you want to be marketable. And, it’s not only good for your career and your brain (obviously), it’s also great for your self-esteem.

Put in Effort

You may be hearing your mom’s voice right about now, or maybe the voice of a teacher or mentor from your past. You know what? They’re right, and I can’t over-emphasize this.

Anyone can sign up for a class. Anyone can show up and sit through the class. It takes effort to actually draw as much knowledge as you can from that class, to apply that knowledge outside of the classroom (whether virtual or brick and mortar), and to build on that knowledge.

Effort separates the mediocre from the exceptional, and the amount of effort you put into expanding your knowledge is entirely, completely up to you.

The same goes for collecting credentials. I know some folks with long strings of acronyms after their names who are truly exceptional, and others who are not so exceptional.

Earning certifications or licenses can look good on paper initially and can certainly be a worthwhile investment. But anyone with five minutes of work experience knows a credential is only as good as the person behind it.

Demonstrate Mastery

Speaking of proving something, when you invest in your education, consider how you can go beyond just telling a potential employer or your current manager that you’ve completed a degree or earned a license, for example, and instead demonstrate your knowledge and skills.

After all, you’ve poured the time, energy, and money into bettering yourself. For heaven’s sake, don’t make anyone guess at whether or not you’re qualified. Show them that you are.

Because at the end of the day, it’s not what’s on paper that matters most. Yes, the paper gets you in the door, but that’s all a resume is—a foot in the door. It’s what you can do that matters most.

Employers don’t create jobs as favors to hand out to nice people with sleek applications. They create roles because they need something done that ultimately impacts their bottom line. It doesn’t matter how many accolades you have if you can’t do the work.

Finally, when you’ve completed a degree, program, or course, don’t think of it as reaching the finish line. I often tell new college graduates, “This is just the beginning. Your degree is a launchpad for much, much more.” Where you go in your career and how you move forward depends in no small part on how you handle yourself.

Keep learning. Keep challenging yourself. Keep building relationships across industries, gaining knowledge across industries, and looking for new opportunities.

You can’t stagnate if you’re always learning. And you won’t be stuck trying to figure out what you want to do and where you want to go in your career if you’re regularly exposing yourself to new things.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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