I read a recent blog post that got me thinking about my own clients. In the post, Eight Reasons Startup Incubators are Better than Business School, the author makes some very compelling arguments, including making $100,000 rather than spending $100,000 to acquire the “handy” degree.

I have worked with hundreds, actually close to 1,000, executives over the years. Many of them not only did not have an advanced degree, they didn’t have an undergraduate degree either.  The reason, they were able to jump into a great position, making a significant amount of money and it was an opportunity that was just too enticing to refuse.

Others went the path of joining a startup company and growing with that company. That meant wearing many hats and getting a comprehensive “schooling” it what makes a successful company tick.

These professionals went on to have long careers, full of accomplishments and successes and yet when they hit the job market, even now that they’re executives, they’re often worried about their lack of a degree.

I counsel them that their experiences and knowledge gained in the school of hard knocks, can trump a degree, but that they have to use different techniques in their career transitions to be sure they’re seen by decision makers and not screened out early in the process.

That means not relying on things like job boards and typically requires going around HR. In most cases these two channels (which are often inundated with candidates) are screening people out based on a list of selected criteria with a degree frequently being a part of that list.

I agree that real world experience, including startup incubators, can be better than business school. But a case can also be made for having those “handy” degrees. There’s more than one path to the top and a combination of education, giving you a solid foundation on which to build, and real world experience will also help you reach great heights.


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