Why Startups Shouldn't Hire People With Graduate Degrees

Last Updated Sep 7, 2011 12:22 PM EDT

It's likely that if a person attended graduate school, he will have a hard time translating his strengths into strong workplace performance -- especially at startups.

Most people who went to grad school did it to prolong adolescent needs for grade-based approval. (Note: This analysis comes from writers at the Chronicle for Higher Education.) This is because the grad school model is generally outdated for today's workforce, and high performers see this before they enroll. But people who are scared of trying to hold their own in the workforce see grad school as a way around the inevitable difficulties of finding a job one enjoys.

Here are three reasons why it's a decent bet to stay away from candidates with graduate degrees when you need to hire at your startup:

1. Humanities are for people who are afraid of adult life.
My experience with graduate school was for English. I tried it when I couldn't figure out what job I was qualified to do.

The answer, in fact, was that I was not qualified to do any job before grad school -- but I was not qualified to do any job after grad school either. So I left early, without the degree, when I realized graduate school is stupid.

It's not just the field of English that is a dead end. One would have had a better chance surviving the Titanic than getting a job as any type of humanities professor. Humanities PhD programs suck up time and energy with little return.

Most people who go to grad school for humanities defend their decision by saying they love their topic. But look, if you love your topic, you can do it after work. Just open a book and read it on your own.

2. Business school is for people who lack ideas and initiative.
The big question you should ask when business school graduates tell you they want to work for your startup is: Why did these people just dump $100,000 into a business degree instead of dumping it into their own company?

If they really wanted to work at a startup, why didn't they launch one? Clearly, money was not the barrier, because they had $100,000 to burn. So it's something else.

I think they don't start companies because they do not have any ideas. Or, in the case where a person actually does have ideas, he doesn't believe in himself enough to give his own ideas a shot.

So why should you believe in this person?

Take a look at how many smart people write about how business school is not a good path to entrepreneurship. The only reason we are even talking about business school in relation to entrepreneurship is that so many people want to be entrepreneurs that business schools had to launch entrepreneurship programs to attract those people.

During my days as a journalist, I interviewed Saras Sarasvathy, from Dartmouth's business school. She explained to me the research about the traits of a successful entrepreneur. And believe me, none of those traits requires a degree from business school.

3. Law school is for people who lack creativity and will likely fail in the workplace.
Yes, this is a generalization. But there is pretty good evidence to back up this generalization.

For starters, most lawyers hate being lawyers. There are five, big myths about being a lawyer, but the main problem boils down to this: To get in to law school, you have to be great at school (reading and regurgitating back to the professors what they want to hear) and you have to be great at test-taking (the LSAT still rules admissions).

So law school selects for people who are rule followers and like to be told what to do.

But to be a successful lawyer, you have to be great at marketing and client relations. Otherwise you won't make any money because you won't bring in any business.

People applying to law school ignore this problem. (And so do law schools, but that's another story.) The reason law students ignore it is because they are so desperate to have a clear path to money based on the skills they have exhibited in school. The desperate need for a safe route makes people ignore the fact that law school is very, very high risk for an unhappy life.

4. People with multiple degrees will be a pain in the ass.
Why would anyone get two degrees? It's like being a triple major. Anyone who is a triple major as an undergrad is likely to be awful to work with. A triple major is myopic in her knowledge, insecure with her own identity, and desperate to impress. There is no good reason to have a triple major in a world where it's clear that an undergraduate education does not really teach you anything about your major anyway.

The same can be said about people with multiple graduate degrees. It's just that as an undergrad, the triple major is trying to find an excuse not to have to socialize. A graduate student is trying to find an excuse not to have to embark on adult life. And that's not the kind of person who's going to add a lot of value to your company.

Which leads me to the best hire you can make: Someone who faces the difficulties of adult life head on and takes personal responsibility for building his own skills. Someone who makes time to develop social skills, test his own ideas, and take risks that are scary but necessary for growth.

Those people often look messy. Adult life is messy. But it's better to hire someone who has waded through the mess of growing up than someone who has avoided it at all cost.

Flickr photo courtesy of joebeone, CC 2.0

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