15 Things You Don’t Need College To Learn

We want you written on a chalkboard at the office

I make one statement in my “How to Be An Outstanding Organization!” speaking engagements that generates spontaneous applause—and it’s this:

“Outstanding organizations hire and promote character over credentials and college degrees.”

I suspect those who clap have been passed over for a pay increase and bigger title—or didn’t get hired somewhere—because they skipped college or didn’t attend the “right” school. Sadly, they’ve felt the pain of watching someone else win the opportunity they sought. Also sadly, the employer possibly missed out on the person of character desperately needed.

You know, the person who does crazy, unusual, and abnormal stuff like this:

  • Shows up (on time), works hard
  • Asks questions
  • Cares, makes suggestions
  • Adapts quickly to change
  • Owns mistakes and results
  • Demonstrates loyalty
  • Tries new things, takes risks
  • Serves people
  • Tells the truth
  • Radiates joy
  • Collaborates
  • Seeks coaching
  • Invests in self-development
  • Possesses a mature attitude of “earning” over “deserving”
  • Practices Personal Accountability rather than blaming and whining

If you come across this person, hire him/her today—even if you don’t have an opening!

The reality is this:

Organizations often fail to hire the best people because of artificial and arbitrary selection criteria.

This problem is founded in the requirement that candidates have a college degree. The truth is, not everyone should go to college.

What did he say!?!?!?

I know, I know … it’s easy to robotically ask a high school senior, “So, where are you going to college next year?” or congratulate one with, “You got accepted at Cornell? Good for you!” 

But show me the young person who’s heading straight from high school to contributing to our society—a.k.a., working, paying bills, and supporting themselves—and I will congratulate them all day long.

My perspective on this whole college thing:

When I think, How did I go from working a boring desk job in the 1980s to loving life as an author and speaker? three words come to mind:

Steve            Jim            David

(Click each name to see who they are)

Without these men, not a single human being would be gaining value from QBQ! and Outstanding! because QBQ, Inc. would not exist.

Their teachings, mentoring, and coaching got me where I am and not one of these gents has a college degree!

Am I saying people shouldn’t go to college? No. But I am suggesting employers change their recruiting, interviewing, and selection processes—and parents ponder these questions:

Is college the best next step for this young person?

Will going to college build his/her character?

Will college enable my child to add value to the world?

Is the crushing debt incurred worth it?

Is my high schooler heading toward college just because want them to or because peers are going?

And a question for employers everywhere:

Do our hiring policies, processes, and practices preclude us from procuring phenomenal people?!


I hope executives, managers, and HR folks will ask that question.

And, parents, we must rethink our thinking. It’s not true that our child must go to college. Maybe, just maybe, my high schooler should simply get to work.

Who knows, contributing to society might be the best education they’ll ever get.

Oh, one final thought: The “A” students wind up working for the “C” students anyway!

Your input and opinions are welcome. Feel free to comment below!

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10 Responses

  1. John, as one of those who did not attend college (I did attend one semester for personal growth on a specific subject) I couldn’t agree more. My experience of 30+ years working has, by one institution, been credited the same as a master’s degree (four years of experience equal to 1 year of education). I know I have been overlooked for promotions and pay raises, but I also know the path I took those many years ago have been the right path for me. I won’t say the “school of hard knocks” has been all roses, but I would put my practical experience against “book learning” almost any day.

  2. Loved your list of traits for a Person of Character. I had a recent discussion with one of my District Managers last week about a terminated employee who accused her of favoritism, and her response was, ” you bet I show favoritism; towards employees that “show up on time every day, serve people not themselves, are team players, are personally accountable, not defensive…(insert any or all of your list here). I thought her response was priceless, obviously she was paying attention to your presentation in Palm Springs. Michael

  3. Sometimes I think my current employer would not hire me today if I were to apply. I didn’t graduate from an acclaimed school, or with great grades, top honors, or any accolades. So I hear what you are saying. Though in the absence of real world work experience, sometimes a degree is the way the “kids” get experience to ask the right questions, and be able to think logically. Note that I specifically did not say think the way I do, because that’s almost the opposite of what I want. But I do need associates to work with who can contribute intelligently to a conversation in a business environment. When I was in stores, I would totally agree with you that the ability to learn, willingness to learn and motivation will get you far and that a degree is not necessarily even beneficial to running a business and helping customers.

  4. Hi John, Yes I am a high school drop out, a “quitter” that was the last time I have quit anything. I encourage all.. go to school, go to college, try for that new job, stand up be heard, find a job, live your dream… most important do something and don’t quit trying. I started as a laborer, then mechanic, then shop owner, then regional Tech Manager, then Tech & Training Manager for North America, Production Manager, Quality Manager, R&D Testing Manager and now Product Manager covering North & South America markets for a leading global company. I have been to 16 foreign countries to speak, present, train or to listen, learn, be trained by others. My worst trait is I’m lazy, yes lazy. I can do most jobs in 6 hours that takes 8 to do, all because I’m lazy if I work hard I can have extra 2 hours time to be lazy. Most people who know me would say there is not a lazy bone in my body, but then again people don’t have to know everything:) In ’96.. ’97 I forget but I didn’t forget this, Flipping the Switch presented by John Miller, a one day seminar. What I learn was looking at ones self holds a lot of the answers that one looks for in life, for me anyway, as I can only speak for myself. I had a CFO cut my pay by 15% one year because I didn’t have a college degree, I looked in the mirror at home with tears in my eyes, what am I going to do? After sometime to work through some anger and a blow to my self esteem, I just decided to keep on helping other including her and get on with life, it will all work out. I’m still with that company today she is not and when I think of her on occasion, I just feel sad for her and hope she has found the answers she has been looking for, smile and get on with life. I did get compensated by a new incoming HR VP who thought it was an injustice, restored my pay to what it was and $7,000 annual pay raise on top of that. Never seen a raise like that since, hadn’t been looking for one either:) I am heading into my golden years as I have been told, all I can say is full steam ahead, the ride has and is great. Thanks to you John and all the rest of the people in the world who carried me until I could walk for my self and help others. Isn’t it all about helping others or did I miss something? By the way I did get my GED High School Equivalent Diploma. Sorry for the book, I know book writing is your vocation keep up the good work. Thanks John.

  5. I just turned 35 this year and I only have my high school diploma. But I didn’t go to school because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my work life and I wasn’t going to go to school, incur that debt for something I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. Trust me that doesn’t make me less smart than the people who did go to University. And, I hate to point this out to anyone hiring but, I was AWESOME at school and did NOT behave anywhere close to how I should have behaved. I did not practice any of the above “People of Character” traits but I could sure fly my way through a test of any kind. Just remember that simply because you can pass a standardized test (or college test of any kind) doesn’t mean that you hiring someone who is smart or capable. I now practice all of the above traits (as best I can) and I work hard at my job because I want to be proud of it. Very little secondary schooling, but when I went to get my license (I sell insurance) I passed the test before I actually knew ANYTHING about insurance. I’m just a really good test taker. Remember that just because someone can take the tests or pass university doesn’t make them any better or worse than someone who actually knows what they are talking about. Employers should be looking at the entire package and not just the schooling. 🙂

  6. Hi John,

    I love this one! As a high school graduate I went straight into the work force and never looked back. I found that people that work hard are “lucky” and that “lucky” people are hard workers who practice each of the crazy attributes you listed. Personal responsibility for your own “lot in life” is a great starting point no matter your education. A simple message for this simple mind.

    thanks for the message and thanks for for QBQ!

  7. When my grandson announced that he was enlisting in the Army right after graduation from High
    School (with honors), I was upset. I thought he was too bright to pass up the opportunity to go to college, particularly since several schools had expressed interest in admitting him and offering scholarships. Now, however, I see his wisdom in going into the Army now, getting experience, and being away from family who try to control his life. He has proved that he can succeed inspite of obstacles, his grades proved that. He has never beeen in trouble and all who get to know him (Teachers, JROTC Commander and buddies, friends, and grandparents who were not permitted to see him much as he grew up) admire him for his courtesy, integrity and love for others. I am now proud of his decision and support him as best I can. He has truly taken responsibility for his own actions.

  8. Although much of what you say is true, the fact is that companies have changed their requirements so much that a job that my wife got 30 years ago with a H.S. diploma now takes a Bachelor’s degree – to do clerical entry! Is this right, or does it contribute to better employees? Of course not, probably the opposite because those new hires will get bored and just move on. But we have to deal in reality, so for the present – send your children to college. I do like receiving the QBQ newsletter and it does keep the brain cells alive.

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