The TandemLaunch office is filled with engineers, computer scientists and physicists. On the business side, we tend to hire people with backgrounds in marketing, project management or controlling. But every once in a while somebody comes along with a non-traditional degree (for us) and just impresses us enough to get a position despite all that stuff on the job description. Maria Dlugosch is one of those. She has a message for everybody considering her field of study:
Whatever you do, don’t study political sciences!
If someone were to ask me about the biggest mistake I’ve made in my life so far, the answer would be quite simple. Ok, a 23 you (hopefully) haven’t made plenty of decisions that you’re already regretting, but in my case the answer is easy: My biggest mistake was to study political science.
It all sounded so good on paper. I was accepted into what one might call an “elite” degree program. I’d study for 5 years, ending with the Master – degrading the Bachelor’s degree to a mere sign post on the way. I would study at the best universities in Germany and France which would give me the opportunity to not only gain intercultural competences, see how different cultures work and study, and boost my French to an almost bilingual level, no; I would also receive both a French and German Master at the end, giving me the opportunity to work in both countries. Sounds good, right?
Well, reality proved to be much more … realistic. Most of the classes I attended / had to attend were an insult to scientific research – the professors just repeated the class they’d given one or two years before. There wasn’t any movement or innovation in the institutions. Yet, they didn’t completely fail to teach me something. I am now perfectly capable to talk about any given subject in three languages fluently and two more on a more basic level (I started studying language classes because they gave me the feeling that I was actually learning something). Yet these conversations will have little or no substance. I just know how to “bullshit” or “jouer la flute”. What I say will sound great and perhaps even make you think that I’m a very educated and intelligent person. But it’s basically just the result of random facts I picked up on the caps of the “Snapples” lemonades and all the “how to hold a speech” classes I’ve attended. I am able to not only make a tax declaration in three different countries, but I also know the rules of tax exemption, amortisations and other tricks to reduce your taxable income. Yet, I have no idea how to earn any income at all.
But I wasn’t the only one to realize this. In fact, a feeling of panic soon settled among my fellow students – heavily supported by our professors who wouldn’t stop mentioning how bad our chances of getting a job really were (except for this one guy, who, without any hesitation, told us not to accept any job offer with a salary of under 3.000 Euros a month, because that would mean we’d sell ourselves into slavery.). This feeling of panic divided the students into two groups: One I call the “experts”, the others the “chiefs”. The experts try to improve their employability by focussing entirely on one little niche. I know a guy who specialised in democracies in sub-Saharan Africa. He hoped that by gaining expertise in this little, finely marked-off topic, he’d have a better chance at finding a job. Instead, his efforts looked rather desperate and hopeless. The “chiefs” take the opposite direction. They don’t want to understand, they want to rule. They think that by virtue of having studied, they’re superior to all other workers regardless of experience. They can be easily identified by a bewildering behaviour that settles somewhere between arrogance and naiveté. My sister, who didn’t study but chose to work in a Hotel instead, knows some good stories about Chiefs. Like this one intern who studied “international Tourism” (by the way: mistrust people that study something involving the adverb “international”. It is almost always a sign of a vain attempt to give the degree a bit of unwarranted flair.) She told my sister how to do her job. It wouldn’t have been that bad if my sister hadn’t worked in her job for four years at this point and if the intern would have actually done something instead of just standing around and “using space and air” (quote of my sister). So my sister insisted that the intern gained some practical experience. It soon turned out that this 25 year old tourism student had no idea how to make a bed. Or clean a bathroom. This makes her the Chief of all Chiefs.
So what to do instead? What did I do?
1. Set your focus. Thankfully, my studies permitted that I could chose the focus of my classes. So I ended up having few political sciences classes (as few as I had to do) and lots of economics classes, which proved to be better prepared and much more up to date. I’m not saying that studying economics is the only possible way to go. Absolutely not! I chose these classes because I have always been interested in how the world works. Since it turned out that political science couldn’t answer my questions, I turned to economics instead.
2. Do it yourself. When the university couldn’t satisfy my thirst for knowledge, I took care of it myself. Get a pass to your local library or use the excellent libraries existing at almost every university. Go to the sections you usually don’t visit but which have always interested you. Ever since I started strolling through the science section of my library, I not only understood what physics really is but I also came close to understanding the theory of relativity. Once.
3. Do what you want. Instead of listening to all these “what you have to do to improve your employability” classes and books, do what you feel like doing. I chose to continue my work as a camp counsellor, and a bunch of 6 year olds taught me more management skills than all my “management skill” classes before.
4. Small is always better. When the time comes for you to look for a job (or even for an internship), look for small companies. Why? If you take the mission of running a company and allocate it to 5 employees including you then chances are good that you’ll actually learn something and get a true insight into running a company. If you’re one of 500 or even 5000 employees, all you get to do is the stuff no-one else wants to do. That doesn’t teach you anything.
5. And quite simply: Don’t panic.