Getting the right degree from the right school is essential if you come from a specific high-achieving background. Everything you do from nursery school onward is directed at receiving that crucial fat envelope from the university of your dreams. But super-entrepreneur Elon Musk has a message for degree-obsessed young people and companies desperate to hire them: chill out already.
When asked in a 2014 interview about what university degrees he looks for on a resume, Musk explained that though credentials can be an excellent signal of someone’s abilities, they are not a prerequisite for achieving incredible things (or getting hired by Musk).
More evidence that we’re way too obsessed with degrees
As Musk points out, some of the best-known names in tech — from Bill Gates to Larry Ellison to Steve Jobs — failed to graduate, and the fact that greatness and gold-plated degrees don’t always go together seems complicated to argue with.
And that’s not only true when you’re talking about revolutionary geniuses. One recent analysis of job postings found that companies are increasingly demanding degrees for positions without them to save themselves all the hassle of sifting through more resumes. This degree of inflation means companies pay 30 percent more for talent than they need to.
How to thrive without a degree
The takeaway for hiring managers is pretty simple: yes, using degrees as shorthand for ability is a time saver, but it’s also costly. You’ll end up paying more for your people than you need to and miss out on exceptional talent.
But as AngelList noted when it recently flagged the Musk video in its weekly newsletter, Musk’s dismissive attitude toward academic accolades should also serve as a reminder to young people that if you put all your energy into grades and diplomas, you’re almost certainly not focusing enough on what matters: skills and the ability to continue updating them throughout your career.
So stop missing the forest for the trees. Yes, degrees are lovely, but that expensive piece of paper isn’t the be-all and end-all. The real prize in life isn’t the letters after your name; it’s the ability to accomplish extraordinary things. School isn’t required for that. Passion is.