Return on Investment of a degree from a business perspective

creating-value-and-driving-customer-satisfactionIn a previous piece, I began a discussion about the return on investment (ROI) of a university education. From a student standpoint, the answer to what makes a university education is personal, and the math to figure out if it is worth it isn’t clean. Now, I’d like to continue the discussion from the standpoint of what I’ve learned about hiring recent university grads and seasoned vets alike as a small business owner is science and technology.

Hiring people is very much like shopping for a service. You want the best value for your resources.

In a small business, I’ve learned that small things can make a huge impact, and big things can be so overwhelming you fail. Now, as I moved my research and development firm from a solo operation to hiring 10 employees, I beginning to understand what my grandfather tried to teach me before about making things worth it. My decisions weren’t just about me any more, but if I made one wrong decision, I could risk the livelihoods of those that depended on me for work.

For example, hiring the wrong person can be a drain on your time, energy, and financial resources. One person alone won’t kill the company, especially if you solve the problem quick enough. More than that can absolutely kill your business. Every person that I bring in and have to train, I have to take the time out of working with existing clients or getting new ones that can help keep the bills paid for all of us. The longer the new hire takes to settle in, the more of a drain on resources that they are. And, although I’m fond of giving everyone their first real start, even I have a line drawn in the sand where I say, “It’s not working out. Here’s a letter of reference for your next position. Good luck.”

In the beginning I had to be very, very careful on who I hired because money is a precious commodity in business, and without it, I couldn’t afford to run. Without a strict budget, I wouldn’t be able to buy supplies, much less pay for their contract wages. I kept this in mind as I carefully weeded out my independent contractors that I would sign on.

It’s not about the pedigree, though, it’s about value. 

What I looked for was not a university pedigree, but the most for my money. The keys I looked for were reliability, hard-working, and creativity among other things. It occurred to me that these traits come with maturity, not age, and not a piece of paper from a university. This is why employers, when not guilt tripped into hiring a friend of a friend or relative, look for a combination of education and experience. This also explains why when I was fresh from earning my bachelor’s degree with no experience, I couldn’t get a job in my chosen field, and thus went back for another round, and even in a slightly different direction.


Even the Guardian questions if the degree is worth it. Click image for article.

A lot of people have to do this, and it’s often discouraging in this economic age. Several of the people who graduated at the same time I did from a master’s program in geology spent over two years trying to find a job that fit them. Others stopped trying because they had to pay the bills and student loans back, so they had to just pick up what they could. On the other hand, I’ve seen people who were lucky enough to get internships while they were in their undergraduate courses, which lead to a high paying job right out of school. I’ve also made the acquaintance of several people who never even came near a university, didn’t attend a single class, and have gotten managerial jobs that pay a salary of $50k a year.

With this variety of outcomes, it’s hard to understand what that degree means. From the business standpoint it gets even more interesting. During my first round of hiring, I found that going to a prestigious university didn’t mean they knew what they were doing, and sometimes those with no university degree at all had the most field experience. I found that beginners with passion needed less hand-holding than those with degrees and training — but this is probably due to the non-corporate vision we built into Insanitek.

I needed the people I hired to be capable, reliable, and most of all, efficient. After all, these people are more than just an investment in the company, they are the backbone to a small developing company. I learnt what to look for via trial and error, how to weed out the ones that were going to actually work, versus the ones that wanted an easy paycheck. Every hiring round I have people sending me unsolicited notes via social media asking me what I think about hiring them, and every time I tell them to jump through the hoops. Why? Because it shows me that you actually want it, and you’re not going to back out. This is not something you learn by going through any university, but something that’s inside you. Every step of the process tells the hiring manager a bit about you, who you are, and to what lengths you are going to go to for your dreams. We design them to find the right fit to give us the best ROI on our employees.

We’ve all been there wondering if we did the right thing and took the “right path”.

Every time we are denied a job, we wonder why, and the questioning starts all over again. We bemoan wasting time and money, cursing the system, the competition, and the company that passed us over. Sometimes, though, it’s not about the “right path” in terms of efficiency, it’s about fit. Some of the strongest people to fit a job and company don’t take the most efficient path. I have no easy, narrow 5-point list to give you to help you out in this. Instead, I’ll spread a piece of advice Jay Melosh, a distinguished professor at Purdue gave me: “Follow your passions, regardless if it leads you to academia or industry. You’ll be happier, and you’ll succeed without trying.” He’s right. Your path may take a lot of twists, but you’ll be happy and feel like it was all worth it every step of the way.

Follow your passions, regardless if it leads you to academia or industry. You'll be happier, and you'll succeed without trying. Click To Tweet

So, the question of ROI of university from a business perspective is slightly less cloudy. University education provides that training and experience, but you won’t have any leg up from anyone else that has gone to university unless you can show that it has given you something different in some fundamental way. This is where the true value lies for both yourself and your future — whatever you decide to do with it. Make the most of it while you can, but know that it takes going beyond the degree to make it really worth the money.

Your thoughts

How will you make the most of your time? If you had to do it over again, how would you do to make it better? Any regrets out there?