Tag Archives: University of Utah

Do you really need all that education?

And now for something completely different, let’s ask ourselves the question: DO YOU REALLY NEED ALL THAT EDUCATION?

Arnold Kling doesn’t necessarily think so. Rather, education just separates the “wheat from the chaff. ”

There’s a great debate going on between a some economists over at Econlog.com.  Their question? Does more education endows more benefit, or is it just “signaling” to employers to select the smarter, harder working workers. It’s called “signal theory” and Bryan Caplan explains it like this:

If you haven’t heard, the signaling theory says that to a significant extent, education does not increase workers’ productivity. Instead, the fact that you obtain an education shows that you were more productive all along, which makes employers want to hire you.

Here’s a simple thought experiment to illustrate the distinction. Which would do more for your career: A Princeton education, but no diploma, or a Princeton diploma, but no education?

Does that mean we all take standardized tests in seventh grade and call it good? Enter the workforce at our level of IQ or productivity?  Not necessarily (though there are those who would say that standardized tests already do that):

Even firm believers in the signaling model like myself grant that schools teach some useful skills. But more importantly, this objection only works against specific kinds of signaling. Yes, if all that school signals is IQ, then a test is a cheap substitute. But what if school signals conscientiousness and/orconformism? Think about it this way: Would you want to hire a high school drop-out with a 150 IQ? Probably not, because you’d immediately think “This guy had the brains to do anything. Why didn’t he finish high school? What’s wrong with him?!”

But what about college? That graduate degree?  Necessary. Because it’s part of what differentiates the dumb from the smart, the lazy from the industrious. Academia may be so many hoops to jump through, result in a lot of social waste, but still provide the utility of helping employers find the best workers. It’s a conundrum, but not a contradiction.

You can believe that IQ matters quite a lot for earnings, but still think that education teaches nothing but bona fide job market skills. If this is so, then comparing the earnings of college graduates to high school graduates overstates the private benefit of education. Why? College graduates were smarter to begin with, so they would have earned more money than the typical high school graduate even if they didn’t go to college. Labor economists call this “ability bias.”

Similarly, you can believe that a lot of education is mere signaling, without thinking that IQ by itself puts money in your pocket. Suppose that the world is rigidly credentialist, so that no one will even consider a person without a degree for anything beyond a low-skilled job. If this is so, then comparing the earnings of college graduates to high school graduates overstates the social benefit of education. Why? Because part of the effect of education is just to make yourself look better compared to other people without increasing production.

As a high school drop out with less than a full five years of k-12 public education under my belt, I tend to lean towards the theory that much of public education is time wasted. Even as a high school dropout, I managed to earn a bachelors and a law degree. Neither degree came from Ivy League institutions, but nor were they bottom feeders, either. Quite the contrary. All without the full thirteen years of public education.

I don’t say this to toot my horn, but rather to note that it may not be necessary to attend the full gamut of public education to succeed. On the contrary, it is innate ability (aka IQ) and work ethic that is a greater indicator of success.

That said, I love learning, and I would never have turned down my years of study at Brigham Young or at the University of Utah’s College of Law for anything. Both were very enriching experiences, albeit a bit expensive, and I found them to be personally valuable.

High school, though, I could have done without. Even the year and a half I did attend. Waste. Of. Time.

Check out Bryan Caplan’s posts on the topic here and here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Some Advice on Job Interviews

Bow Ties
Image by shindohd via Flickr

If you know me, you know that I occasionally sport a bow tie. I’ve even been introduced as “the bow tie guy.” However, when I showed up for the interview for my current employment, sporting a black suit and a colorful bow tie, I was tactfully told by my future boss that I was probably over-dressed. Just a tad.

Yeah. The bow tie was out. I wear khakis and a tie, now. And on Fridays, Levis.

But I still landed the job. You see, they liked me. Let me explain.

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to take part in mock interviews up at the local law school as an interviewer for 1Ls just beginning their second semester of school. It was a surreal experience to find myself on the other side of the table, to remember my own similar experience just a few years ago, and to wonder how I presented myself at that time.

To be sure, I did not have a lot of opportunities to interview–when I finished my first semester of law school, the economy was slumping, and the law industry was about to enter one of its biggest slumps in years. On-campus interviewers were few, and I lost track of how many resumes I sent out and how many rejection letters I received back. “Bullets,” my dad called them, harking back to his own grad school experience of job applications, because they were like gun shots to the ego. For a while I kept them, like badges of honor, until I realized that they just took up space, and besides, I got a better job that had not required a letter, anyway.

Which brings me back to where I was going: the interview and why I landed a job. A few observations, both from my experience and from talking with the mock interviewees up at the SJ Quinney College of Law earlier this week. Each impressed me as articulate, accomplished, and intelligent. They’ll make good advocates for their clients someday.

1. First observation: few law students have a clue about what they can do with their law degree, or, for that matter, what they want to do with a JD, other than pay off their loans. As I spoke with these students, most of them gave vague answers about their plans in terms of wanting to work for themselves, or work ineither transactions or litigation. It was clear they had little awareness for how broad a world the law encompasses within those categories.

Ironically, I don’t think I knew much better when I showed up to my interview wearing that bow tie. However, when asked, I immediately answered that I wanted to be an effective attorney, and I left it at that, without frills or garnishment. And that’s all my boss was looking for–an attorney to lighten his work load, albeit one he could get along with.

2. Which leads to my second observation: interviewees should try to be interesting and also interested, too. If you are in an interview, you are on paper at least minimally sufficient for the job. The question becomes Would I want to spend a lot of time with this person? All of the students I interviewed were interesting, and I don’t think any of them were unlikeable. However, there were some that made me feel more relaxed than others, and those were the ones I would want to hire. They also asked questions, were curious about what I did, what the office was like, and what skills I used.  In the law, or out of it, you spend a lot of time working, maybe even more time than at home, and you might as well work with people you like.

3. Last observation: law students think about future income, a lot, maybe too much.  As law students, unless they have a ton of savings, a sugar daddy, or some other way to pay for law school, they’re taking on a lot of debt. I know that, and every interviewer, unless they’re completely disconnected from reality, knows that. Nevertheless, it was disconcerting when interviewees noted, sometimes at length, that they were most concerned about how much debt they would have.Its a valid concern, but I don’t think it conveys to the right thing in an interview. It says: I need a job, any job, not I am an asset to you, which is really what theinterviewee should be saying. My advice: leave off the salary talk until the topicis brought up by the interviewer, and even then, deflect it until you’ve landed the job. At that point, the firm/company has made their decision, and you can negotiate from a stronger position. It’s going to come up; just don’t bring it up in your first meeting.

To sum up: if you’re a law student, start thinking about what you can do with a law degree, be interesting and interested, and don’t talk about your debt or income needs. Evaluate your interests, go to breakfast or lunch with people doing what you want to do, and start planning for it. Opportunities usually come while making other plans, but you only find those opportunities when you are out making, and working, those plans. We are drawn to a person with a plan, interviewers included. It shows leadership and that elusive, amorphous “self-starter” junk that seems over-advertised and under-available (why else would just about every legal listing be asking for a “self-starter”).

On the other hand, if a recent article on KSL.com is any indication, law schools could do more to help. Some already do a lot.  I do recall a few lunch time events that brought in various practitioners to talk about things like how they got where they are, as well as a solo practice seminar during the summer.  There was also workshops on networking and resume building, and opportunities for lunches with the local legal community. However, many, if not all, of my professors had very little experience outside of the university, and what experience they did have was usually in consulting. There were a few glaring exceptions (Ralph Mabey, a bow tie guy like myself, Amos Guiora, and Daniel Medwed are among a few exceptions at Utah’s SJ Quinney College of Law), but for the most part, most professors seem to have little experience looking for work, looking for clients, or the hustling necessary to make a good legal practice fly (or even find a job outside of a strictly legal career). It’s hard to ask a professor for career advice when most of their career has been in the ivory tower (which, recently, has come under attack for ostensibly bad ideas).

What would it take to bring in a rain maker or two, perhaps an upper level executive or entrepreneur who happens to also have a law degree? Even an occasional lunch or evening seminar with such individuals would broaden and expand the scope of law student career aspirations and ideas. Students shouldn’t have to wait until the have passed the bar to start looking around to form career paths.

As for me and my bow tie, well, I still wear it, just not to the office. It was the interview that landed me the job, not my cloths or my GPA, either.

Lunch at Aristo’s in Salt Lake City

This really has nothing to do with the law, but I’ve been eating out on business lunches a bit in the last six months, and after eating at two obviously contrasting restaurants in the last week, neither of which I had any idea about in advance, I thought I’d share what my experience was for each. The first was actually very enjoyable; the second, though with good company, was not.

The first was Aristo’s in Salt Lake City, and I posted my review on Yelp:

We arrived at Aristo’s with the lunch-time crowd, and as a recent student at the nearby SJ Quinney, I immediately recognized Dean Chodash lunching with an associate at a table across the restaurant.  The atmosphere was quiet, but busy, and we were immediately seated at a table for two and presented with menus. The atmosphere is great for an intimate business setting, but the prices are great for a lunch menu.

A few short moments later, a waitress appeared, smiling, to ask if we would like some more time, or if we were ready to order.  Her recommendation was the chicken gyro, but we opted to try the regular gyros, with a side of fresh cut french fries (“prepared here,” she assured us).

We didn’t have to wait long for the gyros to arrive.  Mine came with a small greek salad topped with unpitted olives and some kind of goat cheese (I think) and peppercinis, and I enjoyed it between bites of my gyro, which I also enjoyed.

The gyro itself was topped with the usual yogurt-like sauce mixed with dill. The pita was fresh and warm. And the meat was delicious.

Our fries were of the wide crisp variety, far better than I had anticipated they would be.  I will order them again, next time I’m at Aristos.

If you’ve got time to head up near the University of Utah‘s campus, or are a student, I recommend you check it out.
Aristo's on Urbanspoon