Once upon a time there used to be only three career choices for high school graduates in Pakistan: medicine, engineering and military. Top students chose to be doctors, the above-average ones ended up as engineers, and those not good enough for either, were eagerly accepted into the ranks of armed forces.

Pakistan’s post-secondary educational system was designed to cater to these preferences. So the choice of subjects in college was limited to pre-medical, pre-engineering and arts – the last-mentioned was meant for students with mushy brains that could not cope with the rigours of physics, the intrigues of chemistry and the obscenity in biology. Choosing the humanities – arts, languages, literature, religion, philosophy, etc – was the poor student’s safe route to a college or university degree. A degree that was only good for the intent described so poetically by the present Baluchistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani in his famous uttering: ‘a degree is a degree’.

Those who failed to get even an arts degree made up for their educational poverty by opening a school (that inevitably grew into a ‘school system’ with umpteen branches and franchises) and those who did get the degree in natural sciences or the humanities but failed to get a proper job, ended up teaching. That’s how the education system which evolved before you were born, became your problem, and your children’s.

For some reason the educational system stopped evolving and froze in the state it was in the 80s. And let’s not bring in Zia ul Haq here, because blaming everything that went wrong in the 80s on the much maligned general is nothing but intellectual laziness. He did enough bad things to earn the notoriety he enjoys posthumously, but let the blame for the present educational mess be shared by all the rulers and all the ruled. The former never made an effort to improve and the latter never demanded it.

Anyways, so the education system froze and started throwing up facsimile copies of the same graduate at every graduation ceremony – young man or woman with a degree but no education, skill or insight; a narrow world view and limited understanding of how it works; no hunger for learning and no interest in reading. Year after year and decade after decade our educational institutions kept flooding this country and this world with degree-carrying semi literate masse. They are still at it.

Today’s education system – bigger in both bulk and budget – offers the same choice of subjects and careers, and in many instances, follows the same syllabus. The English teacher is still pronouncing ‘measure’ and ‘pleasure’ as mayee-yer and playee-yer, and the student is still relying on rote and tuition to pass the exam.

If this blog was about education, I’d argue that we should stop building more colleges and universities until we have a cadre of educated teachers, and a system of education that dispenses learning and not just degrees. But this is not. It is more about the unemployed pappu and his question: I’ve been to the university, I have a degree but no education and skill, now how do I get a job?

The answer will emerge more clearly if you replace ‘a job’ with ‘the job’ in the question. A vast majority of the degree-holding masses is running from this industry to that, looking for ‘a job’, any job. A commerce graduate with experience of teaching Islamiat applies for an admin position in a high-tech industry and a psychology post graduate working in a bank, seeks a marketing position in telecoms. Meanwhile, there are jobs that remain vacant for want of the right candidate.

For the past six years I have been involved with hiring and training people in the news media. More than 90 per cent of applicants I come across have an education and work experience that has nothing to do with news or media, nor do they mention or demonstrate any talent or skill relevant to the advertised vacancy. Heck, many of them don’t even read the newspaper they seek to join. They want the job on their stated strength of ‘hard work’ or their stated ability to ‘do anything’. Cute as it sounds, it never cuts with serious employers who are looking for specific abilities and not pappu-ness.

So do yourself a favour and define ‘the job’ for you. ‘Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life’ said the philosopher.

Reach into your heart and follow what you find there. Square it with your existing qualifications, talents or skills. Decide on what you would like to do rather than doing what you can. Retrain and pad up your skill set if you have to. Then focus on the industry that suits your intended line of work and find potential employers or collaborators. And there, you have defined ‘the job’ for you. You are done with the hardest bit and also rid yourself of the khwaari of running after every floating job and the frustration of multiple rejections.

The rest is easy. Pakistan’s education system is so uniformly poor that college graduates from Karachi, Kohat and Kalat are not much different in their scholarly attributes. So relax, your competition is within your league. Listen to Aslam Raisani: a degree is really just a degree. Something you photocopy and put away in a file. If it does not qualify you for a job it doesn’t disqualify you either. All the candidates competing for ‘your job’ will be carrying similar pieces of paper. What makes the difference is ‘you’. Make that difference count. Put some time, effort and creativity in preparing yourself.

Your post-secondary education, at the least, makes you literate and gives you some general knowledge. Use these two qualities to your advantage. Read up and get as much knowledge about your chosen industry and possible employer(s) as you can. It’s sad how many degree holders fail to read in full or understand even the job advert. They read only the job title and email address, and fail to furnish a vital requirement like a personal statement or a cover letter. Find ways of addressing the requirements outlined in the advertisement. Visit the web site if there is one and the place of work if possible. See and hear how things are done. Picture yourself working there, and keep that picture in your mind throughout the hiring process.

But don’t send out your resume yet. We’ll work on it next week.


Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at masudalam@yahoo.com


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Masud Alam is an Islamabad-based writer, columnist and journalism trainer. He can be reached at masudalam@yahoo.com

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

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Comments (34)

November 17, 2012 1:10 pm
whilst this article rings true for Pakistan, believe it or not it also happen here in the UK to some degree. The issue is after graduation, graduates need training in how to apply to jobs, how to go looking for jos, where to look for jobs, how to present yourself for jobs. I had to learn it all the hard way by trial and error, as do most graduates. But a short course would help them, or a book may help them. But I agree they students themselves must have a hunger for learning. This is something that they themselves will need to develop. This is why students with money and family support outperform those without, the know-how retained by educated parents is invaluable. Especially when the women in the family are themselves both educated and have previous work experience, as its usually women who bring up the next generation.
Awais Asadi
November 17, 2012 7:52 am
Mr. Masood the same problem lies with what we call "qualification" ... We seek for "a degree" instead of "the degree"... so a continuous 'khwaari' throughout life...
November 16, 2012 6:11 pm
I salute you Masud Bhai to bring up such an extensive knowledge to open human brain in this era. Being frank i enjoyed this article after years that opened the doors of unthinkable.
November 21, 2012 5:41 am
"Put some time, effort and creativity in preparing yourself", this sentence sounds so good but the question is "WHEN"??After completing your bachelor's or master's degree???after studying in a typical "ratta system"?after studying in an environment where students are more knowledgeable than the students??its like getting admission in nursery after passing out from university.
m. mushtaq haji
November 21, 2012 1:21 pm
A very funny article.The writer has a great imagination of a perfect world.Once our company was looking for parts salesman,and when I asked my boss what type of person he has in mind,he told me that the person should be a graduate with good grades, comunication ability,good english)spoken and written),pleasant personality etc etc.Abruptly I asked sir are you looking a person to replace you.What I mean to say is a person who has so much quality of what you have mention are born leaders and they do not follows the rules of "TRAINERS"and for those for whom these theories are applicable are in a great hurry to find a paid job so that he can support his family.
November 16, 2012 2:40 pm
What about, when you do qualify for the job in experience and degree requirements but a "Pappu" more privileged, having a big hand behind him, got selected? In my opinion this is the reason of desperation among the youth, which forces them to apply wherever they see an opportunity without thinking whether they fit or not. In Pakistan's job market, in my opinion and in my friends too, you really need to be a "pappu" to get selected.
November 16, 2012 10:46 am
a degree is a degree... soo true.
November 16, 2012 5:43 pm
I do not completely agree or disagree with you. However, one thing I have learned is that, efforts and hard-work do pay back at one stage. So if one has done his part, he will soon get the result. At the same time, there are people who are not that good in studies nor have any extraordinary skills, yet they are able to find a top job spot. Maybe they are lucky, or maybe they have other ways to get there, and still may be .. they are destined for that job. I had a friend doing MBA with me, he never really took the studies seriously, always relying on team members rather than contributing, and somehow he ended up with a better job than others.
Tanvr Afgan
November 16, 2012 12:57 pm
I was a very good student and took the Senior Cambridge exam passing with excellent grades. Straight into the Air Force which was a passion for me. My elder son again a very good student chose to do an MBA from Pakistan's top business school; he now has a PhD in financial economics from a foreign university. The younger one, with excellent grades, chose to attend GIK and now has a PhD in sciences followed by a post Doc both from Europe. That demolishes your cock and bull thesis.
November 16, 2012 8:20 pm
Degree are useful to apply for visas and immigration for overseas countries.For job experience and skills are required.The stronger skills you have the better are the chances of executive jobs (in Pakistan and overseas).
Bakhtawer Bilal
November 17, 2012 4:12 am
Did you ever become sick. Name me a hospital in Chicago without a Pakistani origin doctor. This comment of yours is way out of line. And yes, I live and work in USA, and well aware of the system.
Cyrus Howell
November 16, 2012 3:58 pm
I know a Pakistani lawyer who owns and drives a taxi in Chicago.
Jay Haque
November 16, 2012 8:28 am
Word -> "More than 90 per cent of applicants I come across have an education and work experience that has nothing to do with news or media" - really enjoying your blog posts.
Sarah Khan
November 16, 2012 8:22 am
Very well-written and very true too
November 16, 2012 3:25 pm
It is very rare that an article in Dawn not only probes the problem but also offers solutions and recommendations to rectify the problem. In this respect, this is a very well worth articles for the young Pakistanis to read and follow. The author is talking from his experience and is sincere about his advice..
November 18, 2012 8:38 am
The quality of the candidates in the Air force is traditionally very high, but in the Army it has traditionally been very poor. The Thesis stands
November 16, 2012 6:50 pm
There was nothing wrong with the old system--look at Dr. Abdul Salam a graduate from Jhang Manghiana high school and thousands others.
Eru Dhate
November 16, 2012 6:45 pm
Mr.MA, good article. As a parent who has wrestled with the philosopher's injunction quoted above, you need to temper that with a dose of reality. If the parent of every teen asked them to follow their dream, you'd have tons of teens wanting to become cricketers, models, singers, and actors/actresses - for that is the power of glamor-creating-running-on-empty mass-media. For every teen out there who is upset that their parent asked them to focus on their studies, here's a clue: they've heard you sing, seen you play and act, and they have your best interests in mind!
Bakhtiar khan
November 16, 2012 6:44 pm
Really very true story of our society infact I am going through. I must say thanks..
Cyrus Howell
November 16, 2012 4:07 pm
90% of people with a bachelors degree in Physics are not employed in the field. Less than 3% of those with a bachelors in Astronomy (excluding grad students) are employed in that field. They are able to find good employment in other areas.
November 16, 2012 1:39 pm
I really like this article and how the writer, Masud Alam, has drawn connections between educational system, societal attitudes, career market and individual motivations & inclinations. Also, I am so glad you have highlighted the fact that *the Pakistani job market is absolutely not degree oriented.* My question though is - how can this be changed? Is it more education (at what level?) that we need (and we can see how much success anyone's had with that over these decades) - or - do corporations need to be trained, people who are already in the work-space - or does HR need to understand how to view candidates from irrelevant backgrounds - or students at the time of graduation - or - ... ? Who should be made aware (first) and by whom?
November 16, 2012 11:13 am
this article is a master piece.....
November 16, 2012 7:01 pm
You missed the point, sir. You just wanted to brag didn't you? :)
November 16, 2012 2:37 pm
The use of the (incorrect) term "anyways" in an article about education and literacy? seriously?
November 16, 2012 4:02 pm
I was so expecting a reply from a military man.
Cyrus Howell
November 16, 2012 3:51 pm
I worked in R&D at a graphic arts manufacturing company where I saw good engineers, academic types and not very good engineers. There is a wide latitude. It does depend on where a person gets their degree and how talented the professors were. It is also important to get into a good university. Penn State offers a degree in ice cream making. They even have their own dairy farm. So it also depends on what you choose to study and your interests.
Ali G
November 16, 2012 4:49 pm
so you did not get the readers point at All...he is not talking about .05% of the educated ppl rather the rest of it...
Ali G
November 16, 2012 4:53 pm
its true that you need to get "the Job" rather than "a job"...BUT...is it possible in a country where earning a livelihood is more important than choosing what to do...there are dreamers, doers and followers...the later makes up 99% of the ppl
Cyrus Howell
November 16, 2012 3:42 pm
Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant to America, built the world's largest steel company in the world and built libraries around the English speaking world. He quipped, "Education is what you have left over after you've forgotten everything you've learned."
Shahid Ashraf
November 19, 2012 12:19 pm
You discussed such a complexed issue with so much ease and presented its solution too! Nice blog. Enjoyed reading till the end and I agree with every single word of it. I specially liked the term "pappu-ness"... lolz! On serious note, developing reading habits and ability to learn are two things I have learnt from this blog.
Asma Ahmed
November 16, 2012 5:15 pm
how very very true and honestly inspirational for students!
November 16, 2012 5:50 pm
"Top students chose to be doctors, the above-average ones ended up as engineers, and those not good enough for either, were eagerly accepted into the ranks of armed forces" your article is really absurd as it contains very weak arguments like the one quoted. How can you conclude in such a way tht might spoil our history in the minds of the new generation.
akhter husain
November 16, 2012 4:48 pm
Very right our system is not as bad as is being portrayed by the writer.He probably does not know that a diamond is made from raw stones only if you have the an insight to catch it.May be you are being lazy...
Cyrus Howell
November 16, 2012 3:56 pm
I had a neighborhood friend who dropped out of college to go to Mexico and learn pottery making. That decision eventually led to a full professorship in the University of Wisconsin's art department teaching pottery making and glassblowing. He chose his own field without pressure from his family.
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