Why likability might be more important than your college degree

A young man in a black polo slid a few pieces of paper toward me on the wooden desk that separated us. My eyes looked down at what he had given me. “So have you thought about what major you might want to study here at The University of Oregon?”

I paused, looking away in thought. After a few moments I said, “You know, I just came to college to learn. I’m here to learn, grow and improve myself, rather than to get a degree.”

The energy and exuberance faded from his face. His jaw dropped in shock. “What?” His facial expressions and body posture were both screaming.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that encounter would come to define my college career. I thought about it often over the years as I shifted and shaped my philosophy of life.

Later that year I found myself in San Mateo, Calif., in the conference room of a Double Tree hotel. Dale Carnegie posters were hung up all over the room, listing his rules for likability, human relations and worry-free living. I was there with my brother, my mom and 25 strangers. Looking around, I realized that I was the youngest one there. I was excited to learn from my elders.

Since that time, I have come to believe that being likable is more important than having a college degree. Now, I know it’s a bold thought and there are certainly many reasons why a college degree is important, but likability is critical.

I’ve come to understand that as humans, we often think we are rational creatures. But usually our emotions come first, and then we use reasoning to explain how we feel (and how we feel about people too).

We tend to think that reason is at the basis of influence. And we might be right, if we consider that emotion is at the basis of reason. If we like someone we are much more likely to help them find a job or make a connection, to believe them and to be influenced by them.

This might be why Warren Buffett said, “Dale Carnegie training was more valuable than my college degree.” Even in a world of stocks, figures and analysis, Buffett prized his learned likability over four years of college. I didn’t know it then, but I too would come to see likability and human relations as being more important than a college degree.

An enthusiastic, driven and outgoing 23-year-old looked back at me from across the table at Vista Spring Cafe. We were starting our weekly mastermind meeting, where we meet to discuss our goals and our purposes. “Do you think you’ve learned more from college or from your own reading?” he asked.

I tilted my head a little to the left and furrowed my brow in deep thought. “My books,” I said with an air of certainty. To me, reading books about likability and human relations have taught me more than class and college.

There are many people that might argue likability doesn’t matter. They may cite examples of unlikable people who became very successful, or they might simply say that you must have a college degree. And it’s true that you need a degree to apply for certain jobs, and for others it certainly helps.

Likability is what happens—or certainly what you hope happens—when you turn the cold handle, push open the heavy wooden door and take your seat behind that huge, domineering desk.

If you aren’t likable in an interview, your chances of getting hired are like trying out for the Olympics without training. It probably won’t happen. That’s because we feel first. If we like the interviewee, we will look for reasons why we might like her resume and why she might be a good fit for the company.

And likability is so much more than that. Likability is more than a job, it’s more than a paycheck. Being likable has allowed me to create lasting friendships with a group of people who are more intelligent, driven and knowledgeable than I am.

So instead of fretting over which major to choose, maybe you should think about the principles of Dale Carnegie instead.