Workplace Trends

Workforce Trends

“Degree Required.” But Is it Really?

By Helene Cavalli on January 16, 2014

If you had the opportunity to hire the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerburg, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, or for that matter Abraham Lincoln or Frank Lloyd Wright, would you? If your answer is yes, you may want to take a fresh look at your hiring requirements. While brilliant, none of these great minds earned a college diploma. How many innovators are slipping through the cracks of your hiring pipeline because they lack a degree in this competitive market? Is a degree requirement screening out your next top performers?

The value of a college degree for an individual is undeniable. College helps develop critical thinking skills, provides a vast knowledge base on which to build special expertise and exposes the student to a wide array of diverse opinions and ideas. As reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates also enjoy a much lower unemployment rate (3.3 percent) compared to those with some college (6.1 percent) and those with only high school diplomas only (7.1 percent). Still, some hiring professionals become overly fixated on hiring only degreed candidates instead of developing an effective means to assess the skills and traits required for success on the job.

According to a September 2013 Gallop poll four in 10 working college graduates say the type of work they do everyday doesn’t require a degree. The same poll also indicates that two-thirds of workers with professional, executive, or managerial jobs say a college degree is needed in their line of work while only 50 percent of those in all other white-collar jobs say a degree is necessary. For every line of work that truly requires a college degree and credentials (e.g., scientific research, engineering, legal, etc.), there are other areas where experience may trump a degree (technology, sales, etc.). A college degree is not necessarily an indicator of a candidate’s level of intelligence or talent—and certainly not a gauge of on-the-job performance.

As reported in Bloomberg Personal Finance, college tuition costs have skyrocketed 538 percent since 1985, making it increasingly difficult for less-affluent students to achieve a four-year degree. In lieu of a degree, organizations truly committed to sourcing the best talent should consider the following:

  • Have you clearly identified and explained the competencies, behaviors and deliverables for the position?
  • Does the candidate’s career demonstrate upward mobility in positions of increasing responsibility?
  • Has the candidate worked for respected organizations with rigorous hiring processes?
  • Has the candidate completed relevant college courses, but not earned a degree?
  • Has the candidate completed continuing education in his/her field?
  • Has the candidate earned professional designations, patents, certifications or awards?
  • Does the candidate have strong professional references you can interview at length?
  • Do you have a comprehensive interviewing process that requires candidates to compare their accomplishments to the deliverables of the position?
  • Does the candidate have successful work experience that would offset a four-year degree?
  • Have you analyzed the skills and experience of your top employees in a particular role to determine what’s needed for success in a particular position?

Using a college degree as a candidate screening device may make it easier to sort through volumes of resumes, but it may also screen out top-notch talent and your next generation of high performers.

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