Finding Top Talent Without College Degrees

The next time you post a job opening, you might want to think twice before automatically including a requirement for a college degree.   You may think that this is a suggestion that you lower your standards.  Actually, it’s an invitation to raise them.

Requiring a degree may save you sifting through unqualified riffraff, but it also excludes folks on the opposite end.  People with a lot of ambition, talent, and/or leadership potential often do not fit in to the college process.  They are too busy doing what they love doing, and doing it professionally at an early age, to wait four or more years to get started at it.

Just one example, in the music performance business, no one cares if anyone has a degree.  We just test– stringently, I might add– for proficiency, via auditions.  No weight is given to certifications from strangers, as they are notoriously unreliable.

But in any profession, once you find the best performer, do you really care how they acquired their skills?  And if they acquired them in an unusual, creative, and less expensive way, don’t you want that kind of thinking on your team?   Why default to denying yourself access to that resource?

Another reason to open your doors to the non-degree’d has to do with simple economics.   Many people who are recent college graduates are carrying a substantial debt load.  In practical terms, this means they may be less likely to take economic risks, like maybe getting fired for making the waves that your company might need.  If you are looking for a creative risk taker, the person without the degree may be a better bet.

And finally, there are the storms brewing on the horizon: First, as you already know, is the soaring cost.  As a system of outsourcing your employee training, college is becoming economically unworkable.  And there is another issue, one that no one is talking about yet: denying higher-paying jobs to people without degrees may not be legal.  There is a growing movement of capable kids out there who are taking non-college paths, not to mention those in apprenticeship programs. If they are fully qualified to do the work but are still turned away, some enterprising lawyer looking for a deep-pocketed defendant might convince a judge that “educationism” is a violation of their client’s civil rights. If that happens, it could very well be the mother of all class action lawsuits.

So the next time you list those requirements for applicants, ask yourself, is requiring a degree really in the best interests of your company, or society as a whole?  You have the power to decide.


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