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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Higher Ed? Degree of Experience Counts #TChat Recap

Remember in the 1970’s when the tech world was still in its infancy and engineers and developers walked in off the streets without college degrees?

And then again in the late 1990’s during the boom if you had any Web HTML experience and a pulse?

Ah, the good ol’ days when demand exceeded supply. Actually, the good ol’ anomalies, because for most of the recruiting and HR hiring pros of the world, a college degree tends to trump experience more often than not.

Not necessarily the name brand of the college, but the fact that you went to an accredited university and received the degree, in hand (not coming up 3 units short).

Of course that will vary from industry to company to position, but ask any recruiter today filling most if not all “technical” and “knowledge worker” reqs — you’ve got to have a college degree.

During last night’s #TChat, which was all about higher ed and what was more important — a degree or experience, veteran recruiter and co-founder of TruEvents Bill Boorman wrote, “The University of Life and the School of Hard Knocks has served me well.”

Many of us can attest to that. I know I do (and still do). But as I mentioned last night, I’m very proud of my college degree. I didn’t have the traditional college experience; I was working full-time already when I finally finished my undergrad and started (but haven’t finished, yet) grad school. I worked my butt off to complete my degree in psychology, owning every minute of every class and every world of every paper written until I walked proudly into the stadium in cap and gown on graduation day.

In a sense the University of Life started while I was still attending San Jose State University. Go Spartans!

So for me, when it comes to higher ed it’s the degree “of” experience, not the either “or”. Higher ed should inspire and light the inner fire. And the other way around. Employers should aspire to do the same when they recruit, hire and onboard because it’s good for business.

As for the ever-rising costs of higher ed, that’s a post for another time (although all the smart folks participating last night shared many insights).

A special thank you to Matt Charney for running the show and for his special guest Mark Kantrowitz.

Here were the questions from last night’s #TChat (you can read the transcript here):

  • Q1: Which matters more (and why) to Jobseekers/Recruiters: what your degree is in or which school it’s from? Answer J or R.
  • Q2: Should the goal of higher ed be to prepare students for the job market or to develop intellectual capabilities? Why?
  • Q3: What are some creative ways Employers can partner with Universities on talent identification and development?
  • Q4: Do student loans/debt impact employee productivity/performance? Can/should employers develop payback/performance incentives?
  • Q5: What are some ways, either direct or indirect, to offset the rising costs of college?
  • Q6: Are degrees from for-profit, online or foreign schools the same as traditional degrees as a hiring consideration?
  • Q7: Is going back to school for a professional degree a career booster or disruptor?

See you next week. Same time. Same place. #TChat every Tuesday evening 8-9 pm ET/5-6 pm PT