Why You Should Consider Removing ‘Bachelor’s Degree’ from Your Job Requirements

December 24, 2018

It’s become rare to read a job description that doesn’t have “bachelor’s degree” in the requirements, even when the job doesn’t necessarily require college-level skills.

In fact, according to a report out of the Harvard Business School, degree inflation in the United States has been especially prevalent for jobs such as administrative assistants and production supervisors. While most people holding those jobs don’t have a BA or BS, the vast majority of new job postings for these positions list a bachelor’s degree as a requirement. For example, only 16% of current production supervisors have graduated from a four-year college and yet 67% of the openings for such positions call for a bachelor’s degree.

But in a world of skyrocketing college debt and growing skepticism about higher education among members of Generation Z, we may soon see a reversal of this trend. In the last couple of years, companies like IBM, EY, and Penguin Random House have made a big change to their hiring policies: They’re no longer considering a four-year degree as a requirement for candidates.

Why? Business leaders are starting to find it debatable whether whether a college degree is always correlated with professional “achievement.” Think about it –– some of the most successful people, Steve Jobs included, don’t have degrees. And at the rate skill requirements are changing, adaptability and learning potential may just be what really matter. On top of that, hiring candidates who haven’t gone the traditional college route might be advantageous (read on).

Here are four reasons you should seriously consider looking at candidates without a four-year degree for your next hire:

1. Focusing on corporate training rather than academic credentials can widen your pipeline — and boost retention

In many cases, a college education isn’t actually going to prepare a candidate for a job in the real world. Time on campus might help students learn some soft skills and sharpen their critical thinking, but with a robust corporate training program in place, you can teach your hires everything they need to succeed in your workplace environment.

That’s especially important because training programs are much more than a nice benefit for employees — they’ve been shown to increase engagement and employee retention. By funneling your new hires into a well-designed training program, you can not only teach them the ways of your business but also increase the chances that they’ll remain with the company for the long term.

2. De-emphasizing educational background will help you find candidates from underrepresented backgrounds

As one of the most important trends in recruiting, diversity and inclusion initiatives aren’t going anywhere — and for good reason. Studies show that ethnically and racially diverse companies perform significantly better than their less diverse counterparts

Hiring candidates who don’t possess a four-year degree could be a way to improve diversity across your teams. Not only will you bring in hires with different backgrounds and life experiences, but you’ll also expand your talent pool to include more candidates from underrepresented groups who are less likely to have degrees, including black and Hispanic applicants.

3. Focusing on potential and soft skills will grow your talent pool

One of the best reasons to hire candidates without college degrees is also one of the simplest: When you widen your talent pool, you’re more likely to find top talent that has been overlooked by the competition.

More and more recruiters are looking beyond pedigree — work experience and accomplishments as well as credentials like college degrees — to find employees who have the right potential and foundational soft skills needed for the job. Depending on the role you’re looking to fill, you might look for people with traits like grit and optimism or someone with the right personality to be a team leader.

There are plenty of effective ways to test a candidate’s soft skills and suitability for a role, from specific interview questions to neuroscience-based assessments developed by vendors like HireVue. But one thing’s clear: In a competitive landscape, a bachelor’s degree shouldn’t be the only way you measure a candidate’s soft skills.

4. Locating trainable candidates with technical aptitude can help you close skills gaps

Skills gaps have created a tricky problem for recruiters in recent years, especially in ever-evolving tech roles. But a willingness to consider candidates without a four-year degree gives recruiters and their companies an edge in finding talent with the skills and potential to thrive in new roles in a volatile industry.

In fact, skills gaps are partly caused by quick changes in companies’ skill requirements — which leads to college graduates who haven’t learned today’s most in-demand skills.

As a result, some companies — like IBM, Github, and Intel — are looking beyond college degrees to find candidates who possess technical aptitude, even if they don’t yet have any formal training. This often includes hires who are able to prove their knowledge in other ways, like completing coding boot camps that teach fundamental skills in a matter of months.

And at LinkedIn, the internal REACH apprenticeship program has opened up technical roles to those who don’t have a traditional educational background.

“This is trying to get away from this idea that everyone on the engineering team, everyone we recruit, has to have come from a specific school and has to have a specific kind of degree,” says LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner. “Yes, [computer science] degrees from specific schools can lead to us finding incredible talent. But it’s not the exclusionary domain of incredible talent.”

Final thoughts: It may be counterintuitive but getting rid of your degree requirement can give you an edge

Building a more diverse team — one with varied perspectives as well as  differing backgrounds — is a good reason to consider hiring candidates without college degrees, but it’s not the only one. In today’s hiring landscape, eliminating degree requirements can give you a serious competitive edge and help your company tackle ongoing problems like skills gaps in creative, effective ways.

*Photo from wikicommons, license