The year 2017, almost a decade after The Great Recession in 2008, finally saw meaningful drops in degree requirements, but not all organizations have been quick to follow suit. Even though data shows strict degree requirements might hinder rather than help companies' search for talent, a startling number of organizations have yet to shift away. Degree requirements became almost standard at the turn of the century. The phenomenon even earned a name: Degree Inflation. Its effects are still harming talent searches today.
The pandemic has been a catalyst for several workplace resets, and may be the impetus for eliminating arbitrary degree requirements once and for all will finally be among them. Valuing skills over scholastic diplomas holds benefits not just for employers, but for the employees they hire. It opens opportunities and allows individuals with useful skill sets to put their experience and knowledge to work. For business decision-makers deciding how their next hiring efforts will go, considering this strategy has many benefits.
Why eliminate the degree requirement?
Some jobs require degrees for professionals to execute them successfully. The schooling that doctors complete, for example, is essential to their ability to perform their work safely. For other careers, however, like specific jobs in the tech industry, self-taught candidates with strong skills can often add as much, if not more, value to an organization than a degree holder can. If you're on the fence about eliminating the degree requirements for some of your positions, consider these benefits:
Larger candidate pool
If you eliminate the college degree requirement for certain positions, you'll reduce unnecessary barriers for applicants and broaden your candidate pool. This can make it easier for you to find the top talent you're searching for in a candidate. When more applicants qualify for your position, those challenging-to-fill roles can finally attract the top-tier level talent you're looking to hire.
Higher emphasis on soft skills
Another benefit of eliminating the degree requirement is that it allows you to place a higher emphasis on soft skills like communication, flexibility, and a commitment to professional development. Many hiring professionals know you can't train personality. Finding a candidate that's a good fit for your organization is often more important than finding someone who knows everything heading into a position.
No matter what, you'll likely have to train the candidate on your specific software, expectations, and processes anyway. Selecting a candidate with the soft skills you're looking for can lead to hiring someone with a more applicable skill set and a genuine desire to perform well in the role.
Greater employee diversity
There's more than one way to gain experience for a position. While college degrees can reveal a lot about a candidate, like their ability to learn in a structured environment, their aptitude to finish what they start, and their understanding of a greater world context, these attributes aren't exclusive to those with degrees. By acknowledging the many ways of gaining experience, you can open up your candidate pool to a diverse group of applicants who offer great value to your organization. Having employees from different backgrounds can unlock new levels of innovation, talent, and depth.
How to hire quality candidates without a degree requirement
Ready to do away with the degree requirement but not sure how to start? Prioritize these initiatives:
Decide where degrees are necessary
Not every position at your company can benefit from a reduced degree requirement. However, taking a thorough look at which positions truly benefit from a degree can help you understand where these requirements may impede your search. Right now, one of the biggest areas to see a decline in degree requirements is tech. Systems administrators, developers, and analysts are just some positions that are losing the degree requirement.
Marketing positions, too, can benefit from reduced educational credentials. Digital marketers, communications professionals, and content creators might not need degrees to succeed in their roles. Instead, think about the skills you want those professionals to have. Consider whether certifications, a portfolio, or previous experience can show those skills as effectively as a degree can.
Look for soft skills
When hiring, look for skills that could aid someone in the open position. By being willing to train, or even assist with tuition for a degree, you can empower your employees to grow into their roles and develop professionally. Seeing the individual's value rather than their resume's adherence to set requirements can expand your access to great talent.
While the skills you look for can be specific to your company and the position, here are some useful soft skills to look for in a candidate:
- Communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Leadership skills
- Time management skills
- Collaboration and teamwork skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Negotiation skills
- Conflict resolution skills
- Decision-making skills
Be willing to train
Where someone might lack hard skills or specific knowledge, consider implementing your own training programs. Doing this helps candidates absorb job-specific information that they can use in their roles. It ensures that the methods and approaches they use align with your expectations and preferred processes. It also enables you to communicate your expectations clearly and effectively.
When you hire for culture fit, experience, and skills, everything else is teachable. Consider what resources you have available for employees, and make it possible for them to succeed in their roles without the traditional education foundation previous candidates may have had.
Helping with tuition or certifications also shows employees you care about their growth. This can improve employee trust and help you retain talent more effectively. By investing in your team, you can show you're a compassionate employer that values diversity, empowerment, and people.
"When you hire for culture fit, experience, and skills, everything else is teachable."
Look at specialized certifications
Jobs like digital marketing and programming are rapidly evolving. As tech booms, so do requirements for knowledge of specific programming languages, appealing to different audiences, and connecting with consumers on the most relevant platforms. Specialized certifications like SEO certifications, coding boot camps, and software-specific training point to a more relevant and up-to-date knowledge base than most degrees.
Looking for certifications like these provides an added benefit to your search. The candidates who understand how important it is to keep their skills up to date will continue to seek new information and strategies. They might be more willing to move away from outdated modes of thinking to embrace innovative solutions and new perspectives.
Acknowledge the value of nontraditional experience
One benefit of college is exposure to new ideas and circumstances. Many employers recognize this, and it might even be a reason they give for why they place so much value on a college degree. College provides students with experience collaborating on team projects, problem-solving, working with distinct personalities, following directions, meeting deadlines, and learning about the world. But there are alternative ways to get this experience.
Look for resume additions that show different types of experience. Experience working in the armed forces or experience traveling to other countries are two examples. In both instances, candidates probably used problem-solving, collaboration, communication, initiative, organization, and decision-making skills. Not having a degree doesn't mean they didn't gain exposure to important life experiences or skills. Frequently, nontraditional education lends itself to an even deeper sense of the world.
Having someone on your team that speaks multiple languages or who served in the military can unlock a new diversity of thoughts and perspectives.
Talent isn't one-size-fits-all, and a college degree isn't the only credential worth noting on an application. By eliminating the college degree requirement, you can expand your search for qualified candidates in meaningful ways for your business. Dropping the degree requirement allows employers to get more specific about what exactly they're looking for in a candidate, dialing in on skills instead of stuffy credentials. According to a study by the Harvard Business School, this trend could create 1.4 million jobs that open up a broader pool of candidates.
Like all things in business, creativity, innovation, and a willingness to change with the times are paramount. Right now, that boils down to this essential shift. Adapting to allow for greater talent is the best way to remain competitive and attract the top candidates to your positions.
More tips for hiring decision-makers:
Explore how offering remote work can make your open positions more appealing.
Learn more about how soft skills like problem-solving can be beneficial qualifications.
Discover what soft skills are and how they can impact employees' success.
Read about worthwhile college degree alternatives.
Create a great candidate experience for job applicants.