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Requesting a degree when hiring: Necessary? Outdated? Discriminatory?

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It seems over the past several decades the professional world has been married to the theory that the best chance of labour market success is through hiring candidates with a bachelor's degree. Therefore it’s not uncommon to read job advert after job advert that lists a degree under the ‘essential’ list, even when a particular job doesn’t necessitate such a level of education.

 What are the rules around asking for a degree?

There are plenty of rules around writing job adverts, mainly based around best practice, and to ensure you don't fall foul of discrimination law. The obvious ones are you can’t directly discriminate against someone on the grounds of gender, race, age, religion or disability. Asking for a degree isn’t direct discrimation but some may question whether it’s a form of indirect discrimation as you’re closing the door on a certain portion of people who can’t apply to your job because they don’t fit that criteria. After all, not everyone has the opportunity to start or finish a degree, for many reasons such as poor health, lack of finances, underprivileged background etc. It’s a grey area.

With one in five (20%) job searchers admitting they’re turned off applying for a role that has an unclear job description, it’s essential you’re absolutely clear on your key requirements (qualifications, industry skills, soft skills). What is absolutely essential, and what are you willing to compromise on?

You may want to ask… is a degree absolutely necessary?

Many job adverts ask for specific qualifications like a bachelor's degree, sometimes related to the job industry (i.e. marketing or technology) and sometimes it’s left open - any degree will do. In some circumstances a degree is absolutely essential, for example teachers or medical professionals are required to have the appropriate professional qualifications, however the amount or type of qualifications requested for other roles may be up for debate. So, it’s important to get clear on whether you really need these qualifications or if they are just nice-to-haves, and why?

You can also minimise your risk of discrimination claims by asking yourself, why am I including a specific requirement in this advertisement? What am I trying to achieve by doing so? Is there another way that I could achieve that aim which would not disadvantage people from a particular group of people?

 If specific subject knowledge isn’t essential and transferable skills can be gained elsewhere, should we persist in asking for a degree? With the skills shortage and unemployment rates we have today, do we have the luxury of asking for things we don’t absolutely need?

 A growing number of employers have suggested they’re willing to consider candidates without university degrees in order to fill positions in an increasingly tight labour market. Considering the skills gap and record unemployment rates today, this seems to make complete sense.

If a degree isn’t absolutely necessary, but a nice-to-have, make it clear that you’ll consider candidates with equivalent levels of skill or knowledge. This way you’ll avoid closing the door on candidates (perhaps older candidates, candidates from other countries, or candidates who didn't have the means to go to university) who may not be able to meet this criteria.

To sum up, if your role absolutely unequivocally requires a degree education, include it. If not, consider leaving it out.

Keeping up with the times…

Is asking for a university degree a thing of the past? Is our education system keeping up with the various needs businesses have today? Perhaps what’s more important is proof of skills, the ability to learn new skills, and the ability to deliver results, whatever a person’s educational background. Removing the requirement of a degree helps to create a more level playing field for applicants and it encourages diversity - another hot topic!

 The absence of a degree does not equal the absence of skills

Degrees often give employers reassurance that the candidates they’re considering have, as a bare minimum, effective time management, teamwork and communication skills, as well as an ability to learn new things quickly, problem solve, and adapt to change. It can be said however, that in such a fast changing world like today, these are skills that are more often than not gained through everyday life, not just at university.

Ditching the degree doesn’t mean lowering the bar

Removing the requirement of a degree doesn’t necessarily mean dropping your standards or lowering the bar. In fact, by removing something you don’t absolutely categorically need, you’re not only levelling the playing field for other candidates, you could be increasing your chances of attracting phenomenal candidates who could turn out to be the future leaders of your business.

Quality candidates come from everywhere, so let’s not be too quick to close the door on them.

After all, there are plenty of notable people who didn’t attend university (or who dropped out part way through) who have gone on to achieve incredible things, for example Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

Can you afford to turn good people away?

Removing the necessity for a certain educational background gives you access to candidates from underrepresented backgrounds. Diversity is a hot topic right now, and rightly so. 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. Another reason to hire candidates without degrees is also one of the simplest - by opening up or increasing your talent pool, you may attract top talent that has been overlooked by your competitors.

Depending on the role you’re looking to fill, you might decide it’s more important to hire candidates with traits like grit, optimism, self-motivation, drive and ambition, and other skills that will set them in good stead to become future leaders. A willingness to consider candidates without a degree gives companies an edge in finding talent with the skills and potential to thrive in today’s fast moving environment.

Final thoughts - focusing on building a more diverse team - one with varied perspectives and a variety of skills - is a solid reason to consider hiring candidates without degrees. In today’s volatile and highly competitive workplace, removing the requirement of a degree can give you a serious competitive edge and help you tackle issues such as diversity, inclusion and skills gaps, as well as widening your talent pool exponentially.

Click here to find out how Meridian can help you find the best talent in the market.

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