Many job postings require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and it is increasingly common to prefer candidates with more advanced, master-level degrees and beyond.
But what about the candidate armed with talent, experience and wisdom that's ready to hit the ground running, but lacking the college check-box requirement? If their other qualifications match, do you offer them the chance, or do you simply delete their resume application into the virtual trash bin?
Dismiss Candidates Without College Degrees at Your Peril
According to Aaron Michel in Fast Company, doing so is at your company’s peril.
“The fact is that limiting your recruitment strategy to conventional qualifications might risk surrendering your competitive edge,” warns Michel. He then poses, “ … who would you rather hire: Someone without a degree who has four years of relevant work experience and good references, or someone who’s just graduated from a four-year university with a political science degree and no work experience?”
Some roles obviously require college training in order to perform essential tasks, such as having an accounting degree to then qualify for the CPA credential, a J.D. degree to practice law or an MD to become a physician. However, many roles can be learned on the job, and over time, that experience can translate into the equivalent of an earned university degree.
[Related: Are College Degrees Really Necessary?]
On-the-Job Training Is the Foundation of Productivity
In fact, I’d extend this to say, a college degree provides foundational learnings in English or math or science, etc., but the on-the-job corporate training is what really solidifies learning — and meaningful productivity. Putting theory into practice, with the marketplace nipping at their heels to either perform to expectations or be replaced by someone who can, go-getter careerists are motivated to leverage on-the-job training and experience to grow the company’s bottom line.
Most college grads who have gone on to succeed in the workplace would probably admit that their first job or two after graduating largely was comprised of learning new operational ropes and protocols versus hitting the ground running with that newly-received diploma. This by no means negates the value of classroom learning and the commitment to four years in the college trenches, but it is important to note that the value of corporate experience often outweighs the immediate value of a degree.
Examples of high performers who bypass college to strike out in the real world may include individuals who join the Armed Forces, where they are expected to quickly demonstrate accountability, respect for authority, discipline and teamwork. In addition, individuals who pursue trade disciplines such as professional truck driver, electrician, mechanic, construction worker or plumber, which often require various certifications and/or training, can be included in this mix.
Moreover, some people dive directly into office roles, and through ambitious initiative and skills-building (and inherent talent), work their way up the ladder or across the matrix to more advanced roles in areas of sales, operations, finance, technology and more.
The bottom line is that regardless of their particular path to success, these careerists have been learning as they work, whether alongside a mentor, through their own initiative in studying on- or offline coursework, modeling the behavior of respected experts, attending specialized training or simply through trial and error.
Recruiting Beyond University Doors Improves Diversity Hiring Efforts
Some industries traditionally drawn to hiring from elite universities are now looking beyond the collegiate doors in an effort to enhance diversity hiring.
“The technology industry is now trying to figure out a way to attack its cultural and demographic homogeneity issues,” according to Cale Guthrie Weissman at Fast Company. He continues, “One way is to extend their recruiting efforts to people who don’t have four-year degrees.”
Weissman references IBM’s Sam Ladah, whom he said, “calls this sort of initiative a focus on ‘new-collar jobs,’” where applicants are evaluated based on skills versus educational background.
The bottom line value of recruiting top-performing individuals without formal college training is that you may get someone with a natural knack, raw vision and energy for dreaming up product, program, sales and marketing, operational and other business solutions. These individuals, often less suited for academic structures, thrive in entrepreneurial, start-up or other forward-looking and empowering organizations right out of high school. Self-directed, they prosper when liberated beyond the confines of a schoolroom.