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Higher Education Vs. Experience: Rethinking Candidate Evaluation


Leading companies across the United States are dropping their requirements of a bachelor’s degree for vacant positions. The list of companies following this practice is now pretty extensive, with big hitters such as Google, Tesla, Netflix, and even IBM all dropping their university degree requirements for applicants.

These are some of the most successful companies in the nation. Yet, so many small to medium-sized companies still cling to the notion that their candidates must have a college education to be considered worthy of a position.

This post will look at why that’s the wrong attitude to have as an employer and argue the case for experience over education.

A College Education Develops Knowledge, But Experience Gains Candidates Applicable Skills

One of the reasons leading companies have ditched the four-year college degree requirement is because it’s no longer indicative of the skills they need to fill positions.

Let’s take the example of Apple, a company at the forefront of digital progress. CEO Tim Cook has long argued that there is a disconnect between the skills taught in college and those that businesses require. None more so is this the case than with coding, one of the world’s most valuable skills.

A recent HackerRank survey of development students confirmed that only 32% of those enrolled had learned to code in college, meaning over 65% were self-taught or attended vocational courses.

Thus as an employer, it’s worth asking yourself whether a college degree is really indicative of the skills you’ll need for a candidate to perform in the role. Otherwise, you could be one of the many companies that lament how many resources they have to invest to allow new hires to gain the skills they need to succeed in the role.

Experienced Candidates Cost Much Less Than Their College-Educated Counterparts 

You should also consider valuing experience above education because it could end up costing you a lot less as a company. While it may come as no surprise that hiring a college graduate will cost a lot more than someone with a community college or high school education, it goes much deeper than that.

Yes, while, on average, an individual with a college degree earns $502 per week more in median earnings than those with a high school education, they’ll likely drain additional resources, too, if you’re hiring directly from college or soon thereafter.

We’ve spoken before about the need to upskill and reskill employees during the onset of AI-led automation, in which we now found ourselves. And yet, many employers are finding that they have to immediately invest resources into employees with a college education because they have no practical skills in relation to their position.

In other words, hiring a college graduate in many instances actually guarantees that you’ll spend more on training than you would have had you hired an experienced candidate with no formal education, as we’ll now explain.

College Graduates Often Require Extensive Training to Gain Necessary Skills

There is an ever-increasing skills gap growing across all industries. It’s why the US unemployment rate (which has recovered since the pandemic) is back under 6%, and yet there are currently 7.4 million official job openings and probably hundreds of thousands more unofficially.

The reason? Employers can’t find employees with the necessary skills. It’s why 60% of organizations can’t find a qualified cybersecurity analyst, for example. These so-called “new collar” jobs are costing companies small fortunes as they insist on recruiting college graduates who then receive expensive vocational training to bring them up to speed with the skills they need to excel in their new role.

It would make far more sense in this example to hire someone who has worked within IT for several years who could hit the ground running, even if they only had a community college or vocational qualification.

But the problem extends to more typical job positions, too, as opposed to those specifically in new subsections of industries such as IT. For instance, let’s say you have two candidates applying for a client-facing digital marketing position.

One has worked from the age of 18 immediately after gaining their high school diploma. They started as an administrative assistant at a digital marketing agency before working their way up to an account manager position. They have operational experience running digital marketing campaigns on platforms such as Facebook. They have also developed excellent client liaison skills, as detailed in their references and their portfolio of prominent brands.

On the other hand, you have a candidate with a business degree who has worked in a grocery store since they left college six months ago. While they have theoretical marketing knowledge, they have no practical experience whatsoever in running digital marketing campaigns for demanding brands.

Which do you think will have the more significant impact in this role? We hope you’ll agree that it’s the first candidate.

Change Your Screening Mindset to Unearth the Best Candidates for Your Vacancies 

While global tech companies may be leading the charge to ditch educational requirements since there aren’t many applicable degrees concerning the jobs they need to fill, the practice benefits all companies. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in accounting or manufacturing. Assessing prospective candidates on their ability to make the most impact as opposed to their educational qualifications is a healthy best practice.

If a tech giant such as Shopify can hire a former welder with no college degree to fulfill one of their e-commerce positions, then you can take a new approach to screening your candidates.

Yes, experience is an important attribute, but also look at past successes and specific transferable skills.

With the rise of remote working and onboarding, on-the-job training will become less personal and more challenging to carry out in a meaningful manner. Not only that, but it’s an avoidable expense by looking at an individual’s ability to make an impact as opposed to evaluating them on the school they attended. Even an Ivy League education has no bearing on job performance.

If you need help reframing how you assess candidates, we can help here at Offer Accept.

We’ve been pioneering our holistic approach to recruitment for over a decade now. Our ability to evaluate the person instead of their educational background has helped us to deliver incredible candidates to companies whose competitors would have overlooked due to arbitrary educational requirements.

So if you want to gain access to some of the most experienced and skilled candidates in the fields of:

  • Accounting
  • Construction
  • Engineering
  • Real Estate
  • Clerical & Administrative
  • Supply Chain Distribution
  • Banking
  • Call Center
  • Manufacturing
  • Information Technology

Then give us a call on 305-910-2524.

We look forward to guiding you through a new way of recruiting.

Farley Ashby

Recruiting Expert