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Harvard or Bust? Survey Finds Skills Trump Alma Mater in Hiring Decision

Cornerstone Editors

There's a common perception that job seekers armed with a degree from a prestigious university have a leg up in the job hunt. The advantage, however, might be overblown, according to a new survey that found business leaders value tangible skills more than the name on an applicant's diploma.

Job seekers, whether Ivy League or community college grads, that have applicable skills and knowledge are in good shape according to the Gallup survey of more than 600 business leaders. Eighty-four percent of respondents said that a candidate's knowledge in a particular field was "very important," followed by 79 percent who said the same for applied skills. Meanwhile, 28 percent of respondents said a candidate's college major was "very important," compared to only 9 percent who said the same for a candidate's school.

Pedigree vs. Proven Ability

There's a clear divide between what business leaders told Gallup about the importance of a candidate's alma mater and what the American public thinks. "Public perception has certainly not caught up to the shift: 30 percent of the public thinks where a candidate went to college is a very important factor for managers making hiring decisions and 50 percent say it's somewhat important," writes The Atlantic.

Companies like Google are famous for stressing ability over pedigree during the hiring process. But that's not to say applicants bearing prestigious diplomas aren't coveted — or that they don't have any advantages. Industries such as finance still place a premium on candidates from the top college ranks. And even if a diploma from a prestigious institution isn't a golden ticket, those graduates earn 5 to 20 percent more money once they're in the door, according to a Century Foundation study. There's an even bigger pay gap between employees with a college degree and those with only a high school diploma. College-educated employees earn, on average, $17,500 more than high school grads, according to The Pew Research Center.

An Ivy League degree might not necessarily get you hired, but it will likely mean a bigger payday once you're in.

[Image via CanStock]

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