The most unnecessary requirement on job postings: A college degree

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Hiring shortages are everywhere as many people are leaving their jobs and reevaluating their relationship to work. What if I told you there was one easy trick you could use to expand the skills, diversity and size of your candidate pool?

Delete this sentence: Bachelor’s degree required.

While of course there are those roles that demand a specific type of training that you can typically only get through a college or university program, requiring college degrees for the majority of positions unnecessarily excludes potentially qualified candidates from your hiring pool.

A college degree doesn't reflect the skills of the applicant as much as it does their race and socioeconomic background.

In the United States, only 26% of Black Americans and 18% of LatinX people over age 25 have four-year college degrees, compared to 58% of Asian Americans and 40% of non-Hispanic white people. The rising cost, the long-term negative impacts of student debt and the fact that even having a degree doesn't ensure a boost in your earning potential makes the prospect of receiving a four-year degree not in the cards for so many.

By rethinking the education requirements for your open positions — and providing all employees with robust, continuous learning opportunities to accelerate their career growth — you can build a more agile, thoughtful and diverse workforce.

What does a college degree tell you about a potential employee?

Not much. A college degree is more of a filter. It's a proxy measure that hiring managers use to assume certain things about a candidate. Things like:

  • A college or university approved their application
  • They had the dedication to study and finish the degree program
  • A variety of professors deemed their academic performance good enough for passing grades

But compare that to someone with four years of work experience but no bachelor's degree. When you're reviewing their experience, you could assume:

  • Another company approved their application
  • They had the dedication to work for four years
  • A variety of managers thought their performance was good enough for continued employment and paychecks

Notice anything?

Requiring bachelor's degrees (and even getting more specific and requiring a college, major or GPA) doesn't ensure you get the best candidate for the role, it ensures that university admissions and professors get the first pass on all your job candidates.

So unless you're hiring an actual college or university professor, why require a degree?

Focus instead on emphasizing skills

Does a bachelor’s degree in Modern Dance truly make someone less of a fit than if they got one in Communications or Business? Does a being copywriter really require an English degree?

What a person did for four years (often from age 18 to 22) doesn’t always tell you much about their abilities in the workplace or their future potential in a role. I have a master’s degree, but when I have a computer question, I asked my high school-aged offspring for help!

Consider a hypothetical job posting for a Customer Service Specialist that lists a bachelor's degree as a requirement. Here are some other common skill qualifications that might be associated with the role:

  • Customer service experience with an ability to build trust and increase customer satisfaction
  • Effective communication skills, particularly empathetic listening
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced environment and adapt quickly to changes
  • Willingness to accept feedback and learn new skills
  • Solid computer skills and ability to multitask

None of those skills are exclusively learned in a four-year college program. All that requiring a college degree does for your job posting is exclude great candidates not because of their skills, but because of how they grew up and what they did in high school.

Focus your postings on the relevant skills and capabilities a person will need to thrive in the role.

Support your employees with learning programs

Most four-year college degrees don't have a one-to-one working world equivalent, so the majority of what you do on the job, you learn on the job.

Removing degree requirements works even better when paired with internal learning and development programs. That way your people are growing and developing in ways that benefit both them and your organization. Employees want to stay where they can advance their careers, so it will likely help boost loyalty to your organization too.

A modern learning and development program can help close any skills gaps your employees might have, while also allowing you to train employees in the relevant skills for their current — or future — roles.

Connecting your employees to the right learning content and networking opportunities, as well as any continuing education or certifications, can help prepare them for the next step in their careers.

A simple change; A great impact

The more we learn about the hiring practices that have been commonplace for so many years, the more what we thought was ensuring our organizations' success was really excluding great candidates for not great reasons.

Think of the benefits the simple change of removing a posting's bachelor's degree requirement can make to how you recruit candidates: You widen your applicant pool, you increase your diverse slate of candidates and you invest in developing your employees to be agile and engaged.

So If you want the best candidate for the role, before you add "bachelor's degree required" to your next job posting, ask yourself, "Is this truly necessary? And what am I really using this to screen for?" I expect it won't make it on to many of your postings from here on out.

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