Not long ago a friend updated me on his job search. Although he has years of experience in his field he felt he'd missed more than one opportunity because he doesn't have a degree.
The other day I was speaking with a client in a talent assessment. One person rated highly until we got to future promotability and they said, well, she doesn't have a degree.
Yet, at the same time others roles have no need for a degree. Developers anyone? Sales?
And in some technical areas a degree over five years old is of limited value if the underlying technology is radically changing. Mechanical engineering may be static: nano-technology not so much.
So the use/requirement of a college degree is inconsistent at best. We need the flexibility to interpret the need for degrees in different ways.
Degrees are proxies
Insisting on a college degree despite the standard rhetoric of “commensurate experience” in a job description is a proxy. Its a convenient way to reduce the field of candidates so we don't have to do the work ourselves. That's called screening.
Requiring a degree as a condition of employment is also a potential violation of Title VII.
Setting minimum qualifying standards for employment is an important part of our role. Make sure these standards actually matter though. In recruiter parlance, the list of “gotta haves” and “nice-to-haves” should be real.
And reserve the right to use judgement – that indescribable essence HR people are really paid for – when assessing degree relevance and work experience.
What's in a name
Degrees aren't always meaningful. Do we care about a degree when looking for someone with Ruby on Rails experience? How then do we verify their skill set?
We contact past clients.
Especially in freelance roles verification of past work experience is the only thing we care about. Yet, we could verify experience for employment candidates too regardless of degree status if the work itself was really paramount.
Finally, degree relevance can't be discussed without acknowledging the explosion of non-traditional degrees. Are they real, relevant, worthwhile? I know: that's a headache. Now, we've got to assess the value of degrees from institutions we've never heard of. It takes time. It takes work.
The prejudice holds that if a degree is through an online experience, or perhaps worse, from a for-profit school its not as valuable as say Harvard. I agree. There's a a difference. How much? I don't know.
The difference probably has more to do with the person than the institution.
Life isn't neat and clean. Its a hell of a lot of fun for the most part, but not so neat. In employing people degree-value and relatedness is one of the biggest challenges we have to address.
The bottom-line is to make degree requirements relevant and sensible. Defaulting to any standard without thinking about it may be easier, but its not applied intelligence.
Employees look for intelligence in employers as much as the other way around.
Whether we're degreed or not.