Ten Reasons To Hire Someone Without A College Degree

Liz Ryan, Contributor

Dear Liz,

There is a debate in my company over the importance of a four-year college degree for our entry-level staff professional jobs.

The company currently requires a four-year degree for our new hires in every exempt job and many non-exempt roles, too. Some of our managers, including me, are questioning the wisdom of that hiring requirement.

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In previous roles, I have hired numerous candidates who lacked a four-year degree and I’ve never had a problem teaching them how to do their jobs.

I think my company is behind the times. I think our hiring process would be easier and faster if we expanded the pool of qualified candidates to include qualified candidates who lack a four-year degree.

That could be someone with equivalent work experience or a two-year degree with additional training, or any number of other career and educational histories.

What is your take? Do you feel that a four-year degree is an iron-clad prerequisite for a staff level professional role?

Thanks Liz -

Yours,

Naomi

Dear Naomi,

A four-year degree requirement for new hires is seldom really about the job requirements.

Many organizations require a four-year degree primarily because it makes their recruiting process easier.

Any hard-and-fast hiring criterion is a waste of talent, money and other resources, but most companies build their recruiting processes to be mechanical and uniform —

not human, smart or cost-effective.

In my experience any bright and curious person can learn to perform almost any business role. How else would so many self-made entrepreneurs without degrees have become as successful as they are?

They figure out how to do their jobs. That’s what everybody has to do — college degree or no.

Some firms will only hire candidates who attended blue-chip schools — the height of snobby foolishness.

The silliness of recruiting systems goes far beyond a four-year degree requirement.

Scan any job board and you’ll see job ads seeking people with ridiculous qualifications — either skill sets so unusual that there might not be ten living people who possess them or bizarre requirements that have more to do with boosting the hiring manager’s ego than snagging a talented person for the job.

A hard-and-fast hiring requirement for a four-year college degree is silly and profit-killing unless the degree program is very closely tied to the day-to-day job description.

It is time for employers to wise up and hire more folks with varied career and educational backgrounds. If you want to make the case that your company should expand its talent pool to consider candidates who lack a four-year degree, you’ll need to do some research.

Talk to HR and find out how long it typically takes the company to fill a job opening, and then make some reasonable assumptions to calculate the cost of that lost time.

Talk to your fellow managers and ask them for their views on the subject as well as their experience hiring and training candidates with and without four-year degrees.

Look at the job ads your competitors run — both your industry competitors and your local competitors for talent. Your company could be putting itself at a huge disadvantage by requiring more of your new hires than your competitors require of theirs.

Here are ten good reasons to hire someone without a four-year degree into a staff professional job:

1. Some people learn best in school, and other people don’t. They learn by doing. You will miss out on a huge talent population if you screen out brilliant, capable and hard-working people for whom the classroom is not a good learning environment — but for whom your plant or office would be.

2. Some people worked through the years other folks were in college. They learned on the job. In contrast, some new graduates from four-year institutions have never worked at all. They have never held a job. Which candidate is going to make a bigger contribution to your organization, sooner?

3. Some folks could not afford college when they were of traditional college age. They might do brilliantly in college later in their lives, but right now they don’t have any formal education past high school. Unless your company requires a new hire’s four-year degree to map perfectly to his or her job function, why would you care very much whether your sharp new employee has spent the past four years in school — or working, and learning as they go?

4. Some hiring managers believe that a four-year degree is the mark of a mature adult versus a rowdy kid. That is ridiculous. Some kids are studious and some are not. Many kids make it through a four-year degree program without maturing in any way. It’s all about the kid — not their degree or lack thereof.

5. Community college instructors are real-world practitioners who can teach their students not only their subject but also the mechanics of their trade and how to make a career in it. They teach those things alongside the “how tos” of the profession. They teach from real-world examples. However, many community colleges don’t offer four-year degrees. Why penalize a student for training under a working professional versus a university professor? If anything, we would expect businesses to prefer the former to the latter.

6. Some folks graduate from high school and join the military, or volunteer to serve their communities. It is likely to take longer for these students to earn a degree because of their military service or volunteering commitment. Their service is critical and beneficial to a healthy society, so why make it harder for military veterans and former volunteers to get hired into responsible positions the minute their service commitment is complete?

7. When you open your hiring pipeline to people with more varied backgrounds you will increase the diversity of your new hires — bringing in new points of view, new ideas and talent from a wider spectrum than you will ever get hiring strictly graduates of four-year degree programs.

8. When you hire a mix of four-year college graduates and people without college degrees, everybody will learn something new. Your department managers may learn the most!

9. When you drop the iron-clad four-year-degree requirement from your hiring protocol, you will become the employer of choice in your area for smart, accomplished folks without college degrees — people you probably should have hired ages ago and who can help your business tomorrow.

10. Whenever you re-evaluate and question your standard ways of doing things, you grow as a person and a professional, and your fellow leaders grow as well.

Hiring only college grads is lazy, and we all know it.

Spending four years on campus doesn’t make you smarter. It doesn’t make you more creative. It teaches you certain things that may or may not be applicable in your new job.

It’s a hiring manager’s task to figure out which candidates — degree-holding or not — will make the best new hires.

Lazy shortcuts like “We only consider candidates with four-year degrees” are a vestige of the outdated Machine Age, and need to disappear sooner rather than later.

All the best,

Liz