22/09/2014

By Anthony Sherick, MD, Technojobs

Should a degree be a prerequisite in the hiring process? This is a common question that gets debated extensively. In my experience, work experience is fast becoming more valuable than that of a university degree, with attitude, passion and personality all playing a key role for those job hunting. In the UK, 99% of all companies are small to medium size businesses, and recently 9 out of 10 employers in the UK testified to the fact that they hire according to skills and experience, not purely on merit of a university degree.

The recruitment process consists of so many different factors that may include experience, subject knowledge, communication skills, cultural fit, personal presentation, subject interest, psychometric testing, and plenty more. When all these elements are taken into consideration, it seems inane to screen a candidate simply because they don’t have two letters behind their name.

The recruitment process is distinct to each company, and thus there can be no blanket rule as to when a degree is deemed essential for a role. Of course, not many companies are comparable to the the TV show “The Call Centre”, where candidates need to stand up and sing. However the diversity of a recruitment process is extreme and can vary in terms of the number stages, whether or not candidates will under go company or industry specific tests, how a firm deems a candidate should present themselves and of course there is a huge variety of questions that could be asked. I think that it is rare to come across standardised competency based interview questions particularly in small companies for whom taking on a new employee is a significant undertaking. The point is that everyone is looking for someone different who will best fit the role, and the variety of factors to consider means that proportionately one aspect should not outweigh the sum of all parts.

As I am sure all small businesses have discovered – to their benefit and cost – is that until someone has worked with you for at least three months, then you don’t know their true value to the company. How much of a degree will influence this is generally quite limited and more and more it is about the right attitude and work ethic rather than the qualification. With such a plethora of subjects now available at university it is predictable that some of them are deemed irrelevant to the working world and some employers may ask why they studied a degree they won’t use in future life. Yes of course there are benefits associated with 3 years of structured education, but having interviewed for sales people who have a medieval history degree under their belt I can say that it doesn’t enhance their prospects. Additionally many employers may ask candidates if they have a degree but not ask the grade, which seems rather strange, as surely the level of a qualification is significant? Also many young individual’s circumstances preclude them from going to university, whether that is down to cost or personal circumstances, but this doesn’t mean they won’t be the right fit for your company. Obviously in specific careers it is mandatory to have a degree – I wouldn’t want to be operated on by a surgeon without a relevant degree or be represented in court without a degree-qualified lawyer.

The key is that work skills can only be learned through real work. These are skills that you can’t learn from a book – you acquire them by getting out there and doing them. There is a significant monetary cost to attending university and also potentially an opportunity cost of lost working time and scaling the career ladder.