No Degree, No Job? Why This Requirements Needs to End


This ridiculous rule reduces your applicant pool and deprives your business of great employees.

Imagine you're looking to fill a role. A resume comes across your desk, and the person checks every box. They have experience, certifications, and all the knowledge, skills, and abilities to do a fantastic job.

You'd absolutely bring this person in for an interview!

Except, perhaps your applicant tracking system weeded them out. Or your recruiter hit reject already. Why would this happen? Because this candidate didn't have one completely irrelevant skill: A bachelor's degree.

An experienced HR professional with a Professional in Human Resources Certification (PH) and solid references shared this experience:

Yesterday, I tried to apply for a role I was overqualified for and was asked first if I had a bachelor's degree. When I clicked no, I was immediately taken to a page that said "after careful review of your qualifications, we have decided to move forward with another candidate." I hadn't even entered a letter of my name before being rejected.

This company rejected the candidate before knowing a single thing about their qualifications. All the company knows is that they have no bachelor's degrees.

While most companies aren't so blatant about this discrimination, many will reject candidates without degrees. Here's why it's bad for business. 

Ages 18-23 are not the most critical years in your life

We call these "traditional students." They start college right after high school and graduate in the next 4-5 years. Yes, you learn a great deal in college, but you also learn a great deal if you don't go to college.

It isn't logical to say to someone with 10 years of experience that their experience doesn't count because they weren't in college during this period. You should be looking for skills, not where they were right after high school.


Degrees are simply proxies for knowledge, skills, and abilities

Why do you care if someone has a degree? Because it's easier to confirm a degree than to give the candidate tests to prove that they can read, write, and think at the level needed to graduate from college.

A degree is a proxy--something that you use to confirm something different. You want to know if the person has what it takes to do four years of work, write papers, and do some advanced math--maybe. But, there are many ways to evaluate that. Four years of consistent work also shows that the candidate can achieve goals. A portfolio or writing test can show if they can write at the level you need.

By focusing on the degree (especially companies requiring any degree), you aren't testing for the knowledge, skills, and abilities you need. You're allowing an admissions committee and college teachers (not everyone who teaches college is a professor) to judge students for you.

Here's a little secret: I taught undergraduate classes when I was in graduate school. Do you know what my university did to prepare me for this? They told me the class titles. That's it. I was just out of undergrad, given class titles, and told to teach. No support from professors. Just me.

Don't assume that those A's came from professors who knew how to evaluate students.


Diversity matters

Did you know that not every group attends college at the same rate? The young adults who attend college look very different when you break it out by race. In 2016 this percentage of young adults enrolled in college.


  • 58 percent of Asians
  • 42 percent of Whites
  • 42 percent of mixed race
  • 39 percent of Hispanics
  • 36 percent of Blacks
  • 21 percent of Pacific Islanders
  • 19 Percent of American Indian/Alaskan Natives


Add to that, the dropout rate is high, and it's highest for first-generation college students. Seventy-five percent of people who enroll in college and then drop out are first-generation college students. And students who come from high-income families ($100,000 or more adjusted gross income) are 50 percent more likely to graduate than students from low-income families.

When you reject people without degrees, you reduce the chances of improving staff diversity.


Are degrees needed?

If you need to hire a medical doctor, degrees and licenses are required. If you want to hire a chemical engineer, it's doubtful you'll find someone qualified who doesn't have a degree in chemical engineering. But, if your requirement is simply a degree of any kind, you probably shouldn't require a degree at all.

What you want is someone who can do the job. Of course, a degree is an excellent thing, but don't reject someone who lacks one if they have the requisite experience. You can gain knowledge elsewhere--online classes, certificates, and work experience all add up.

Take the time to look at all candidates--even those without degrees. You have nothing to lose except for the few seconds it takes to evaluate a resume, and your company has everything to gain.

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