Finding new talent is stressful. You want to find someone who not only works hard and has the right skill set, but whose values align with your company’s principles and culture.
With low unemployment, it should be a job seeker’s market. If you’re struggling to find a good fit, you may want to consider widening your pool of applicants to include candidates without a college degree.
Cesar Cruz, American fashion designer and co-founder of Sebastian Cruz Couture, said professionals can gain valuable experience in the workforce without a college degree.
“For example, a professional who has worked their way up into managerial and lead roles will have more hands-on experience and will probably fare better in a similar role in a large company than a fresh graduate,” Cruz said. “That’s why it’s always best to evaluate candidates on a case-by-case basis and not judge purely on education requirements.”
Kyle Clements, founder and CEO of Quipli, echoed Cruz’s idea and said in today’s job market, college experience isn’t as vital as it used to be and that experience is more important.
“College can be an incredibly enriching experience, but with the barrier to entry so high and with so many alternatives out there, it’s just no longer necessary. What’s more important is the candidate’s previous job experience and how they’ve spent their professional life,” Clements explained.
Patricia Roberts, chief operating officer at Gift of College, Inc., said businesses should consider hiring individuals without a degree if the skills needed can be learned on the job or acquired outside of the classroom.
“There are many qualified individuals who have not had the opportunity or inclination to pursue or complete formal post-secondary education because of cost, access or other circumstances. Oftentimes, the skills that are needed for certain roles can be developed on the job and employers should keep an open mind with respect to candidates lacking formal post-secondary education and recognize the value they can bring,” Robers said.
Aside from adding value and talent to your company by hiring people who have acquired skills in unique ways, broadening the scope of candidates to include those who have not (or have not yet) acquired higher education can help with diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, according to Roberts.
“The more diverse minds at the table, the better for business. Those lacking credentials typically sought may appreciate being able to pursue education while on the job. Helping employees to pursue or complete various forms of higher education can lead to more engaged and loyal employees — which can lower the cost of turnover and improve workplace culture,” Roberts said.
When you’re filling a position, it’s important to find someone with the right skills and attitude — regardless of whether or not they have a college degree.
“What’s most important when hiring is if the job seeker is the right fit for the employer and if they possess the right skills for that job,” said Monster career expert Vicki Salemi.
While a college degree is helpful and important, hands-on experience is typically more valuable, Salemi said. “If a candidate earned a degree in one area but doesn’t have any work or internship experience, and another candidate didn’t earn a degree but has worked in the type of role they are interviewing for, a company may be more inclined to go with the latter.”
Dana Case, director of operations at MyCorporation, agrees and believes if an applicant has the skills, experience and knowledge, it doesn’t matter if they have a degree. “Yes, a college degree proves that a candidate is committed and has a well-rounded education, but that should not trump or invalidate their professional experience if they didn’t receive a diploma from an educational institution.”
When you’re interviewing candidates, it’s important to get a full picture of who they are, including their soft skills and how they performed in previous jobs.
“For candidates who don’t have a college degree and need to prove themselves to employers, it’s important to highlight their teamwork, communication skills, problem-solving, interpersonal skills, work ethic and flexibility/adaptability,” said Salemi.
Josh Rubin, owner of Post Modern Marketing and other businesses, said about only half of his employees have degrees related to their jobs. When he’s hiring employees, the most important factor for him is the quality of their character.
“If you’re looking to hire someone who did not attend college, talk to their previous employers and get a sense of what they’re like to work with,” Rubin said.
He also recommends not limiting hires based on what they studied in college. “Find out a candidate’s long-term goals and what they want to do in the future, and hire based on that.”
If you decide to hire an employee without a degree, pay them the same as candidates who did go to college.
“They are not less valuable, nor worth less than someone who did (graduate from college),” Salemi said. “When a candidate is the right fit for a company and its needs, they should be paid equally, not based on degree or which school they did or did not attend.”
James De Roche, managing partner at Lead Comet, said his company bases salaries on potential team members’ abilities and the value they can provide for the client and organization.
“Degrees do not influence this process. Can the candidate think independently? Do they take initiative? Do they care about the success of the client? Do they think outside of the box? These are the kinds of people we want on our team,” De Roche said.
A company that hires only degree-holders is limiting its hiring pool. College majors are rarely a direct tie-in to an open position within an organization. If a company is finding retention challenging, that difficulty could be related to the college degree requirement. Instead, managers should focus more on the person’s work experience and skill set. A problem with hiring only college graduates is that the candidates may have limited work experience due to their years of schooling.
If you’re trying to implement a no-degree-necessary hiring policy at your own company, here are six successful companies who are proof you can hire candidates without a college degree, and what they require instead: