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Updated Nov 02, 2023

Would You Hire Someone Who Didn’t Go to College?

How crucial is higher education in finding the right talent for your business?

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Jennifer Post, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
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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.

Why you should consider hiring people without degrees

Real-world experience is valid experience.

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. 

FYIDid you know
According to Pew Research, about four out of 10 Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree.

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. 

Opening up the candidate pool brings diversity.

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. 

What to do when hiring someone who didn’t go to college

Find someone with the right skills, experience and attitude.

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.”

Did You Know?Did you know
According to The Future of Work 2022 report by Monster, 63 percent of employers are willing to hire someone with transferable skills and train them.

Look for soft skills and call references. 

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.”

Pay employees the same regardless of their degrees.

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.

Six companies that don’t require degrees

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:

  1. IBM: IBM trains people all over the world to be able to work for the company, regardless of college education. By providing training for the skills necessary to do the job, the company makes it less important to have a certificate or previous experience. IBM is proof that the skills needed to perform a job can be learned on the job, or with proper training prior to full employment.
  2. Google: Founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin dropped out of college and still built a successful company. This means that they know college isn’t everything and pride themselves on hiring people with the right skills over a college degree. 
  3. QBurst: Instead of focusing on formal education, U.S.-based software development company QBurst prioritizes skills. Some expertise and proof of relevant work history is required to gain employment, but all of those things can be achieved without formal higher education. 
  4. Tesla: A few years ago, Elon Musk announced that college degrees would no longer be required to work most positions at Tesla, and even those that do specify a degree could sometimes be substituted with exceptional previous experience. 
  5. Apple: One of the biggest tech companies out there, Apple doesn’t require a college degree for some of its positions. CEO Tim Cook said in 2019 that the skills learned in college don’t always translate to the working world, especially when it comes to coding. 
  6. Penguin Random House: Tech jobs aren’t the only ones you can snag without a college degree, and, as a matter of fact, Penguin Random House did away with their higher education requirements before many tech companies. From entry-level to experienced positions, Penguin Random House often has open roles with no degree requirements. 
author image
Jennifer Post, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
Jennifer Post brings a decade of expertise to her role as a trusted advisor for small business owners. With a strong foundation in marketing, funding, human resources and more, she teaches entrepreneurs about the software and tools necessary for launching and scaling successful ventures. From email marketing platforms to CRM systems, she ensures businesses have the technological edge they need to thrive while also sharing best practices for everyday operations. Post's recent focus on risk management and insurance underscores her commitment to equipping business owners with the services needed to safeguard their businesses for long-term success. Her advice has appeared in Fundera, The Motley Fool and HowStuffWorks.
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