Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Say no to degree discrimination

I'm going to come straight out and say it. If you're hiring for a position that doesn't require a degree, yet you're requiring one, you're discriminating plain and simple. Plus you could be missing out on a potentially good candidate.

I'm frustrated after reading an article from the New York Times about the increasing number of companies in the US requiring a batchelors degree for all open positions. This growing trend really concerns me because it's an artificial barrier that not everyone can get over.

Hold on James, are you worried about this because you don't have a degree? Damn Skippy I am, but there are plenty others out there too that don't deserve to be discriminated against.

So here's one of the reasons I'm frustrated. Within the first few paragraphs of the article I came across this quote:
"College graduates are just more career-oriented," said Adam Slipakoff, the firm's managing partner. "Going to college means they are making a real commitment to their futures. They're not just looking for a paycheck."
This is a gross generalisation if I've ever heard one. A degree doesn't mean anyone is more career orientated (or is better learner, but that's a subject for another post). Perhaps they can't afford to go to university, which is an increasing problem as costs rise. Perhaps university isn't the best place for them to learn. Perhaps they're just tired the education mill by the time they graduate from high school.

What happened to the people without degrees that started in the mailroom and worked their way up to CEO? Isn't that part of the American dream? Are these people not career oriented?
Hint: they're still out there.

I've met plenty of people with degrees that haven't a clue what type of career they want, and I've met plenty of people without degrees that are very career focused. In fact some of the most talented software developers I know don't have a degree. One thing that they do have is a love of learning.

As I mentioned I don't hold a degree myself, yet I've had a sucessful career as a software developer and software development manager. When I started my career as a software developer, I actually had to unlearn what I was taught in formal education on that topic. For me, university just wasn't the right learning environment for me. I learn best by doing. 

If someone has a passion, they don't have to have a degree they will learn what they need as they go along.

Obviously there are some careers that definitely require higher education, but a lot can be taught on the job.

This brings me to my next point. A few paragraphs later I came to this quote:
"When you get 800 résumés for every job ad, you need to weed them out somehow," said Suzanne Manzagol, executive recruiter at Cardinal Recruiting Group
If you're filtering on something that's irrelevant to the job, why stop there. Are you going to filter on gender, age or race? No because there are laws preventing that. What would you do if the government said you couldn't filter needlessly? When I hire, I put my money where my mouth is. I don't discriminate on any of the above.

Degrees also become even more irrelevant as a person progresses through their career. What if you have a candidate that has far more experience, but no degree?

I have an idea. Let's filter out candidates on something important, whether or not they can do the job and whether they have a passion for learning. If you have too many people applying for a position, that's s good thing.

I think I've made my point. I'll leave you with some rampant elitism:
"Besides the promotional pipelines it creates, setting a floor of college attainment also creates more office camaraderie, said Mr. Slipakoff, who handles most of the firm’s hiring and is especially partial to his fellow University of Florida graduates. There is a lot of trash-talking of each other’s college football teams"


  1. Great post, James, and I agree wholeheartedly. The problem, of course, is that employers can get away with this kind of thing because it's a buyer's market. They're swimming in job candidates so they can be picky. It's also an issue because I think that for years now we've been immersed in the cult of business. If business wants it, then it must be so. As a society, we aren't asking ourselves if business values and needs are in alignment with the needs and values of the society at large. So we don't hold businesses accountable for this kind of behavior.

  2. I concur. We shouldn't discriminate against people with degrees, or without. In the testing world there is a lot of talk about certification. It's a similar situation - a 3 day course and a test is a way to get past the employer or recruiters initial vetting.

    It's lame and daft. I heard someone say the other day that Zappos hire based on attitude and desire to learn, whilst old school companies do the opposite - they hire based on what they have learned without much consideration of their adaptability and want-ability to progress further.

    Surely employers want people with an open mindset - people who say 'yes I can do that' instead of 'hmm, no that's not my job'.

    I've never been qualified to do the things I now do, but I like to think I do a fine job.

    I have always learned by doing. I don't have a degree. Heck I don't have A-Levels. And only hold 2 GCSEs to my name. I find my interests and my personal focus changes too quickly for degrees to keep up with :)

    Interesting the angle you focus on as being 'discrimination' - I hadn't thought about that, but now that I do it very much reminds me of the discrimination I've had as a result of being a mother. That's another story though :)