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HUMAN RESOURCES

College Degree Required. But Why?

A bachelor's degree is now required for jobs that used to be held by high school grads. Could this actually hurt your business?

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There's an idea that the person with a degree is "better" than a person without one. Indeed, The New York Times recently reported on the relatively new phenomenon of companies hiring people with college degrees for jobs that historically didn't require college degrees. Are you doing this in your business?

If so, I have to ask, better for what? Yes, having a four year degree does show a degree of dedication. You have to pick a major, take class after class, write paper after paper and work on dreaded group projects. (Which, in my humble opinion, should be banished off the face of the educational earth unless the professor is willing to act as a proper manager, which most are not.) But, anyway, in theory you learn some things and you demonstrate that you have stick-to-itiveness. This is worth something.

But what? You also have to assume that no one enrolled in college, shelled out fantastic amounts of tuition and studied for hours to memorize the philosophies of 40 different dead people with ambitions of becoming an administrative assistant. No, they had other goals.

So, why are you looking for an administrative assistant among college graduates? This is a challenging role that is best filled by someone who wants that role. That is, someone who is not just biding time while waiting for an analyst spot to open up, or who is trying to earn money before gong to law school. What you want is an expert administrative assistant (who are hard to come by, by the way, which may explain why people are settling--yes settling--for degree holders to do the job).

Now, part of the problem is that hiring managers feel that students with high school diplomas are not as educated as they should be and, are not capable of performing these jobs. They need the maturity and extra knowledge that a four year degree brings. Which means that jobs that used to be reserved for the holder of a bachelor's degree are now given to those with a master's degree. So, in order to get the good job, you now have to shell out more money and spend more time in school.

Are you really getting higher quality employees this way? Or just more educated ones? Is your turnover at an acceptable level, or are you losing people quickly when they land something more in line with why they went to college in the first place? Granted, if you run an accounting firm and need people with CPA certifications, you need to find someone who has the degree and has passed the exam. If you need an engineer, it's likely you won't find someone who can do the work without the degree. (But you might!)

It's very easy to add a degree requirement to a job description, but stop and ask yourself it it's really necessary. And if it is, what degree is necessary? A bachelor's in a specific subject? Or are you only looking for someone who has completed a program--anything from a degree in animal husbandry to zoology will be fine? Does the work require someone with a master's degree? Why? What additional skills did this person gain in this second degree that will help your business?

You should always look to hire the best person for the job. And that may not always mean the person with the most letters after his name. It means hiring the person who is most likely to excel in that job. If possible, you want to hire someone who would be better at that job than you would, yourself. That's why you're hiring someone and not just taking the tasks on yourself.

So when you write that job description, think about the skills needed. Don't give into the trap of only hiring people with certain degrees. It takes longer, of course, to find the best person and not just the person that some university has stamped as acceptable. And, I'm certainly not advising you to not hire people with degrees. Just that you hire the right person, not the right degree.

Last updated: Feb 22, 2013

SUZANNE LUCAS spent 10 years in corporate human resources, where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers.
@RealEvilHRLady




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