The U.K. offices of Ernst & Young have announced they will stop requiring degrees, but instead will offer online testing and search out talented individuals regardless of background. Why? They say there is no correlation between success at university and success in careers.

The Huffington Post quotes Maggie Stilwell, EY's managing partner for talent as saying:

"Academic qualifications will still be taken into account and indeed remain an important consideration when assessing candidates as a whole, but will no longer act as a barrier to getting a foot in the door.

Our own internal research of over 400 graduates found that screening students based on academic performance alone was too blunt an approach to recruitment.

It found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken."

I'm very happy to see this. I'm a big fan of learning (I have a BA and an MA myself), but I'm also a huge fan of recognizing that the ability to write a paper or do a sheet of calculus problems doesn't necessarily translate into success in the workplace.

This isn't to say there's no correlation between education and success. In fact, we know that there is. But it's not a perfect correlation. As Ms. Stilwell says, education is too blunt of an instrument.

So, when you're hiring, ask yourself, does this job really require a degree, or does it just require someone who is smart and capable? Are you rejecting people without degrees just because they don't have degrees?

Admittedly, it makes for an easy sort; a nice box to check off. A degree tells you that a person has the ability to get a degree. They can write papers, suck up to professors, and survive on noodle ramen and Red Bull. But a degree doesn’t tell you the person will be a great employee. 

When you're hiring someone, don't be too quick to eliminate people without degrees (unless you're hiring doctors or nurses or lawyers, or others who require licensing). Instead, do the following:

Look at accomplishments.

If Jane has worked her way up over a 20-year career, does it really matter what she did between the ages of 18 and 22? Of course not. Look at her experience.

Don’t put too much weight on others' evaluations.

The reason people look at degrees is that we see them as a proxy for capability. You know that someone who graduated from an Ivy League institution is smart. But you don't know how that person will fit into your office. You don't know if someone without a degree is smart or not. Could be. Could not be. So, stop relying strictly on proxies and make the decision yourself.

Check true references.

It takes five minutes to call and verify dates of service and titles. It takes a lot longer to have a meaningful conversation with a candidate’s former employer. (Never call their current employer without express permission. Most people job search in secret.) Don't ask, "Would you rehire this person?" Ask, "I’m thinking of hiring Jane to manage client services. She'll have six direct reports who are responsible for X, Y, and Z. How do you think she'll perform in that environment?" That gets you a better and more accurate answer.

Consider a variety of backgrounds.

We love to talk about diversity, but we're pretty lousy at having true diversity. We may look for skin colors, but if all of those people graduated from the same three universities, you're only getting what looks like diversity. Instead, look for smart people from all different backgrounds.

 

Published on: Sep 22, 2015