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Should Degrees Be Required?

October 12th, 2012

Sixty years ago, a standard four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited university was a common, but nowhere near universal, credential for an entry level job in the nascent information economy. At that point, offices were beginning to replace farms and factories as gateways to a middle class lifestyle, and for most upwardly mobile office work, a college degree was coveted by employers. A degree suggested that a candidate had the tenacity and intellectual rigor to spend four years engaged in study, skill acquisition, and broad cultural immersion in the humanistic concepts that shape Western thought.

Candidates with a degree were considered intelligent and determined, and they were assumed to possess functional competence in their specific area of study. A degree also suggested a middle class background, since college was typically impractical or out of reach to those who had grown up in poverty.

Sixty years later, bachelor’s degrees have become such a universal symbol of readiness for information-based positions that their value is now being called in question. When you screen a candidate for an entry level office position, should a missing degree be a deal breaker? Or should you look beyond this credential for other qualities that provide more accurate predictors of success? Take these considerations into account.

You Make the Call

If you have sole or final responsibility for the consequences of this hiring decision, it might be a good idea to look beyond rigid and overly generic standards. Take control of the process and do what’s right for your business, your goals, your office culture, and yourself.

Take Technical and Clinical Knowledge into Account

A degree sometimes suggests immersion in broad ideas and intellectual rigor, which can also be judged by alternative methods. But without a degree, technical knowledge can be very hard to certify and prove. Make sure you’re not taking on a candidate who’s starting from absolute zero and will need to develop volumes of skill and information at your expense. Technical skills like drawing, writing, design, software development, and engineering take time and money to master. Calculate the cost of this training versus the salary premiums commanded by degree-holding candidates.

Get What You Pay For

If you do decide to fork over a salary premium for a candidate with a degree, make sure you get the value you expect for your money. Ask thoughtful questions during the interview that can give you real insight into the candidate’s overall knowledge base. And even though it may seem like a superfluous or overly cautious step, it’s never a bad idea to make a call and confirm a candidate’s educational credentials.

For more information on screening candidates for entry level positions, arrange a consultation with the Connecticut staffing and employment experts at Merritt Staffing Services.

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