Why it’s time to look beyond university degrees when recruiting for your business

Job applicant

Earlier this year, UK publishing company Penguin Random House declared that prospective job candidates would no longer be required to have a university degree when applying for a position at the company.

This move followed in the footsteps of consulting firm Ernst & Young, which last year found “no evidence” that success at university is linked to achievement in professional assessments.

Read more: Business founders weigh in on what’s missing from university courses

Having worked in the recruitment industry for 15 years and after founding a recruitment solutions company, I’ve observed among my own clients a sentiment that university degrees alone—outside of those professions where a degree is necessary, such as medicine and law—may not fully prepare graduates for the realities of work.

From experience, hiring out of university doesn’t mean the candidates are the best and brightest out there. Skills and attitude are arguably as important as experience and qualifications in selecting candidates.

Is it time for Australian businesses to switch their thinking on university degrees?

Times are changing

As an entrepreneur myself who has founded six companies, I know university isn’t always the key to success. I didn’t follow the traditional path; I didn’t get a degree and I’ve built a successful career through determination and hard work.

Looking beyond someone’s university degree (or lack thereof) means employers can considerably widen their talent pool. They get access to people they wouldn’t have otherwise considered for the role, but who may have the right attitude and enough grit to learn the job.

Companies are also starting to realise diversity and inclusion are good for business. Research has shown both gender-diverse and ethnically-diverse companies are more likely to outperform competitors. So when managers are hiring scores of graduates, all with similar profiles, they’re not getting the best deal for their business.

But if a university degree is no longer the only indicator of a candidate’s ability to perform in a role, how do you go about finding the best talent? 

Finding suitable candidates

A key element of the recruitment process is to understand the attributes required for a role. If you’re hiring a nurse, of course, you should hire someone with the necessary qualifications. But if you’re hiring for one of the thousands of roles where human qualities are a key success factor, you can start searching for broader skill sets.

Soft skills, such as attitude, tenacity, determination, ambition and ‘smarts’ play a large role in a person’s ability to perform well. Don’t limit your organisation to straight-A students, or you could be missing out on talent.

Taking a three-dimensional approach

Among my clients, a candidate with the right attitude is the number one consideration for hiring managers, across all industries. Second to that is a candidate’s aptitude to perform well in a role. It doesn’t mean they have to have done it before, but they should demonstrate the capacity to perform well. Finally, experience and qualifications, come as the third and last criteria.

To find the best candidates, Ernst & Young opted for numerical tests and online “strengths” assessments to evaluate the potential of applicants. Hiring companies can also use psychometric testing or assessments in particular skills, such as typing, customer service aptitude, productivity or software programming for a fresh perspective on candidates.

This puts all applicants on a more even playing field and enables the business to evaluate them based on their capacity to perform well in the role. It gives them a three-dimensional approach to each candidate, which considers past experience, interview presentation and skills and aptitude, helping them ascertain if someone is a good fit.

While degrees and academic qualifications will and should still be taken into account by the recruiters, they should no longer be a barrier to getting a person’s application reviewed.

It’s time for all Australian businesses to jump on board, change the way they search for top talent and look at which candidates will truly be able to do the job well.


Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

It would be interesting to see whether employers are better recruiters for determining the right person to satisfy a cross section of attributes required for a job as against employees acting on behalf of their employers (eg HR personnel).

SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: support@smartcompany.com.au or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.