Should You Stop Hiring College Graduates?

Talent Acquisition

The business world has been shifting its mindset about who to hire for a number of years, and HR leaders are seriously considering those without a college degree. As the cost of college tuition continues to rise and many more people end up taking on tremendous student debt, people are reconsidering the return on investment.

READ: Reimagine Recruitment

Some question the value of earning a degree in a subject like philosophy when many graduates end up working in mainstream business and their studies rarely have anything to do with the career they end up building.

Certainly, HR leaders in fields outside of professions like medicine and law that require special training do not want to miss out on top talent, who might find the cost of college prohibitive but have valuable skillsets nonetheless.

So, what should HR professionals look for in a candidate if not a college degree? 

A Sense of Curiosity

HR is taking its cues from leadership. More than 70% of leaders reported they believe curiosity is a valuable trait, and 51% said it has become more important over time, and nearly 60% said it drives business impact, according to SAS’ Curiosity@Work.

Oxford defines curiosity as a strong desire to know or learn something. In other words, HR leaders might look for job candidates who might not be getting a formal education but have interest in learning something. Someone who has mastered a self-taught skill or pursued coursework in a relevant subject might be a frontrunner. 

READ: How to Build a Learning Culture

In fact, this kind of person would fit nicely into a culture that promotes lifelong learning, which is a goal for many organizations today. HR can gauge candidates’ curiosity by looking at their pursuits and asking them questions about their philosophy on change, education, learning, and more.  

Of course, there are ways to recognize what skills they are seeking that are related to the position and their potential for realizing those skills. Assessments are one way. With a combination of interview questions and tests, HR can determine who could have potential without necessarily having experienced a formal education. 


For a while, college grads earned criticism for their lack of experience when they entered the workforce. Many colleges and universities responded by working with recruiters, asking about the necessary skillsets, and providing internships or company-sponsored projects.

The idea was to provide opportunities for students to immediately apply and test what they were learning. Then, they would have stories to tell and skills to boast about on job interviews. This process continues today. Those students who took on jobs like working at a fast food joint in high school can marry that experience with whatever they did at college internships. 

REPORT: HR Guide to Machine Learning and AI

However, advanced technology has made it possible for anyone to gain certain skillsets without having a formal internship. Someone could learn Java or become a blogger or become an influencer and have work experience to share. There are people in niche fields, who found others like them online, and pursued opportunities without an institution backing them. 

In the tech world, the legendary stories of Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, and Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, spurred the idea that those outside of college were the ones changing the world. So, tech has, in many ways, paved the way for this mentality. 

New Hiring for the Future of Work

Education is never going to be a bad thing, and some professions must require it. For instance, doctors cannot undertake their profession without years of studying and training. A degree is a necessity in such a case.

However, the future of work is arriving, and the skills gap remains. Other types of jobs can be done without formal education. For business leaders, finding those unicorns, people who can perform the cutting-edge tasks that are demanded will be more important than finding someone with a degree. 

WATCH: HR and Future of Work

In fact, the advances in technology are so rapid that colleges cannot possibly produce graduates who are on top of it all. Instead, workers must continuously learn. That reality diminishes the necessity of the degree in many instances.

Access to all sorts of learning, brought to the world by the internet, also make formal college education less necessary for some jobs. As a result, many experts in the space are predicting that HR leaders will no longer require a college degree, even for jobs that previously made it a pre-requisite. That piece of paper will not be a must in the future of work. 

What will you do? Continue the conversation by connecting with HR Exchange Network on LinkedIn and Twitter

Photo by cottonbro for Pexels

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