I certainly value formal education and for some roles it’s mandatory. (I wouldn’t hire a self-taught brain surgeon.) In most cases however, college is but one path to competence…and it’s not always the quickest or most financially sound road to travel.
A good way to evaluate candidates and to eliminate a potential bias is to ask for and examine work product. If I’m hiring a graphic designer for example, I want someone who can produce eye-catching material that coveys a clear message. I don’t care if he or she went to grad school or charm school. The work matters most.
Too often hiring managers miss out on excellence because they suffer from lock-in / lock-out – a phenomenon that prevents us from seeing something in a new light once we’ve already adopted a view. For an example, check out the duck / rabbit picture that accompanies this post. While you might see one of the animals first, you should be able to see both, interchange between the two, and, ideally be open to seeing other pictures. (*Can you also see the pony?) Avoid the lock-in / lock-out trap by being open to finding greatness in unusual places. If you don’t, your competitors will.
Degrees are important, but there are a lot of PhDs on the market who struggle to transform theoretical knowledge into practical work product. On the other hand, the candidate with a high school diploma and practical work, military, or volunteer experience could be a motivated life-long learner with a track record of producing tangible results.
So how do you know who is best for the job? You have to ask. And that means interviewing all parties. So be sure to remove the “screen out” requirements in your application process that prevent you from ever seeing these candidates.
Oh, and if you hire someone without a degree, don’t be cheap on the compensation. Pay for the skillset, not the degree. The student already flipped the bill for that. Remember, HR has the power to solve any pay gap issues be they real or perceived and that includes the experience vs. education gap.
*There is no pony. If you see a pony consult a psychiatrist.
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