Five Qualities More Important than a Degree

If you Google the phrase “a Bachelor’s Degree is…” the first two autocomplete options are “…is worthless” and “…is not enough.” While these two choices seem mutually exclusive, the truth is they’re not. And they’re both accurate. I worked my way through grad school as a recruiter and experienced first hand how often hiring managers overemphasize the need for a Bachelor’s Degree. More often than not, there were no work tasks that required any higher education whatsoever, let alone completion of the degree. When I pushed back on the requirement, what I often heard was that managers were looking for proof that someone could commit to and accomplish a long-term goal.

A Bachelor’s degree isn’t magic.

A degree is often not necessary for success in the workplace, nor is it an effective measure of employability of your potential new team members.

The degree itself proves very little about success in the workplace. For example, while many students complete college because their parents gave them no other option, others leave college to seek out successful entrepreneurship opportunities. Both of these candidates prove that they can successfully accomplish their goals, but for many hiring managers, the degree itself carries more weight. Depending on the role, the candidate with an entrepreneurial mindset might be a better fit than the candidate who is rule-following.

Before you add a Bachelor’s Degree to your next job description, make a list of the skills and qualities you really need from your next employee. Define the real job requirements and clarify what is critically important for performance. If there is nothing on that list that is taught and tested in a higher ed classroom, then drop the requirement. Instead, focus on these five qualities that are more impactful than a degree:

  • Technical skills only take a candidate so far. Drive is the difference between being able to do the job and being motivated to succeed at the job. An employee with a high need to achieve can outperform a 4.0 college grad any day. They’ll be more competitive and likely to set their own aggressive stretch goals. They aren’t interested in meeting expectations. They’re interested in setting new expectations.
  • Workplaces are filled with ambiguity, stress, chaos, roadblocks and setbacks. For students who learn easily and test well, a degree proves little about a person’s ability to persevere through challenges. The workplace looks very little like the 1,000 person lecture hall and the performance review shares little in common with a mid-term or final. Instead of focusing on the degree, inquire about the candidate’s perception of stress. Do they see it as something to be avoided at all costs or a challenge they’re confident they’ll overcome? Candidates with high resilience do not perceive stressful events as inherently negative. Resilient candidates hold an internal locus of control and commit themselves to working past challenges/roadblocks to solve problems.
  • The world of work is changing constantly with rapid technological advancements, an increasingly competitive marketplace, and shifting expectations. The technical and soft skills necessary to succeed in a role today are vastly different than they were even 10 years ago. Priorities shift, roles expand, and employees who are flexible and versatile will adapt to new expectations and continue making impact with little disruption in performance.
  • Individuals who are curious are self-motivated learners. They learn for the sake of learning and excel at asking the right questions to dive deeper into a topic. They are not satisfied with learning “what” because they’re more interested in “why” and “what if.” Individuals with a high degree of curiosity also likely have a high openness to experience. They will have a broader perspective, be more inclusive, and more creative than those who lack innate curiosity.
  • Critical Thinking. Not surprisingly, one of the strongest predictors of success in the workplace is cognitive ability. Specifically, critical thinking and logical reasoning are imperative for problem solving, decision making, and strategic thinking. Critical thinking is the foundation for success in a world filled with mis-information, logical fallacies, and deceptive persuasive techniques. Individuals with critical thinking skills are able to sift through the noise to recognize assumptions, evaluate information fairly, and draw appropriate conclusions based on objective facts.

Before you require a piece of very expensive paper from your candidates, drill deeper into what you believe that paper represents. When you focus on the qualities that matter the most for success today and in the future, you’ll find your teams are filled with talent, not crushing student loan bills.