When Hiring for Real World Experience is a Better Value

If you’ve spent time recently perusing the available job market, you’ve probably seen a new theme among entry-level positions.  It seems that nearly every position, from cashier to computer technician, asks for or prefers a college degree. While it’s a given that specialized careers such as lawyers or doctors would need some kind of advanced certification, for many other positions the connection between additional schooling and performing the essential job functions may not be as dependent.

If you’re a hiring professional, perhaps you’re thinking it only makes sense to ask for a college degree for your open positions.  After all, attending higher education would appear to correlate to a higher level of intelligence and, therefore, a more successful candidate on the job.  But before you go reaching for that submit button on your latest job listing, consider the benefits of candidates with alternative qualifications. Ready to learn more?  Let’s take a look at a few scenarios when hiring for real-world experience is a better value than shopping for candidates with college or advanced degrees.

Entry Level Positions

First thing first, it’s time we address the elephant in the interview room.  We’re talking entry level jobs and the various requirements that employers seem to place on these low-responsibility positions in a knee jerk fashion.  While the term entry level can vary in meaning from employer to employer or industry to industry, the commonality is that candidates need little to no actual experience in the given field in order to get up and running.  Typical entry-level jobs include food service, clerical, data entry, stock room, delivery, and other positions where the essential functions are easily taught and understood without needing any specific background.

During the employment downturn following the housing and stock market crashes in the late 2000s, many employers found themselves with a wealth of newly minted college graduates ready, willing, and able to take any available job.  While the willingness of college grads to accept lower pay and responsibility positions dried up as the jobs market improved, employers have been slower to the punch when it comes to altering their hiring mindset. The result is that hiring managers often include the requirement of a college degree for any and all jobs as a matter of course, limiting the available talent pool to only those who have spent 2-4 years in higher academia.  

The end result of this mismatched, overqualified approach to hiring is often shorter term employees and a higher level of job dissatisfaction.  When polled, countless employers site employee turnover as one of their highest areas of overhead and largest disrupters to business continuity.  The truth is that young would-be job seekers who have attended college typically do so with a specific career, or at least career aspirations, in mind.  While they may have that graduate degree in their pocket to get them in the door as a warehouse staffer, rest assured that the majority of college graduates will consider your entry-level, part-time, or labor based job as a temporary stop-gap measure until they can find a position in their chosen career path.

Identify Essential Job Functions

With the above facts in mind, it’s in every hiring manager’s best interest to keep their options open as they start out their search for the perfect candidate for their open job listing.  Instead of listing out a set of minimum or preferred qualifications based on some level of education try approaching your opening in a more holistic manner.

Start out by polling your various managers and staffers in the same or complementary positions as the job for which you’re hiring.  Identify the essential job functions, responsibilities, and minimum requirements needed to perform and excel. If you already have a person in a similar position, consider what characteristics or prior experience they had prior to joining as well.  Using this information, craft your job listing in a way that focuses on the individual strengths and qualities of an individual candidate, rather than an arbitrary degree.

The Bottom Line on Hiring Based on Practical Skills

Just as items labeled one-size-fits-all inevitably end up fitting no one well, no one set of requirements or qualifications are right for every position within your company.  While higher education can often teach valuable skills such as logic, reasoning, math, and communication, these qualities can also be gained from the real world either in a similar job or via life experience.  By limiting your position to candidates with advanced educations, you cut out a significant demographic from the job pool that may possess the traits you desire and are committed to remaining in your position and growing with the company.  

In short, hiring managers should look at each listing on a case by case basis and take the time to invite and evaluate a diverse range of candidates.  The end result will be a better fit for both your business and your new employee.