We all know the traditional advice for young people planning their futures:

Get an education. You need a college degree to get a good job.

Recently, I was chatting with our copywriter Ian about the issue of college degrees. He said his father gave him the traditional advice, along with a story to emphasize the importance of a degree:

“My father took a gap year between high school and college to work at a factory in small town Michigan. He said he came home every night after a 12-hour shift, drenched in sweat and dead tired.

When he finished that gap year, he kept his bandanna hanging in his rear-view mirror. He looked it as a reminder of the hard reality of manual labor so that he would never forget why he was going to college. His advice to me was to do the same so that I didn’t have to spend my life in a factory.

I received the message loud and clear. I went to college. I diligently studied to get my bachelor’s degree.

Then I joined the workforce…only to find that I could have done my job without the degree in the first place!”

Not So Important After All

When we stop and think about it, it’s obvious that a college degree is not a requirement for success. Countless people have succeeded in business without formal education, including Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, and Michael Dell.

Now, Ian admitted you could hardly blame his father, and I’m inclined to agree. A few decades ago, unless you were starting your own business, you simply couldn’t get a white collar job without a college degree. To this day, many companies won’t hire someone without a degree.

But it begs the question: why do we treat degrees as requirements for most jobs in the first place?

In addition to the highly successful individuals I mentioned previously, I’ve hired a number of individuals without degrees who have excelled in their roles. Including management and leadership positions.

Conversely, I’ve hired a large number of individuals with degrees who have failed in these roles. So why do we screen candidates based on their level of education?

Why Do Most Companies Make Degrees a Requirement?

Of course, for many careers, a degree is a must. Nobody in their right mind would want to hire a doctor or a lawyer who hadn’t received the proper formal education. The same can be said for a host of careers in the medical, science, and engineering fields.

But for the bulk of us, a college degree is largely unnecessary. It certainly didn’t teach me how to run a business, or prepare me adequately for the business world.

When you take into account the vast amount that a driven individual can learn by themselves online, you have to wonder what a degree has to offer that self-education doesn’t.

A Degree Is an Extremely Poor Predictor of Success – Just Ask the Data

I’ve heard many justifications for having a degree as a job requirement. One of the most common is that it shows a person is organized, can manage their time, is driven to succeed, etc.

It’s a valid point, but let’s look at the data. A comprehensive study looking at 100 years of research findings found that education provides only 1% predictive ability of job performance.

In other words, a degree is virtually useless for predicting whether someone will excel in a position or not!

So What Can Predict Success?

Many recruiters and hiring managers look to experience once they realize a degree is irrelevant for a role. Unfortunately, research has demonstrated that experience is also largely unreliable.

The best method of predicting a candidate’s performance is through a combination of examining their prior results and leveraging state-of-the-art analytics.

Results-Based Evaluation

Let me explain the results portion first.

Rather than focusing on degrees and relevant experience, we have to go a step further to consider the results a candidate has delivered in a specific role.

Ultimately, we want every new hire to perform. If they’re performing and delivering the required results, their qualifications are irrelevant!

Formal education and X years of experience requirements are arbitrary and serve only to exclude potential high-performers. Instead, we have to structure our interviews and evaluation processes around determining what a candidate has personally contributed to prior organizations.

Consider a sales role. Rather than looking at how many years they’ve been selling, we should evaluate their numbers.

If someone has consistently performed in the past, they can and most likely will perform in the future. While experience and education are certainly nice credentials, focusing on the specific, quantifiable results a candidate has delivered gives us a much better look at their ability to perform as needed.

People Analytics: The Other Piece of the Puzzle

Businesses today have a number of highly-advanced tools at their disposal for assessing candidates and determining fitness for a role. The scientifically validated behavioral and cognitive assessments from the Predictive Index in particular are highly valuable for this purpose.

In a nutshell, these assessments give you simple yet highly insightful data on how someone behaves in the workplace and interacts with others. The P.I. Behavioral Assessment provides information on what drives a candidate, what strengths they offer, and what competencies they may struggle with.

The P.I. Cognitive Assessment provides insight on how an individual processes complex information and how they adapt to change. For mentally demanding roles or quickly-changing work environments, this is an essential tool for predicting an individual’s ability to keep pace and perform.

Together, these assessments provide concrete data that’s simply not obtainable through interviews or resumes. They provide you with more information on how a person operates and what they are capable of than a degree ever could.

When combined with structured interviews, these assessments offer nearly double the predictive ability of traditional candidate evaluation methods.

In short, there are far better methods of predicting job performance than degrees or even years of experience.

My advice to businesses is simple.

When evaluating candidates, focus on the metrics that are scientifically proven to predict success, namely the results they’ve delivered in the past and the data from validated assessments.

In doing so, you can make better hires, increase retention, and position yourself to achieve your business goals.

I know old habits die hard, but when we look at the data, it’s obvious that we need to make a change. Why wait any longer?


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