Friday, October 31, 2014

Bachelor’s degree requirements: Big deal or big bust when recruiting candidates?

I am going to share a little secret with you. With five-and-a half years of higher education and two bachelor’s degrees I have only used a portion of what I learned in college in my career.

That’s not to say I haven’t used anything from college, in fact I have utilized what I learned in my human resources classes, legal courses, and marketing classes. You can thank Boise State University for my ability to write these articles as well (I was a terrible writer going into college). However, I certainly haven’t used anything from my statistics, calculus or computer information systems classes.

Obtaining my degrees wasn’t easy. In fact, it was one of the hardest things I had to do. As a young adult I was learning what the real world was like on my own, working full-time and going to school full-time.

No one paved my way or gave me handouts to help. I had to do everything on my own. I learned about what it takes to finance life goals when you do not have the financial resources to do so (i.e. student loans). If that wasn’t enough, I had to learn how to persevere when I tragically lost my brother my sophomore year and had my husband deployed to Iraq my senior year.

I almost gave up. Actually, I was probably a couple semesters away from Boise State giving up on me at one point. But I didn’t give up. You see that despite all the hard work, heartache and just wanting to take some steps back when I was being pushed forward, I knew that without at least a bachelor’s degree I would never be able to have the career I wanted or even be considered for jobs I wanted.

I was right. After college, any and every job I wanted in human resources required at least a bachelor’s degree at a minimum. It wasn’t until after college I realized how valuable those little pieces of paper with my name on them were. Not only were they my ticket into the stadium of career dreams, they were my ticket onto the playing field.

Now on the other side of the table, recruiting day in and day out through our firm – with jobs from entry level administrative assistants all the way up to executive directors – I am faced with determining what qualifications we will require as a foundation and a basis of knowledge to attract and retain top level talent. And guess what? We too require bachelor’s degrees, some courses in higher education, or at least equivalent experience for certain positions.

My take on recruiting and qualifications isn’t unique and has become more or less the norm for recruiting these days. The fact is, companies want to see a bachelor’s degree for most of the jobs that they will recruit for. As we discussed last week, nationally more and more companies are requiring bachelor’s degrees for entry level jobs.

But why? What’s the big deal about a $30,000 plus piece of paper? And more importantly why does it make or break your chances of getting a job? Well there are a lot of reasons, to be honest with you.

One of the very basic reasons that companies require some degree of higher education is to streamline qualification requirements – especially in the application process – and later on ensure that job descriptions can be streamlined. This is extremely important to ensure an employer has base level analysis and requirements for jobs, to try to ensure discriminatory recruiting, hiring and retention practices are in place. Companies need a way to compare candidate vs. candidate in a very basic and streamlined way – and degree requirements are an easy way to do that.

Employers also require education or degrees in higher education to try to ensure that candidates have a base level knowledge of what is needed to be successful in a job. Now, employers typically aren’t going to give you the equivalent of a degree-related SAT, but by knowing you obtained a degree
within a certain major (i.e. finance, marketing, communications, business, etc.) the employer is aware of the courses required to complete the degree program. Employers that specifically require degrees or coursework within a certain major have targeted the foundational areas of knowledge needed for the job.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, employers that are just seeking a bachelor’s degree without any specific major are probably doing a disservice to themselves and potential candidates.
Bachelor’s degrees don’t necessarily equal the most qualified candidates in this case.

Lastly, completing a degree program is a strong demonstration to employers of a candidate’s degree of dedication. Most bachelor’s degrees take an average of five years to obtain. This means that candidates have dedicated half a decade of their lives to obtaining that pricey of piece of paper, picking a major, completing course after course down the degree checklist, stressing over test after test during finals week, writing paper after paper, and participating in everyone’s favorite “team or project” group assignment. There’s also the issue financing: financial arrangements with the college or university each semester, possibly going into debt that will have to be paid off long after the diploma is framed and hung in an office.

When employers require a degree as a part of their recruiting and hiring process keep in mind they aren’t trying to hire the right degree. They are trying to hire the right person. Sometimes that right person has professional experience that is above and beyond what any degree program could have ever accomplished, and we do take that into consideration too.

Monica Bitrick is CEO of Bitrick Consulting Associates, a human resources company in Idaho Falls.

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