Thursday, 22 December 2011

Educational Requirements: Overrated

Isn’t it weird that you can’t prove to an employer that you are able to do something unless you pay someone to give you a piece of paper to make it real? Have you ever applied to a position where they asked you to be fluent with Microsoft Office? I can understand that this is a requirement, but when they ask you in the interview “what is your experience with MS Office?” don’t you want to patronise them a little? Um…I’m under 100 and I live on Earth. What if they required you to have a certificate demonstrating that you had taken a course in MS Office? If you needed a course to figure it out, you probably shouldn’t be applying for the job. There’s going to be a new version next year, and you may not have time to take a course on it.

For certain positions, it used to be kosher to step right out of high school into a company and learn how to do the job. We’ve developed so many different specialized titles and certifications that someone with no letters after their name might as well be deemed incompetent. Was everyone “back in the day” pretty much useless? Nope! What happened is we all got lazy. We don’t want to take the time to look into a candidate who hasn’t sunk tens of thousands of dollars into education to become our employee. Does spending too much money on a course of action make you more likely to want to pursue it? It sure does! It’s also called “escalation of commitment” and it’s a flaw, not a desirable attribute in an employee.

If you start adding educational requirements you could eliminate entire generations from the workforce. Why would an administrative assistant need to spend two years at college to learn how to be a receptionist?  I know you have 30 years of experience, but where’s your piece of paper? If you talk to someone in the IT industry, they’ll tell you that when it comes to programmers, it doesn’t matter how much or little education they have. Learning how to program out of high school doesn’t make you any less qualified than someone who took computer science. Remember, Zuckerberg didn’t wait until he graduated to create Facebook, and people didn’t wait until he got his degree to think it was awesome.  

We use education as a heuristic. Basically we say someone with a degree in something, should have “entry level knowledge” about that topic. For example: Someone with an Arts degree should have the ability to do research, and think critically about things. Isn’t it possible that some people learned to do research and think critically about things on their own? Also, if you graduated from a Bachelor’s program with some of the people I did, you would not make this assumption.

Educational Restrictions Can Come Back to Bite You

Scenario: You have an account manager who goes out on sick leave. Your receptionist is the only person who knows enough about the accounts to effectively take them over for the time being. You put the receptionist in charge of the accounts (watching her closely) and hire a temp to help with the administrative work. Your former receptionist turns out to be a genius. Your clients are very happy with her and she has shown she is ready to be a full account manager. The new receptionist is also working out well. After six months the account manager on leave ends up quitting because….well….he secretly hated you and found another position. Don’t take it personally…it happens.

You look at the resumes of your two employees. Your former receptionist has high school equivalency and 10 years working as an administrative assistant in marketing firms. Your new temp has a 2 year community college degree in marketing including a 1 year marketing internship and this is her first job since then.You check the classification specs for this position.

Account Manager: 2 year marketing degree or related field plus 1 year experience.

….do you see where I’m going with this? Your brand new receptionist qualifies for your newly vacant position, but your superstar employee that all your clients love does not. Here’s how this plays out if you stick to your classification specs. Your new employee gets the account manager position and your receptionist poisons your coffee. I wanted to point out (again) that you died in this scenario.

If there’s no legal reason why someone needs a specific degree or designation (like an accountant would) then adding educational requirements to a position’s classification is basically like shooting yourself in the foot (or poisoning your own coffee). Obviously if you are running a competition for a position and don’t have any mind succession planning in place, you could add the educational requirement for the sole purpose of reducing the amount of eligible applicants to a manageable number. Just keep in mind that when you create your job description, the educational requirements should be somewhat flexible. 


  1. I'm certified in Excel 97, I hope that doesn't work against me!

  2. Thanks for posting this good narrative topic about educated and inexperienced. The big question i that how can a educated person get experience without job?

    Marketing Director education requirements

  3. Thanks Jaylen. I started a series on Job Hunting for new Graduates here:

    Basically, if you can't get a position in your field the old fashioned way, you're going to have to start volunteering your services for free.