Why Companies Are Prioritizing Employees Without College Degrees Hiring individuals without a traditional college degree is becoming increasingly common in the professional world.

By Zamir Shukho

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that almost one-third of American employers now consider non-degree candidates for job openings, with 37% of employers reporting that they are more likely to do so than five years ago.

For the last several years, we have seen that developed soft skills are becoming the leading requirement in different companies, especially in terms of working with other people, e.g., being a proper team player, a good leader, being able to communicate properly and align with company values and diversity issues.

Soft skills are often difficult to quantify, which is why many employers have traditionally focused on things like degrees and certifications to screen candidates. However, in many cases, a candidate's ability to work well with others, think critically and adapt to new situations is more important than their specific educational background.

In fact, some of the most successful people in business and industry are self-taught, having learned their skills through hands-on experience and a willingness to take on new challenges. Mark Zuckerberg, one of the most recognized names in tech, built Facebook into the world's largest social network. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard in 2004, during his sophomore year, to work on Facebook full-time and remains its CEO to this day. David Karp created Tumblr (which at its peak gained more than 500 million monthly users) despite never even graduating high school. Daniel Ek, co-founder of Spotify after abandoning his degree in engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden after just eight weeks. The list goes on and on. The billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, dropped out of Harvard to focus on building his company.

Related: How to Find, Hire (and Fire!) Rockstar Employees

High levels of soft skills are now defining a good employee. Even if a person has a great degree or might have vertical expertise in the field but lacks soft skills, some companies might prefer a better team player over a fancy university diploma. That brings harmony and drives team success rather than individual success.

When hiring people, I personally don't even look at the degree. When I conduct an interview, I ask a lot about different situations this person has been in at work, different conflict situations, communication processes with peers or their direct reports, and the rest of the team. I try to figure out how the communication will be done upwards at the same level or downwards. For me, a formal degree is not as important as people's experience, and positive references are given to their soft skills, work ethics, and communication.

Related: 5 Soft Skills Every Employee Needs Today

The shift in hiring practices

A number of factors is driving this shift:

  • The rising cost of college.
  • An increased emphasis on workplace skills over degree credentials.
  • the growing popularity of alternative educational models such as online certificates.

In addition, some employers are starting to recognize that non-degree candidates can bring unique perspectives and experiences to the table that traditional college graduates may not possess. Google, Apple, IBM, Bank of America and other big companies adopted this approach in 2018.

As employers move away from relying solely on academic qualifications, they now have more opportunities to identify and hire high-quality individuals who can contribute meaningfully to their organization. However, this trend also means that employers must be prepared to evaluate applicants based on a broader range of criteria than they may have in the past. In addition to traditional measures such as prior experience, academic achievements, and references, employers should consider evaluating candidates based on their skill set and personal qualities such as self-discipline and problem-solving abilities.

At the same time, employers must ensure that they are not discriminating against potential employees who do not possess a traditional academic background. This includes assessing candidates based on their potential rather than focusing solely on past accomplishments or experiences. By taking a more holistic approach to evaluating applicants and considering the full range of skills and qualities they possess, employers can ensure that they are attracting a diverse set of candidates who have the potential to add value to their organization.

A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) revealed that 57% of employers plan to hire more such candidates in the future. This is indicative of a growing trend in organizations around the world.

Related: 8 Soft Skills That Make You an Even Better Leader

Soft skills take over

Employers often find that hiring recent university graduates may not always be the most suitable option for the specific job requirements within their business. Especially when it comes to startups or venture-backed companies that require innovative and creative approaches, formal education can be an obstacle in thinking or creating a new product/business model. We see that some innovative companies intend to hire people without a formal education or college degree because that allows them to be more creative and think "outside of the box," which results in more added value.

By the way, fields such as IT, Manufacturing, Customer Service, Business Administration, Accounting and Finance are examples of areas that don't necessarily require a degree but may prefer candidates with relevant experience or qualifications.

High levels of soft skills are now defining a good employee. Even if a person has a great degree or might have vertical expertise in the field but lacks soft skills, some companies might prefer a better team player over a fancy university diploma. That brings harmony and drives team success rather than individual success.

By recognizing the importance of soft skills and focusing on the qualities that truly matter, employers can build more diverse and effective teams that are better equipped to tackle the challenges of today's rapidly-changing business landscape.

Zamir Shukho

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Founder & General Partner at Vibranium.VC

Zamir Shukho is the CEO and Founder of the Vibranium.VC venture fund. With 20 years of professional experience, he has a background as a serial entrepreneur having created 10 companies and organizations. He is also an expert in venture capital, management, and corporate innovation.

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