Companies seeking wider pools of employee talent are increasingly forgoing the application requirement of a four-year degree. Google, Ernst and Young, Apple, and IBM are among those that no longer mandate a traditional college education for some of their top jobs, according to a recent Glassdoor report. Many fully remote jobs are also available to candidates without a bachelor's degree, a Remote.co report found.
Over the past two years or so, having a four-year degree has become less and less of a mandatory hiring requirement for many employers, according to Neely Dolan, New York City recruiting manager at IT staffing firm Mondo.
While you may still see it listed in traditional job descriptions, "it's no longer a must-have by any means," Dolan said. Often, employers in the education industry are one of the few groups that still strictly require a four-year college degree to be considered for a role, she added.
SEE: Telephone interview cheat sheet: Computer bench technician (Tech Pro Research)
This change is especially common in the tech industry, where a shortage of skilled talent has led hiring managers to seek candidates who are self-taught or went through a coding bootcamp or other nontraditional educational option. Some 75% of tech leaders don't require a computer science degree for developers and IT professionals, a TechRepublic CIO Jury poll found.
"Over the years I have seen the industry go back and forth and back again from degree to certifications," said CIO Jury member Jeff Focke, director of IT at Shealy Electrical Wholesalers. "A degree or even certificate only shows they can learn, not necessarily what they know. It is nice, but I want to hear the rest of who the person is and what they can do."
Another 75% of tech recruiters and hiring managers said they've hired a great job candidate from a non-traditional background, according to a HackerRank report. Since more than 70% of developers are at least partially self-taught, vetting candidates only by having a computer science degree means you are missing out on millions of skilled workers, the report noted.
"Employers recognize that many qualifications can be acquired in previous jobs, and that experience can sometimes translate into the equivalent of a university degree," said Glassdoor community expert Sarah Stoddard. "Many employers across industries are also aiming to improve diversity recruiting efforts, and by prioritizing potential candidates with the skills and experience to do the job well, but who might not have an advanced degree, this could foster further creativity, learning and productivity within the workplace."
This trend will likely continue, said Paul Wallenberg, unit manager of technology recruiting at staffing and staffing agency LaSalle Network. "Due to the rising cost of education and a larger quantity of people unable to afford education, companies have changed their education requirements to access a much larger pool of candidates," Wallenberg said.
The rise of coding bootcamps and organizations like Year Up have also worked to eliminate the opportunity divide, and cultivate a skilled labor talent pool of people who have not obtained four-year college degrees, Wallenberg said.
For tech-focused roles, it's sometimes preferred that candidates don't come from a regimented educational background, because they may be more open to coding in new environments and trying out different methods, Dolan said.
"When it comes to developers and programmers, employers tend to request applicants who are open to learning different methodologies and trying out things in different ways," Dolan said. "I've seen a Java Developer with a four-year college degree with teaching experience be passed over for an available role because the individual was too regimented with his processes due to his educational background."
SEE: IT jobs 2018: Hiring priorities, growth areas, and strategies to fill open roles (Tech Pro Research)
Tips for companies
When looking to fill an open role, hiring managers should determine if a degree is absolutely necessary based on the skills needed to be successful in that job, Stoddard said. If they eliminate candidates who may be qualified based on a strict academic requirement, they may be missing out on top talent, she added.
Companies should also focus on whether the candidate has the specific certifications they are seeking for the role, Dolan said. For example, when hiring a project manager, a PMP certification matters more than a four-year college degree. The same is true for cybersecurity professionals with CPSA and CCNA certifications, Dolan said.
Hiring managers can also compare previously interviewed non-degreed and degreed candidates to the requirements of the job, and to each other, Wallenberg said.
"If someone can do the job without a degree, then don't make it a requirement," Wallenberg said.
The decision to stop requiring traditional degrees should be a collaborative one between HR and the hiring manager, so that it is supported throughout the organization, Wallenberg said.
"Remember that not having a college degree doesn't imply that someone was not intellectually capable of going to college," Wallenberg said. "There can be other extenuating circumstances that impacted someone's decision not to go."
Including candidates without college degrees in the application process can introduce people to an organization who have a raw vision for creating solutions for a business, Stoddard said. However, this might not be a fit for every role an employer is looking to hire. "It's crucial to determine the skills, experience and levels of education needed for the open job in advance," she added.
Hiring managers should keep an open dialogue with their HR and recruiting teams to ensure that the requirements for an open roll fit the qualities needed for the employee to be successful, Stoddard said. If a hiring manager decides to eliminate a degree requirement for an open position, they should communicate that decision in advance, to help everyone involved find the best person for the job, she added.
"My word of advice to recruiters would be to search for extraordinary people versus extraordinary resumes," said Corey Berkey, director of HR at JazzHR. "Understanding people for who they are, rather than the words listed on paper, usually results in long-term employment. Research shows that new hires who have the right experience for the role and align with the company culture often stay at a job longer. When you look at it from this perspective, it's surprising how much a degree has been valued in the history of recruiting."
Tips for job seekers without a degree
To take advantage of the wider pool of open roles, job seekers who do not have a four-year college degree should create a compelling narrative for what motivated their decision not to go to college, and make sure that it is accurate, rehearsed, and honest, Wallenberg said.
"Highlight tangible examples of how your practical experience is more valuable than what you would have learned from a curriculum," Wallenberg said. "Additionally, research your interviewers ahead of time so you understand their educational background so you can have a more constructive dialogue about their educational and career path."
Strong work experience is the most important qualification that recruiters and hiring managers look for when filling tech positions, the HackerRank report found. However, resume-bolstering factors like degree, prestige, and skill keywords are not accurate predictors of future job success, according to the report. Instead, hiring managers and recruiters are looking to indicators that demonstrate ability, such as previous work experience, years of work, and personal projects, which get closer at measuring a candidate's skills.
"If a position you're chasing is similar to the position you're in and you feel your experience outweighs the value brought by a college degree—which is definitely something to consider—still throw your hat in the ring," Berkey said. "If the employer is rigid in their expectations, they'll keep moving, but you might just get the shot you're hoping for."
Networking and referrals can be particularly helpful for candidates without a traditional education background, Berkey said.
Applicants without a traditional college degree should focus their resume on their strengths, Dolan said. "If you're applying online and they request education history, write N/A and discuss it further with the client if they ask for more information during the interview," Dolan said. "I don't think it's necessary to publicize a lack of education or put too much emphasis on it. Instead, highlight the work experience and certifications you do have."
- Special report: IT jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
- The best job in America is, oh, software developer (CNET)
- How to become a developer: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)
- America's 13 highest-paying tech jobs for 2018 (ZDNet)
- Coding camp grads can land a higher salary than developers with college degrees, but there's a catch (TechRepublic)
Alison DeNisco Rayome has nothing to disclose. She does not hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.