There’s no denying the value of a good education, but these days companies are looking past the college degree to find the truly best candidates. Recruiters used to pay more attention to what university a candidate attended, giving preference to those who graduated from a prestigious or Ivy League college. Now, recruiters are focusing more on a candidate’s work experience and are choosing the candidates who have proven skills. This shift is not surprising. For years companies have been making hiring decisions based on a candidate’s college grade point average, yet the reality is that a candidate’s report card is not an accurate predictor of good job performance. There is in fact a “long literature in psychology showing that job performance and college grades are poorly related,” according to Peter Cappelli, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who studies the American workplace.

Cappelli also remarks on “how frequently companies rely on hiring criteria for which there is no evidence of it working.” There is a long-standing misconception that good grades and a college degree translate into a good job performance, but companies are starting to realize that this doesn’t always play out, so they are changing their approach. One example is the accounting and consulting firm Deloitte announcing that it would start conducting school and university-blind interviews in the UK next year, in an effort to prevent subconscious hiring biases. Omitting school information from the recruiting process means that hiring managers can make decisions based on each individual’s skill level and potential. Other companies, like the accounting firm Ernst & Young, are depending on pre-employment testing to find the candidates with proven skills. The company said that in a study of 400 of its employees, it found “no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.”

Relying on pre-employment skills assessments is a better way to choose candidates for several reasons. First of all, it is a much better predictor for future success than college grades. Through pre-employment skills testing, an applicant can demonstrate his or her skills and ability to do the job. An academic record doesn’t demonstrate someone’s actual skill level nearly as well. This means that through pre-employment testing, companies can find better candidates with the kind of proven skills that will help them succeed on the job.

Secondly, pre-employment skills assessments can help companies hire more fairly and diversely. In Deloitte’s case, the company made the change because it wanted to “hire people who think and innovate differently, come from a variety of backgrounds, and bring a range of perspectives and experience into the firm.” Instead of continuing to hire candidates from the same universities as always, the company is opening itself up to hiring from a more diverse pool of candidates. This makes the workforce more diverse and the hiring process more fair, since many candidates who would otherwise be overlooked for not having a college degree are given a chance to show that they have the skills and potential to succeed.

Thirdly, companies that incorporate pre-employment skills testing into their recruitment process can save money. Candidates who are pre-screened for the exact skills needed for the job do better and are more productive on the job, which in turn helps the company’s bottom line. They’re also more likely to stay at the company over the long term, thus reducing turnover and the need to recruit and hire replacements. Basing hiring decisions on proven skills rather than a college degree can save companies a significant amount of money. Should companies place more emphasis on proven skills, rather than academic achievement? Could integrating pre-employment skills testing into your recruitment process help your company find more candidates with the right skills than relying on a college record? Share your thoughts here.

Adina Miron

5 Comments

  • Avatar Chloe says:

    We are used to jumping on a candidate who graduated from a famous college, but sometimes the results are disappointing. I agree that testing the skills of every candidate should be HR’s way to rank their applicants, and then maybe compare the schools where they studied. 

  • Avatar Brianna D. says:

    We like fancy college names and amazing academic records, and some of us even hired based on them. For a long time, nice colleges meant nice jobs in nice companies. It is great to see that companies are starting to appreciate the skills of a candidate and not necessarily the school named on their diploma. Maybe resumes and CVs should only mention the specialty and not the name of the college. 

  • Avatar Stephanie W. says:

    HR should focus on the quality of a candidate and find ways to measure it. With rising salaries and competition between companies to hire as fast as possible, testing skills will not only simplify the process, it will also make sure the chosen candidate has the right skills and not just the right diploma. 

  • Avatar Tiffanie Tucker-Henderson says:

    How will the candidates get the experience if no one will hire them?

  • Eric Eric says:

    Hi, Tiffanie! Thanks for your question. There are many ways for candidates to get experience. Let’s think of internships, or even participating in CSR projects developed by the companies that candidates want to work for. These are great opportunities to get noticed and prove your soft skills.

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