School of Hard Knocks: Why Experience Matters More Than Education in Recruiting.

we-dont-need-no-educationEvery summer seems to fly by far too fast, but the waning days of this summer are a bit sentimental for me. See, I’m getting ready to send my son off to college, which is a little surreal, considering it feels like just yesterday when I was snapping pictures of that gap toothed little boy smiling before his first day of school.

Then, next thing I know, I look up, and he’s counting down the days until he can get out of the house while I try to savor every moment we have together. I knew we’d get here, eventually – I just didn’t realize it would happen so fast. Too fast, really.

I am proud of my son for everything that he’s accomplished, and all the hard work and dedication it took for him to get to this moment. But it’s a moment that, if anything, is a bit bittersweet.

And as I look back on where my son is at, and where he’s going, my thoughts inevitably turn to when I was the same age. While it’s always been assumed that my son is going to college – we started saving for it as soon as he was born – I wish someone, anyone, had told me that this was an option for me, too.

Growing up like I did, college wasn’t even discussed; it just wasn’t something that people like us did. Nope, even though I was always smart, I was never really educated – at least not when it came to knowing what options I had to continue my education and ostensibly, improve my life. I’ve been lucky enough to do pretty well for myself, but every so often, the thought of having missed out on college crosses my mind. And it makes me a little sad.

When people ask where I went to school, I dance around the question; when people ask what year I graduated college or what I majored in, I change the subject. It’s not that I’m ashamed that I didn’t go to college, but in today’s world, that seems to be a somewhat damning indictment of who you are, what you’ve done and what you’re capable of. Hell, even in the recruiting industry where I work, not having a degree is often a non-starter.

No Degree? Don’t Bother.


no_diploma_157Some days, I stumble across a job description listing a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement. When I read these, frankly, I just get pissed off.

I don’t know whether it’s that my son’s college years are imminently impending, or if I’m just over it, but recently, every time I read that ridiculous college degree requirement on a JD, I just snap. I don’t know what my trigger was; maybe it was that LinkedIn InMail I recently received, one that informed me that a big brand, big deal kind of company looking for candidates just like me.

I looked at the list of opportunities, and one in particular stood out; it was basically the exact same job I do now. I know this because my company is a direct competitor, and I poach (or, recruit, if you prefer) people from this talent acquisition team all the time.

Out of curiosity, I clicked one of the job descriptions and read through it. It basically described my current gig, including my recurring responsibilities, workload, expectations and accountabilities. Reading it, I thought that it was amazingly identical to my current role, more or less – same kind of daily duties working with the same kind of talent.

I got down to the requirements list, which were fairly minimal. They were looking for someone with five or more years of recruiting experience (check), advanced online sourcing skills (check), the ability to interface with all levels of hiring managers and candidates (check, and check), and, finally, a bachelor’s degree (wait, what the…?).

I kept reading and re-reading the posting, thinking somehow I must have missed something. We’re talking about a job whose duties mirror mine perfectly, not to mention the required experience and expertise. I even met every one of the preferred qualifications given my industry focus and experience at a direct competitor – what we use to shortlist the short list – I’m telling you, I had them all.

But no matter. The fact that I didn’t have that piece of paper certifying I’d graduated from college was a deal killer – and even though I was otherwise a perfect fit for the job, the brass ring, as such, was beyond my reach, no matter how much I stretched.

What a load of bullshit.

You Can’t Teach Common Sense.

11333720_601208923315945_1553318516_nHere’s the simple, difficult truth. Even if I had applied for the role, I would have been rejected by some automated ATS assessment before human eyes ever had the chance. Now, don’t go feeling sorry for me; the point of this post is not to have a pity party, pity though it might be for all of candidates with all the necessary qualifications save a college degree.

I’m not looking to change jobs, but if I were, I’d start off by contacting my friends in the industry. I feel reasonably certain were I to throw my hat in the ring for this specific role, or most roles, really, I could probably leverage my connections to score at least a perfunctory phone screen.

No, this isn’t about me.

Instead, it’s about the asinine, unhelpful and antiquated degree requirement on so many requisitions that seems to serve no other purpose than to weed people out, no matter how perfect a fit they might otherwise be.


Therein lies the danger. Certain roles, obviously, require degrees – I get that. I even understand, as a tech recruiter, that without understanding the fundamentals of computer science or formal coursework, being a successful developer or engineer would be pretty damn near impossible. Then again, so is equivalent experience. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg – ironic that none could get jobs if they applied to the companies they created today, since none have a degree.

Why “Equivalent Experience” Matters More Than Education.


learning-470x310Equivalent experience – these two little words on a JD can make all the difference between unnecessarily eliminating great candidates from consideration and finding people who can do the job.

Why limit your talent pool with such a sweeping, yet often unnecessary, non-negotiable? If we’re truly responsible for looking for top talent, it’s a fair assumption that not everyone meeting that moniker necessarily possesses a college degree.

Instead, we, as employers, send the message that if you don’t have that precious piece of paper proving you had the time and money to sink into an extra four years of often unnecessary coursework, then don’t bother.

I often wonder, if I had degree in, say, philosophy, or Women’s Studies, or maybe even good old Underwater Basket Weaving, if that would have made me any more qualified to do what I’m doing or any better at doing my job. I’m pretty sure this in no way would make me magically more qualified – but it would, at least, get me through the ATS.

I’m relieved my son won’t face the same obstacles I do during the course of his career, but while I don’t have a degree, I know that it doesn’t make you smarter, more competent or a harder worker. All that piece of paper does is prove you graduated from college. But since it says nothing about company or culture fit, professional qualifications or related experience – all those things that really matter to recruiters –  maybe it’s finally time we looked beyond checking the college degree box and considered the rest of the resume, instead.

amy alaAbout the Author: Amy Ala is a staffing consultant & talent sourcer forMicrosoft, where she supports the hardware division as a member of Microsoft’s in-house talent acquisition team.

Amy has over a decade of recruiting experience, starting her career in agency recruiting running a desk for companies like Spherion, Act One and the Lucas Group before making the move in-house, where she has held strategic talent roles for the State of Washington’s WorkSource employment program and Zones, an IT product and services hub.

Amy is also a featured blogger on and is a member of RecruitingBlogs’ Editorial Advisory Board.  Follow Amy on Twitter @AlaRecruiter or connect with her on LinkedIn.




Amy Miller

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