Requirements for employment vary by industry, but over the past few decades, high skill jobs have typically required a college degree for applicants to even be given consideration.


The four-year bachelor’s degree has been the standard for skilled jobs, but trends in hiring seem to be shifting away from degree requirements as factors that determine eligibility.

Not only are many companies getting rid of degree requirements completely, often in favor of skills as major qualifications, but the worth of a bachelor’s degree is lessening. In fact, some believe that holding a bachelor’s degree is now equivalent to having a high school diploma a few decades ago.

What is Degree Inflation?

Part of the reason for this shift is the concept of degree inflation. This term describes the process of certain degrees becoming less valuable in the workplace on account of more applicants possessing degrees and more applicants being credentialed in certain fields. Computer science degree holders have experienced degree inflation in recent years, but professionals in the fields of law and psychology have experienced a similar effect in recent decades.

The good news for job seekers is that more and more employers are doing away with degree requirements altogether. Instead, employers are seeking skilled workers who can demonstrate their abilities rather than relying on a piece of paper to prove their worth. Additionally, business owners are focused on things like whether a candidate fits into a company’s culture and how they can specifically benefit from initiatives that the company has undertaken.

This trend has become particularly noticeable at big tech companies like Google, Apple, IBM and others. With the availability of self-taught courses and online learning these days, tech companies have found that there are many innovative job seekers out there who might lack a formal post-secondary education but who have the skills, experience and drive to help tech firms succeed.

Is Skills-Based Hiring Smarter Than A Degree Requirement?

As for whether or not skills based hiring makes more sense than having degree requirements, the benefits of each approach come down to the company, the industry and the job market. Skill requirements are still requirements, so forgoing the typical degree mandate doesn’t mean that jobs should be offered to unqualified candidates. Transitioning to a skills-focused hiring process does, however, mean that business owners will need to examine the metrics they use to measure candidate qualifications.

Hiring based on skill and non-degree factors can also be more efficient in some respects. Because of the aforementioned degree inflation, a lot of time can be wasted examining candidates who all look the same on paper. If a business owner is heavily weighting college degree ownership as a factor in hiring, this factor becomes less important in who is chosen when every candidate has a college degree. By focusing on skills, a company can make a more efficient and effective decision instead of spending resources hiring the wrong person simply because that person had a degree.

An example of how skills-based hiring can be successful while also helping candidates can be seen by examining Opportunity@Work, an organization that matches talent with employers based on skill instead of education. Leadership from Opportunity@Work has pointed out Covid-19’s role in breaking the chains of degree inflation as the pandemic forced employers to reconsider their hiring practices. Currently, Opportunity@Work utilizes a process to identify quality candidates to present to employers using its Skilled Through Alternative Routes (STARs) designation.

How Job Seekers Can Stand Out In A Talent Search

Job seekers should also take note of the shift from traditional degree-based hiring to skills-based hiring practices. Applicants are encouraged to consider not only their education but also to think about what they have to offer employers as strong candidates. Self-study is important, and there are plenty of opportunities for learning on the web, including through the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) which offers many courses for free.

Degrees still hold significance in the labor market, but chasing after degrees in demand can be a double-edged sword. An in-demand degree is in demand for a reason, but there are many job seekers out there who are also pursuing these same degree programs. In order to beat the competition, candidates will need to be able to market their skills and abilities in addition to promoting their educational backgrounds.

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