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  • Writer's pictureColin Christensen

Are Degrees Dead?

After almost a decade recruiting in the IT industry, I can say I always look for competency over a relevant degree: Have they done the job vs. have they gone to school for the job?

I see degrees as valuable and sometimes mandatory. I definitely want my Doctor to have a degree and probably my Lawyer and likely my Accountant too. I think an MBA is a good thing but ironically, I would rather see it on someone who has been in business for years and went to school for a "deeper dive". I also think an MBA is good at the front end of your career, just don't expect it to get you a six figure job right out of school. An MBA fresh out of school is valuable to a company for the exposure to so many different models, research and methodologies. There is, and always will be, a difference between book smarts and been-there-done-that experience. Both are important and both valuable to the other. How you attribute value those sides is up to you.

If you hold a degree, don't be too quick to judge me. I congratulate you for your tenacity and desire to learn everything you can about a particular area. I myself am a rabid life-long learner and have tried a few times to get through school and just. cannot. do. it. I'm excited for the first few months and then want to shoot myself because I just don't learn that way. I've always been that way. I would probably be diagnosed with all the things the kids seem to have today to keep them from sitting in rows and paying attention.

Let's look at this from the entrepreneur or business leaders perspective. We have a problem and want it fixed. That problem is often a job that needs to get done and we don't just want it done, we want it done well. Also, most of the time, the role is not an island. That means the job that needs to get done fits into a bigger picture with a number of other jobs getting done across the company.

Any person needs to fit 4 categories: Character, Competency, Chemistry and Capacity. Every role within any company will need different measures for each of those. Character and Chemistry might not differ too much within a company but they will between companies. Competency and Capacity will differ quite a bit inside a company. I don't want a top-tier Accountant necessarily doing front-line customer service - not that they can't, it just might not be the right fit - that is a Competency issue. Also, I don't want the equal opportunity Vampire I hired working day-shift (sorry, just seeing if you're paying attention). This is a Capacity issue; as is a part-time role for a full-time person and someone who won't be a fit for a growing role.

Back to the job we need done. The person I want to hire needs to be a good fit for the company in those 4Cs but let's focus on just the Competency part for a few minutes.

Occasionally, I have the need to hire someone fresh out of school. Sometimes the Competency can come from post-secondary and sometimes it doesn't need to. Here is the interesting thing about the world today: We are in a time when most of the skills smaller companies need are brand new technologies, or possibly even skills that haven't been invented yet, a degree doesn't really help. Many of the skills we use today aren't even being taught in universities now. When they are, they will likely be old news.

I know I'm overgeneralizing but you get the picture.

So how do you ensure the people you hire are qualified for the role you want to hire for?

I'm a big believer in auditions. Yes, that's for every role. Sometimes it's just not possible but I'd rather see if someone can do the job rather than reviewing a resume that eludes to them doing a similar role and an interview that shows that they're a great person and can probably do the job and a few references that say they've done something similar. Figure out a way to test for the skills you need and what will qualify for grading and away you go.

These days, technology and business is changing so fast, auditions are a way to see if people can do the role you expect from them.

Wow, tangents everywhere today. Remember what I said about that ADHD tendencies of mine?

There is a principle that says...

"Hire for Fit and Train for Skills".

Are you doing this?

The goal here is to hire the best person to solve your problem. If you need someone with a degree to solve your problem - awesome. Still hire the right person and ensure they can do the role you need. Please don't, however, expect that a degree is going to be the de facto solution. Again, not going after those with a degree. Your company is too important to introduce someone who isn't a fit. Do you willingly hang out with those who are infectious? Inviting someone in who isn't a fit can be exactly like that. The results can be catastrophic.

First of all, make sure you know what your core values, vision and mission are and measure the people you hire against that. Everything else you can train.

This is a good thing. Someone who is the right fit and an eager learner will be a huge advantage for you. Think of a blank canvas. You don't have to cover over any bad habits. Start fresh and send them out to get the training you know they will need. Rather than the candidate coming in burdened with debt, always asking for a raise (or even wanting more right out of the gate), you can hire them super cheap. What 19 year old wouldn't be happy with $30,000 a year to learn what they always wanted?

An argument someone might use against this is "I hire people, train them well and they leave." That happens and it is sad. For starters, it's going to happen anyway. No one stays at jobs for a lifetime anymore. The closer the fit, the less likely it is to happen. Also, if you hire great people, train them well and they leave, you are building a great reputation as a company who trains and looks after the people. This will help word get out to improve your talent pool and start a stream of candidates wanting to work for you. There is little downside to trusting others and it is always better than practicing a scarcity mindset.

Two bigger picture items and then I'm done. These trouble me about degrees:

  1. The number of students who are unsure of what they want to do (like any other kid I know at 18 years old) and end up with a degree in something they don't really like and may never use. You and I both know a number of people in this predicament.

  2. The other piece compounds the first in a scary way: Those getting an education and are now saddled with debt before they even start their career. I suggest people run a debt free business and a debt free life. It seems sad to me that people are coming out of school owing a lifetime of debt, not having a job and feeling pressured to get into work they really didn't enjoy doing in school.

Are degrees necessary? For some roles, yes. For everything, no! Let's get back into apprenticeships. Draft awesome, young employees and mold them into the best team members you could imagine. Or, if you need extensive experience, hire someone with the proven skills. Whether they have the degree or not. Let's save the kids money and build a better new economy.

My rant for today.

This was sparked by a podcast I listened to on Entreleadership with Ryan Deiss.


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