AMA: Requiring a 4-year Degree on a Job Posting

An anonymous reader asks:

I don’t have a degree, and [potential employer] is pushing back on making me put down high school diploma as my only completed education since I don’t have a BS yet. So, What would you do if HR is pushing back on requiring a degree, but the job itself doesn’t require it?

I hope you’ll ask a question, too! And here’s the list of everything asked so far.

With many companies, the request for a 4-year degree is often just a baseline request. Ever since the 1970s and 1980s when everyone decided that every kid needed to go to college, job requirements just bumped up to make that an assumption. It’s ridiculous; apart from the basic stuff every college kid gets in their freshman year, there’s nothing similar about degrees other than “you got through 4 years of education.” It’s not like demanding a BS in Biology for hiring a biologist; that would make sense. It’s a specific degree that serves as a foundation for specific job requirements. Just asking for any old degree is nothing more than misguided HR policy.
I’d come back with something like this:

“So, I’d like to push back a little on this. As I’m sure you know, degrees are less common in fast-moving industries like IT, where more high-performing individuals tend to be self-taught. You don’t learn ‘disruption’ in college, after all, amiright lol? So I was wondering where your priority on a degree was coming from in this case, especially since you haven’t specified a kind of degree. Is there something specific about this position that you feel aligns to a particular college degree? If it’s just intended as a way of ensuring a certain baseline of knowledge, I think my actual on-the-job real-life work history would cover that, and I’d be happy to go over that again with you, if it’d help. I do know that it’s sometimes useful for companies to specify something like a 4-year degree as a kind of baseline to help ensure a more qualified pool of candidates, but in this case I feel that we’ve moved past that basic barrier. Would you agree?”
“That said, if there’s something specific about the job that demands a particular degree, or a particular bit of education that you’d expect all degrees to come with, then I’d certainly like to better understand that. If my real-world experience hasn’t provided that to me already, I’d like to be honest with you about my qualifications.”

If you do in fact have job experience, then that should cover the “we just want to see that you know how to commit to something for at least 4 years” requirement, which is literally the only thing guaranteed when you’re asking for “any old 4 year degree.” Politely ask them to justify that: what is it about a degree that you need? What is it about my actual hands-on, real-world experience that doesn’t fill that same need? Assuming you’re not a 19 year-old with zero work experience, press a bit.
And then accept the fact that some companies are so mired in their HR policies that they won’t bend. And ask yourself if you’d really want to work there. HR, like Legal, should advise, not direct; when the HR team gets to set policy through arbitrary “baseline” requirements that are absolute and inflexible… that’s a preview of what working for the company is gonna be like.

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I have a B.S and M.S in Computer Science. I will say I did get a lot out of the programs I was in. However, I also knew people who graduated who only learned Java and rarely or never programmed outside of class assignments. You get out of any program what you put into it.
I've worked with people who wanted to turn off logging to improve performance, and were completely lost when I explained how that wouldn't accomplish anything and Big-O notation. I've also met others who hadn't gone to university, but not only learned Big-O on their own, but would real algorithm books and learned different parsing tree structures for fun.
I really enjoyed the experience of University, but I also didn't incur any debt. My parents had a college fund, and I went to a state school in a small town with affordable tuition. For graduate school, over 70% of it was paid for by my job.
With the current trend in tuition and student debt, I really cannot recommend University unless you can leave debt free. Inuring debt is the way our system is weighted to keep you stuck in a position you may not really like forever.


I have a bachelors degree in Information Technology, but I don't think any of it helped me more than my actual hands on experience in the field. I personally know the CIO of a major retail company that doesn't have any college degree at all, only high school, and he does just fine. I'm also perplexed by the way HR creates baselines that may cause them to miss very professional and highly skilled candidates.


Just had to add this new link since it fits with the discussion. Seems businesses may be changing their attitudes?
"Google, Apple and 13 other companies that no longer require employees to have a college degree"