Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience?

Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Photo Credit: stevendepolo

Soon it will be performance review time at work. In the past 5 years, there has been a lot of turnover and juggling of positions, so part of streamlining the review process is creating clear and succinct job descriptions that match our actual work. These were sent out to us for our review.

I made some minor suggestions and clarifications, and then I got to the qualifications section. The top item read college degree or equivalent experience required. I have a problem with this for three reasons.

  • A college degree and experience are not equivalents. Your BA in Biology won’t help you run a weekend trip for 35 middle schoolers. I’m good at my job because I’ve had a lot of practice working with young people and organizing events (and because of my Quaker background). Equating generic college degrees to relevant work is illogical, and undervalues experience.
  • A college degree may be irrelevant to a specific job, and re-enforces a “college-for-all” ideal that isn’t serving people who are contemplating higher education. College tuition is rising exponentially, and joblessness among college grads is rampant. The myth that a college degree is the ticket to a good life (which has facilitated a 38% increase in college grads under 25 since 2000) deserves to be questioned.
    Meanwhile, the US skilled trade workforce continues to suffer from lack of qualified laborers. It would be nice if we didn’t need an ad campaign to promote available, well paid work, while college graduates can’t find the jobs they were promised, and struggle under the load of massive debt and unemployment.

    With student debt on the rise, college isn't such a cake walk, and the job perspectives afterward aren't so sweet. Photo Credit: clevercupcakes

    College isn’t as sweet of a ride as it used to be.
    Photo Credit: clevercupcakes

  • The qualification doesn’t actually describe the person we’re looking for. We know that a Biology degree is probably irrelevant to a Middle School Program Coordinator, but what skills are relevant? Why not instead say that we’re looking for an applicant who has X number of years experience working with children/teens as well as organizing events. This is much more descriptive of the qualities that are necessary to perform the job well. Perhaps your degree in education afforded you the opportunity work in a classroom, and you organized a club through your college. Or maybe you organized a weekly outdoor activity for local homeless children while pursuing a non-college educational path. Both of these are examples of the type of education/experience that is actually relevant to this work.

The next time you have the opportunity to post a job description online, consider leaving out the education requirement. Rather than using Bachelor’s degree as a catch-all term for ‘good applicant’, be specific about the qualities that might make an applicant a fit for the job. Consider relevant experience from all sources. The internet means more opportunities to self-educate formally (courseraMIT,  ItunesU, trade schools, apprenticeships) and informally (mentors, accountability buddies, etc.) than ever before. If you want people to work for you that are able to think outside the box, then be open to hiring people who are already thinking creatively about their own education.

Fortunately, my boss is willing to listen to constructive criticism. She removed the educational requirements from the job descriptions, now we’ll see whether anyone else notices.

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One Response to Bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience?

  1. Good on you. The job that was a stepping stone for me to get where I am now only required a high school diploma, but my current position, as written, wants me to have a master’s in Computer Science or similar (which is a far cry from my bachelor’s in Creative Writing), though I think there is the line about “or equivalent experience,” which seems a little funny to me, since I’ve taken a fair bit of CS during my schooling, but there isn’t much from those classes that I can apply to my job, besides ways of thinking about problems, and I can’t see how a MS in CS would give me much more. Most of what got me my job was what I knew previously, mostly from studying for certifications, or what I’d learned on the job.

    Certainly I value everything that I got out of going to college, but my actual degree is, well, pretty useless unless I want to teach, and even there I’d probably need additional certification.

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