In today’s recruitment environment are formal qualifications still as relevant?

In 2015, Ernst and Young removed the degree requirement from its entry criteria. This was significant because EY is one of the UK’s largest graduate recruiters. In so doing, it had seemingly created a paradox: it offered posts for graduates that didn’t require degree-holders.

EY maintained that it had “no evidence” that success at university correlated with achievement in later life. Inversely, this could be read as having evidence that there was no benefit as expected with the hire of university graduates. While it may be the case in recent years that universities have complained about falling standards in the academic ability of school-leavers entering degree courses, it might well follow that a university career and qualification doesn’t discriminate rigorously enough for employers to recognise top talent. But this doesn’t seem to have been EY’s problem.

Rather, the issue seemed to centre on the following question: are there untapped options beyond the academic fount and the traditional conveyor belt? EY obviously thinks so; as do other companies which in the last five years have altered their entry requirements accordingly.

One point of view suggests that it isn’t ability that stops talented people going to university, it is disadvantage. A study in 2015 found that wealthy children were 35% more likely to become high earners than the gifted children of poorer families, regardless of academic achievement.

Assuming that good schools have been passed through on this journey to high-income professions, this statistic suggests the importance of connections and the prestige of brand-name education. Such things would be missing ingredients for a candidate who is self-taught or has learnt on the job and wants to approach the likes of EY. The door may have been opened but is the culture really in place in corporate recruitment divisions to defy the gravity of a weighty university certificate?

After all, the degree qualification is a standardised indicator of tested knowledge on a particular subject; when recruiting for technical positions, it is supposed to show a candidate has attained a certain level of proficiency. But there’s the rub that brings us full circle. With the importance of the degree evidently losing value with a leading recruiter of graduates, it can’t very well be taken as the gold standard it once might have been.

For 2016 applicants, EY used a suite of online “strengths” assessments and numerical tests to assess potential and insisted that the university degree was not redundant, but would no longer be a barrier. However, there clearly had been a shift to a test of innate ability as a critical indicator of potential and suitability. It is an approach that is not just suited to testing graduates, nor limited to one section of the recruitment industry. Aptitude tests for appraising the value of stated work experience would be the equivalent applied to more mature candidates with career histories.

Undoubtedly, this constitutes evidence of a dynamic situation in recruitment wherein the speed of innovation and the degree of the challenges faced by today’s management teams may be unparalleled. But so too are the opportunities. The industry-leading team at Clifford Associates can alleviate the senior digital resourcing burden that your organisation faces, so why not contact us to find out how?

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    Karen Troman, Office Manager & HR Co-ordinator, VoucherCodes.co.uk part of RetailMeNot
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    Neil Kettleborough, CRO & Co Founder, Chalk Social
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    Helen Rosemier, Commercial Director, Professional & Financial Services Practice, Longitude

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