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CEO Insights: It's time to drop minimum degree requirements for graduate jobs

Monday 30th January

CEO Insights: It's time to drop minimum degree requirements for graduate jobs
Read time: 3.5 minutes
The CEO insights this month explores the growing trend of dropping minimum degree requirements for graduate jobs. I discuss: 

  • What this means for identifying the most suitable candidates
  • If you don’t set a minimum degree qualification how else can you determine their intellectual capability?
Coming back after the Christmas break, I was really happy to see that Santander has followed in the footsteps of our customers, such as PwC, by dropping the minimum degree requirements for graduate jobs and early careers. 

In fact, the number of employers still asking for at least a 2:1 has fallen below 50% for the first time ever. As you all know, I’m incredibly passionate about hiring for potential, and Anouska Ramsay’s (Santander HR Director) comment in the Guardian on the topic at the start of this month definitely brought a smile to my face. 

“Academic achievement is important, but it is only one of many factors we look at when searching for new talent. We believe potential can be found anywhere, and this move reinforces our commitment to finding the best candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.”

As Anouska references, academic achievement remains important but there are so many other factors behind a degree result that it is no longer a useful differentiator between individual candidates. Is a 2:1 from Greenwich the same as a 2:1 from Edinburgh? What about a 2:1 in Philosophy (my course!) compared to a 2:1 in Neuroscience (my son’s course!)? Then you have the whole issue about socio-economic status and those with support, and those without support, and how that affects degree results. Like the CV, degree classification served us well for a time, but it’s time to move on to ensure greater equity.

The challenge is how do you measure intellectual capability if not from the degree result? Will it be any better? Santander said they expect to receive over 64,000 applicants by dropping the requirement and will only be taking 68 graduates per year. For every graduate recruiter, this poses a real problem, and companies must rethink how they best serve the next generation of graduate applicants. There are two main questions employers need to consider: how do you differentiate applicants and consider both the minimum intellectual requirements as well as soft skills like resilience; and secondly, how do you do this at scale and not introduce further bias or inequity?

The starting point is to take the time to really understand what you need. Setting a minimum degree result overlooks this important step. What type of intelligence are you looking for? Learning agility or speed of thought? What about problem-solving? There are many different nuances to intelligence, so understanding what you actually need and what the real minimum levels are, will pay dividends later on. This then drives how you measure the particular type of intellectual capacity you are looking for. One of my ‘bugbears’ in this area is that intelligence tests are ‘right or wrong’ focused and unlike the rest of a modern educational assessment approach, don’t give any credit for the way you get to the answer.

The other problem about setting a minimum degree qualification is that it fails to acknowledge the value of soft skills. A good lawyer or accountant has to be as good at networking and building client relationships as they are processing large quantities of information. A good approach to assessing a candidate’s capabilities has to be holistic.

Now, back to my second question; how do you do this at scale and not introduce different barriers or bias? This means not only fitting an assessment seamlessly into your existing tech stack but also getting confirmation that the assessment works just as well on a mobile device as it does a computer. Adecco’s research showed that 28% of candidates complete assessments on a mobile device, often because that is the only device they have easy access to. They mustn't be disadvantaged simply because they only have access to a small screen - confirm this with validated data before you take on any new assessment approach or provider.  

It’s clear that dropping minimum requirements is a great step in the right direction when it comes to unleashing social mobility and promoting potential. However, dropping a hurdle is not the answer alone. Graduate recruitment is not a competition for the highest number of applicants. There are real people with real differences and real aspirations who will go through your process. Thinking carefully about what you want to measure and how to measure it at scale without being disadvantageous to any groups is as important as dropping the hurdle in the first place. Otherwise it's just a marketing, value signalling exercise.

P.S. Want more? 

  1. Explore how Siemens are using hiring for potential to recruit graduate
  2. Deep dive into the 7 seven burning questions when hiring for potential

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