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The Education Conundrum

“Must have a Bachelor's’ degree in marketing, economics, or equivalent…”


The use and misuse of education requirements have starred in our blog before – it is a very common “must have” requirement that is not always as “must have"’ as common wisdom would dictate. We have already written about how misuse of education requirements results in artificially narrowing the candidate pool and decreasing diversity, but if that wasn’t convincing enough, there is more!

The not so “must have” education requirement:

67% of ‘middle-skill’ jobs are so specialized, that even if candidates have all the relevant skills and experiences, without a degree, they just can’t do the job…. even though only 16% of those who already hold those same jobs have a college education.

Wait… what?

That doesn’t make sense at all.

But, that is exactly what was found in a 2017 study by Harvard Business School, Grads of Life, and Accenture. Thanks to the downturn in 2008, when those with degrees were taking any jobs available, including those that traditionally did not require degrees, the education expectation shifted, causing “degree inflation”.

Education pedigree brain twister

Okay, but when a degree is required, where the degree comes from matters, right? 

Common wisdom dictates that the higher a school is ranked, the better the education, and therefore the better the candidate, right? If this is true, then there should be some measurable evidence of this – like salary. So, if the wisdom holds, those coming from higher ranked schools should have, on average, higher salaries.

Well, according to a 2002 study done by economists Stacy Dale and Alan Krueger, it doesn’t matter at all – if you are a white male. White men earn roughly the same amount, on average, independent of where they were educated. However, according to a new study, women and people of color earn more if they have gone to a higher ranked school.

Wait… WHAT???

There is speculation as to why – women who go to higher-tier universities delay marriage and families to climb the corporate ladder, and those born into lower socio-economic circles that go to a top-tier university gain better networks resulting in hiring-paying jobs than those who don’t, etc.


There is a significant portion of the population (i.e. white men) demonstrating that educational pedigree doesn’t impact salary. Therefore, the salary gaps for women and people of color demonstrates a problem with the selection process, not the earning potential of the impacted groups.

Stand against the education conundrum – ask “WHY”

Don’t get me wrong, education is very valuable. It allows people to explore a wide range of skills and disciplines, accumulate a great foundation of abilities, and in many cases, enhance their transition from childhood to mature adulthood. However, higher education is not for everyone, and it is not for every job.

When looking for candidates, education requirements must be used wisely and for a reason. Used wrong, education requirements are just another form of bias – serving to narrow the candidate pool, lower diversity, and open organizations to compliance-based liability.

Before adding that “Must have a Bachelors’ degree in marketing, economics, or equivalent…” to your job posting, ask a very simple question – WHY?

TIP: If education is a requirement for a job, make sure you can clearly articulate why. If you can’t clearly articulate what the education is providing within itself, switch to an evaluation of skills and job/situational questioning. Let your candidates show you their skills, rather than focusing on where they came from.

NOTE: Asking yourself “WHY?” also works well if you find yourself or others in your organization valuing one educational institution over another.

At, candidates are evaluated anonymously, with any biasing information not pertinent for the job, such as educational background, hidden step during the initial evaluation of applicants. Candidates are evaluated by their skill-sets and the value they bring, not by checking unnecessary boxes, such as education when education is not required.

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