How screening for university degrees leads to bias

Anete Vesere

Content Marketer

All throughout school everyone is told that grades we get are what matters the most. Because without good grades there will be no good future – no chance to get into a good university, slim chances of finding a job and so on. Basically – you’re doomed.

Think about it. You don’t know whether a person had a good or a difficult family situation. You don’t know whether they had to work at a young age or not. You don’t know if they were bullied or not. You know anything about a person’s story by looking at their average grades from highschool. And definitely not their story from 10 YEARS (!) before you started speaking with them.

However, still many companies choose to set up hard requirements regarding education when it comes to screening candidates. This way fostering discrimination & missing out on great talent.

Here's how screening for education leads to discrimination…

Research shows that the mismatch rate between degree and job characteristics are surprisingly high. Both positive (e.g., overqualified for a job; Montt, 2017) and negative (e.g., changing job fields; Salas-Velasco, 2021) mismatches should be used as warning signs for us to reconsider whether we should use the educational background as an indication for evaluating the qualification of a candidate.

Setting up hard requirements in hiring in regards to either someone’s grades or educational level is an easy practice to legally discriminate

Educationism: The hidden bias we often choose to ignore

By asking for education records, for example, a company can filter out:

  • Immigrants. They can’t go back to their country to pick up or have the school records sent just for an application.
  • LGBTQIA+ who might have struggled in school as a result of lack of inclusivity.
  • People with illnesses or previous illnesses that might have hindered their ability to achieve best results.
  • People with disabilities. For example, some schools might refuse to admit children or young people who are disabled. 
  • People from poor background. Many schools serving low-income and minority students do not even offer the math and science courses needed for college, and they provide lower-quality teaching in the classes they do offer. It all adds up.
  • People of Color. Embedded racial inequities produce unequal opportunities for educational success – long story short – simply resulting in less chances for people of colour to even get the education they desire and deserve.

 

A little food for thought: do you ever wonder why so many companies are composed of mostly middle-high or high-income cisgender white men? 

Well, here is why.

Educational Bias: Educational level is not correlated to your fluid intelligence.

We have always been told that someone’s grades are a solid indicator of analytical intelligence, i.e. academic intelligence. 

 

However, an internal study in which 1.434 job seekers participated showed no significant effect of education on problem-solving ability, i.e. fluid intelligence. This proves why companies should not take a person’s education as a proxy for job performance. 

Without us being aware of it, we instantly assign analytical intelligence to someone’s grades or educational level. 

 

However, there are a lot of secondary factors determining a person’s grades in highschool and their overall educational level that have absolutely nothing to do with analytical intelligence. 

For example, one person can have a university degree by having spent thousands of euros on courses and tutoring to graduate, while another person might not have a university degree because they could not afford to go to a good university or perhaps they had other personal circumstances that hindered their ability to get the best grades.

So, now, for all companies that ask candidates to submit high school (!) grades for screening, do you also ask:

  • What their home situation was like?
  • Whether they had side jobs during high school?
  • What quality their high school was?

You never know the full story of the person or their potential just by looking at their CV.

If that’s not already an argument on it’s own, let me back it up with some scientific research. Over the last decades, extensive research has been conducted to reveal the correlation between different candidate characteristics and job performance. Whereas the correlation between education and job performance is only .10, the correlation between cognitive ability (GMA) and job performance is .65. 

This means that someone’s cognitive ability (also called your General Mental Ability, the indicator for human intelligence) is 6.5x as predictive for future job performance than education

Why are evaluating people – giving them negative attitudes – even though we know that in reality they cannot be blamed and shouldn’t be judged for it? It’s time to start hiring people based who they are and their potential, not what they’ve done in the past… 😉

Look beyond the CV: because someone's grades will not tell you how they will perform at a job

If you want to hire the best of the best, consider looking beyond educational requirements or past work experience – hire more for skills & potential. 

Here at Equalture, we developed game-based assessments that help you make better hiring decisions by allowing you to focus on what matters most: organisational fit, culture, behavioural traits and cognitive abilities when on your next hiring round. 

Want to try one of the games yourself?

Anete Vesere

Anete Vesere

All throughout school and university I've been told that the grades I get are what matters the most. Because without good grades there will be no good future – no chance to get into a good university, slim chances of finding a job and so on. Basically – I'm doomed.

And yes, I am lucky and grateful to have been able to move abroad and finish an international school in Brussels, get both my bachelor's and master's degree in Rotterdam.

BUT...my grades were not good, they were at best - average. I was ashamed and, indeed, felt like there will be no future for me.

If you were to look at my grades from my last year of high school - you would not even believe I'm the same person in front of you today. Sadly, (and shockingly) grades were one of the main reasons why I was rejected from jobs. In all honesty, I don't mind, because I found a job at a company in which I'm valued for who I am as a person and my potential, rather than a grade I got in highschool…

It took me a while to realize that my potential as a person is not determined only by the grades I got in school or the things written in my CV. Of course, these experiences have shaped me into who I am today, yet that does not determine who I can be in the future.

Moral of the story: It’s time to start hiring people based who they are and their potential, not what they’ve done in the past… 😉

References

Montt, G. (2017). Field-of-study mismatch and overqualification: labour market correlates and their wage penalty. IZA Journal of Labor Economics, 6, 1-20. 

Salas-Velasco, M. (2021). Mapping the (mis) match of university degrees in the graduate labor market. Journal for Labour Market Research, 55, 1-23. 

Schmidt, F. L. (2016). The Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel Psychology: Practical and Theoretical Implications of 100 Years of Research Findings.

Our inspirational blogs, podcasts and video’s

Listen to what they say about our product offering right here

Blog

Should we assess personality or behaviour in hiring?

Blog

13 Statistical Benefits of Diversity within the workplace

Psychometric Tests for Hiring: Advantages & Disadvantages
Blog

Psychometric Tests for Hiring: Advantages & Disadvantages