The scientific proof that selecting candidates on their educational level is nonsense


I have always been really against screening candidates based on their educational background – but I might be slightly biased here, as I also dropped out of university to become an entrepreneur. 😉

You’d think that education becomes less and less relevant in an era where every company talks about ‘’skill-based hiring’’ being the future of recruitment. But unfortunately, reality still proves us wrong. And it’s not only the old-fashioned management consulting firms communicating a minimum educational level in their job openings – many unicorns(-to-be) are actually doing the exact same thing. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.


job requirement mollie includes educational experience
job requirement Picnic includes educational experience
job requirement Boston Consultancy Group includes educational experience
job requirement Mckinsey includes educational experience



So, why do companies desperately hold on to education?

We have always been told that someone’s educational level is a solid indicator of analytical intelligence, i.e. academic intelligence. And although we know that this is not always the case, it’s such a deep-rooted habit, that it has become a cognitive bias in our brains. Without us being aware of it, we instantly link analytical intelligence to someone’s educational level

However, there are a lot of secondary factors determining a person’s 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 needed to work a lot to pay for their study.


Education and job performance (external 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. 

correlation between cognitive ability and job performance is higher than education

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. So, the habit to link intelligence to education might not be as solid as we’d think. 

Since our Neuroscientist taught me that you can’t draw indirect conclusions from studies like these, we decided to conduct a study ourselves.


The scientific truth about educational level and intelligence

Here at Equalture, we develop neuroscientific game-based assessments to help companies measure their candidates’ behaviour, cognitive abilities, and so on. But apart from developing game-based assessments, our Science team also continuously analyses all data that we collect through our platform. 

One of the games on our platform measures problem-solving ability, the strongest indicator of a person’s analytical intelligence. A recent study we conducted tested whether there is a correlation between analytical intelligence and educational level. 


Equalture Study: The Correlation between analytical intelligence and educational level

Participants

Information about candidates’ highest level of education was collected for 1434 people.  The majority of the candidates had a BSc (661) or MSc (538) degree. Other education levels included secondary education/ high school (63), vocational education (63), associate’s degree (57), post-master (24), and PhD (28). We decided to exclude post-master and PhD from the analysis, as the groups were too small.

Statistical analysis & Results

A one-way ANOVA revealed no significant effect of education on problem-solving ability as measured by the ferry game, F(7,3918) = 1.35, p = .221. The conclusion: There was no significant effect of education on problem-solving ability, i.e. analytical intelligence

boxplot showing no correlation between analyical intelligence and educational level

Here’s what happens when you keep screening candidates on their educational level

There’s actually two things that will happen:

  • You will wrongfully reject candidates with a lower educational level, but a higher GMA/intelligence;
  • And the other way around, you will wrongfully advance candidates with a higher educational level, but a lower GMA /intelligence. 

So, you’re not only shrinking your talent pool but also risking a costly mishire. 


What to do instead: Measure analytical intelligence, and do it at the start of the process

There are dozens of assessments that can help you measure analytical intelligence, including Equalture’s own game-based assessment. Out of the four example companies mentioned above (Picnic, Mollie, McKinsey, and BCG), I know that at least three of them do use an assessment to measure analytical intelligence. But unfortunately, that is not enough to solve this issue. Why? Well, for all of these companies, the assessment is introduced after the first screening, meaning that you will still miss out on great talent.


The Ferry: Game-based assessment for analytical intelligence

Have you considered including an assessment in your hiring process to assess analytical intelligence? If yes, it might be worth considering a gamified assessment, for the following reasons:

  • Trainability. We all know them, the traditional Figure Series test, which is one of the common assessments to measure analytical intelligence. A big issue with this assessment is that the internet explodes from websites where you can endlessly train for it. Thus destroying the reliability of this assessment. A game-based assessment, in contrast to that, is not trainable.
  • Candidate Experience. Another issue with for example a Figure Series test is that it is part of a bigger cognitive abilities test, which not only take long in a traditional format, but also heavily increase stress and anxiety. A game-based assessment is not only much shorter, but also immersive, meaning that it drastically lowers stress and anxiety.

Want to try the Ferry game yourself? You are only one click away!

ferry game

Selecting candidates based on their educational degree is not only unfair but also a huge risk for your hiring success. I would have never been able to work for either of the four companies above, while I bet that being an entrepreneur for four years taught me more than a bunch of classes on campus.

Charlotte Melkert Co-Founder and CEO of Equalture in Portrait picture

Cheers, Charlotte

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