Why it’s foolish to judge candidates by their educational background

Why it’s foolish to judge candidates by their educational background

Yesterday I had a call with someone to tell this person more about Equalture. After pitching our product (in case you don’t know Equalture, it’s a tool that helps you get to know your teams’ and candidates’ cognitive ability, personality, and behaviour through neuroscientific games, to help you base your hiring decisions on objective insights), his instant reaction was:

’I actually strongly believe in educational background as a solid predictor of future job performance, and would reject candidates when they lack the background I am looking for.’’

After he said that, I almost started to instantly defend my product. But fortunately, I first thought about my answer, before replying impulsively (which is something I don’t always do ;-)). And I think that answer is worth sharing with everyone who’s interested in this. Because it’s not that I do not believe in the benefits of educational background at all. I just believe that it’s very foolish to reject candidates by their educational background. Here’s why.

Money can’t buy happiness. Or can it?

When you apply to a company like McKinsey, the number of job applications is so insanely high, that these companies have the luxury to ask for whatever criteria they somehow consider relevant. And education is one of them.

Not only do more and more companies ask for a university degree, but they also rank universities (the more prestigious, the bigger your chances), and even ask for your high school grades list. I heard the craziest stories from friends, who got rejected for a job because their average grade on high school or university was one decimal too low. 

All companies like McKinsey seem to forget one crucial part of the equitation here. Money. Because money can actually buy happiness – or at least a job. 

Think about it. My parents always taught me to work for my own money. So when I was 15 years old, I started with my first side job, just like most of my friends. Now, I did have the luxury that my parents paid for my Bachelor’s degree, but I am very aware of the fact that this does not apply to everyone. 

The students during my Bachelor’s degree who I respected most were the ones who did everything themselves. They worked to pay for their studies, their room, and their groceries. And that requires a lot of working hours. So, they did not have the luxury to study from 9 to 5 every day. They worked from 9 to 5 instead. And despite only having the evenings to study, they all got their degree. 

They did not have the opportunity to pay for a prestigious university. They did not have the luxury to focus full-time on their studies. And they could not afford the most expensive crash courses to prep for their exams. So, maybe their average grade is a decimal too low. And maybe their university doesn’t belong to the top 10 universities worldwide. But to be completely honest, I respect these students more than the ones on the opposite side of the spectrum. 

What I’m trying to say here is that judging candidates by their educational background will likely increase the gap between people who grew up more wealthy and less wealthy, which is very unfair. And on top of that, you instantly exclude a group of candidates who might actually perform much better in your job than the ones who might tick the boxes on paper. 

Booksmart vs. streetsmart 

I admit that I might be slightly biased here, as I did get my Bachelor’s degree at university, but never started with my Master’s degree. Since I started my first company during the second year of my Bachelor’s, so studying was never my highest priority. 🙂

Instead of learning about a certain topic through books and exams, I got the luxury, but also the tough challenge to learn everything straight away in practice. When I started Equalture, basically everything was new to me. Marketing, sales, product development, data science, financial forecasting, HR, you name it. And although I made tons of mistakes, by learning through practice, I do know for sure that I learned everything at least ten times quicker

However, if I would now apply at McKinsey, I would never be invited. Because I don’t have a Master’s degree. Because I chose to be streetsmart instead of being booksmart. Luckily enough I do not see myself ever working for someone else again, but it’s still a weird feeling. I built a company with 30 team members and 250+ customers in 12 countries, but I won’t make it through the screening. 

How to get rid of education screening: Here’s what to do instead

Now, although I might be slightly provocative in this blog, I do get why companies hold on to education as a screening criterium. We all still perceive education as a fair indicator of intelligence and learning ability. And to a certain extent, I do agree with that. What I just don’t agree with is the fact that we instantly assume that everyone without a desired degree won’t have the level of intelligence and learning ability we’re looking for. 

If you really want to get rid of screening based on educational level, here’s what to do.

Start working with assessments that can measure the traits you value and assume to find in people with the educational background you’re looking for. A perfect example is problem-solving/logical thinking. Now, before applying assessments to candidate screening, use these assessments to assess your current team first. By doing so, you allow yourself to objectively list the characteristics of your successful employees, which also helps you screen your candidates on this objective list of characteristics. Goodbye to education screening! 

To wrap up this blog, let’s provide you with an example of what we do here at Equalture. We obviously make use of our own games to screen our candidates. One of our games, The Ferry, measures problem-solving ability, which is part of your logic IQ. We know that we need a high level of this trait for more strategic and complex jobs. By first letting our team complete the game, we know what level to be on the lookout for. And by letting all of our candidates complete the game as well, we can easily benchmark their score against our desired score to decide on whether or not to invite someone for a job interview. 

Want to try this game yourself?

A visual of one of the games that is non-cheatable and measures a specific skill/personality trait.

And as a result of doing it like that, we don’t care about your educational background. After all, I trust science more than a grade list from high school anyway. 😉

Cheers, Charlotte

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