Why We Should Stop Asking For Degrees in Recruitment

In: BlogDate: Feb 13, 2023By: Henry Stewart

Let’s stop asking for degrees in recruitment.

Santander recently announced that they would remove the requirement for a 2:1 degree from its graduate scheme, and is apparently the only bank to allow graduates with a third-class degree.

I would go beyond that and ask why degrees are necessary at all.

Maybe graduate schemes should be changed to simply employ the brightest and the best, whether or not they have a degree.

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Look at talent, not degrees

I believe the UK Civil Service has done this with its Fast Stream. Their website explains “because we look at your talent, not your background, age or degree subject, there’s nothing to stand in your way.”

I was watching the Netflix series Playlist (about Spotify) last week. Daniel Ek, the company's founder, had previously applied for a job with Google and been refused because he did not complete his degree.

Google has a bit of a track record on this.

In Product Management, there was a rule that you had to have a computer science degree to join the team.

Frustrated by this, Biz Stone left Google to co-found Twitter.

Ben Silberman, also blocked by this rule, left Google to found Pinterest.

Google ex-CEO Eric Schmidt described in How Google Works how Salar Kamangar wanted to get Kevin Systrom onto the APM program. He argued that the young associate was a self-taught programmer and had a “history of working closely with engineers and shipping things”.

Denied the possibility, Kevin went on to found Instagram.

Apparently, Google has changed its recruitment policy. In Work Rules (one of my favourite business books), Laszlo Bock explains that “some of our best performers never set foot on a college campus.”

Now perhaps a degree is a useful qualification for a doctor, dentist, or even an architect but does your company ask for degrees where they aren’t really necessary?

If so, maybe you should take a leaf from the Civil Service or from Google and change that approach to employ whoever is right for the job.

I am told that, at Virgin, you are not allowed to require a degree when recruiting. Why? Because Richard Branson does not have a degree, and why would you restrict your recruitment to stop employing somebody like that?

Do we use our degrees at work?

I did a degree in Economics. It does help in understanding the economic policies of the various political parties. Or, more often, how their policies are often not based on any economic reality.

However I have never in 35 years in business used my degree, or had to write an academic essay or sit an exam.

At Happy our Managing Director, Cathy Busani never did a degree. As we have never required qualifications, this was not an issue when we recruited her.

What she is great at is building personal relationships, creating great teams, delivering brilliant facilitation and coaching people. None of those were included in my degree, or any of the degrees my friends did.

And there is another point, about diversity. The working class, disabled people and black people are all under-represented in our universities.

I would argue, therefore, that any employer who asks for a degree has no right to call itself an equal-opportunity employer.


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Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

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