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Should You Hire the Person or the Degree?

By: SmallBizClub



With only 60% of college students saying they feel prepared for the workforce and only 23% of employers agreeing, it’s probably a wise idea to focus on more than just the college degree when hiring.

Job candidates today need to possess a variety of skills and talents, and have a great personality to boot. For people who haven’t earned a degree this could mean they have a similar or even better chance at scoring a great job as those who have attended a university or college.

If you had to pick one—experience or a degree—which would you choose as more valuable? Let’s take a look at 3 considerations in choosing the right person for the job.

Soft skills

Don’t underestimate the power of “soft” skills, or people skills. If students want to feel more prepared for the workforce and perform well in their academic environment, they should start developing these skills in school. Soft skills training at the collegiate level will pay off when they enter the workforce.

On the flip side, having prior work experience is particularly useful because those employees have already been exposed to the soft skills necessary to work with others, proving their value up front.

A few examples of soft skills:

  • Work ethic – willing, hard-worker, loyal, takes initiative, helps co-workers, on time
  • Flexible – fitting into the company’s culture, willing to learn from criticism, teachable, adaptable, problem-solver
  • Communicator – listens, speaks and writes well, high level of emotional intelligence
  • Interpersonal skills – empathetic, friendly, social, confident, happy

A survey by CareerBuilder showed that 77% of employers were seeking candidates with soft skills; 16% of the respondents considering soft skills more crucial than hard skills. In other words, being able to successfully interact with others is more crucial than hard skills for at least 16%.


Lucky for most people, education comes in many forms. Most employers these days aren’t questioning whether a qualified candidate attended a brick and mortar location or earned their degree online from an accredited college. The debate is becoming less of a debate. Even with the recent shakeup of for-profit schools going under, such as ITT Technical Institute, some are still thriving while some will be forced to do better in the future if they want to keep their doors open.

A person’s education and the manner in which it’s acquired is only part of the equation on whether they will get hired for the job. While the applicant was in college, did they work on the side and during the summers? Did they volunteer or take a gap year abroad? Did they participate in the whole college experience?

“Human factors, faculty accessibility and student engagement in curricular and extracurricular activities” are all significant to a student’s college experience, writes Boston University professor Jay Halfond. Students who utilize their school’s resources while attending school could pay off later in the job market.


We tend to think of college graduates as self-motivated and independent workers, even though a degree doesn’t directly translate to a good work ethic.

A drive to succeed is just as likely to come from those with hands-on work experience, associate degrees and other types of certifications. Colleges aren’t necessarily teaching real-world skills. Who would you rather hire, someone with a four-year college degree with no work experience or someone with four years of relevant experience but no formal degree?

There’s no doubt that in many cases having a college degree can lead to better, higher paying jobs. Often those types of jobs require a degree of some sort, anyway. But having a good skillset and the right personality for the job is just as important as the degree.

Successful business leaders have at least one thing in common: They are generally good decision makers. Of course they are human and make mistakes, but developing high-level decision making skills can be learned regardless of what degree they earned in school.

melissa-davidsonAuthor: Melissa Davidson is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana. She’s a former newspaper reporter who now frequently writes about women in business, social issues, mental health and the occasional pop culture story. Follow Melissa on Twitter @madtris

Published: October 5, 2016

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