Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Kristen Fife's Blog

When And Why Degrees Matter

2014-09-12 17:51:44

I’ve been having this conversation with several experienced (many of them “mature”) job seekers lately. They have an AA, or never finished college and are having a really difficult time finding jobs as they get older and more and more jobs across the board require Bachelor’s degrees. Especially for the more experienced professionals, the stability of a large company becomes attractive or even vital in their job search. I’ve had questions from a lot of different quarters about what programs/schools to choose or avoid; what major to consider, and of course, what is the magic “equation” for “or equivalent experience”.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to understand that in this instance, size matters. The larger the company, the more likely it is going to be that they are requiring degrees. The rationale for this has a significant root in compliance issues. If a company hires H1-B immigration workers, one of the minimum requirements for a candidate to qualify for an H1-B is a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant discipline (i.e. an English degree doesn't work for a tech job). When a company starts employing H1-B employees, they set their minimum requirements for the job titles/categories they are sponsoring, and often those minimum requirements include a Bachelor’s. Once those minimum requirements are set, they must be followed in all recruitment activities for those specific job titles.

There is also the concept of degree equivalency where applicants can use a combination of education and experience to equate to a US Bachelor's degree. These usually have to be evaluated by a third party education evaluation service before the application can be submitted.
Here are the official requirements (compliments of USCIS):

•A bachelor’s degree or higher degree or its equivalent is normally the minimum requirement for the particular position;

•The degree requirement is common for this position in the industry, or the job is so complex or unique that it can only be performed by someone with at least a bachelor's degree in a field related to the position;

•The employer normally requires a degree or its equivalent for the position; or

•The nature of the specific duties is so specialized and complex that the knowledge required to perform the duties is usually associated with the attainment of a bachelor's or higher degree

How do you determine the “or equivalent experience?”

• It MUST be doing the same type of job as is called for in the job description and requirements, it is *not* a total years of work experience

• There is no concrete, written-in-stone equation of experience=education; however a conservative guideline is 2.5-3 years of experience equates to 1 year of education

Some industries such as law and healthcare have such specialized education requirements that culturally they carry over to all aspects of recruiting/HR. As companies get larger, they tend to put more stock in formal training and education as a way to choose the most highly qualified candidates. Think of companies like Google, Amazon, Nike, or GE. When you literally get thousands of applicants a *day*, there needs to be a way to set the bar *just* to manage the workflow. Add that to additional federal compliance requirements from 3 or 4 different fronts, and a degree for most jobs becomes a foregone conclusion.

Smaller companies, especially privately held entities, have much more leniency when it comes to hiring practices. They will generally be willing and able to hire “on potential”, meaning they feel that even if you don’t have the exact skills they need, they feel you can learn them. “Aptitude” is another way of looking at it. It would be a mistake to discount a smaller company in preference for “security”. I think the downturn and even recent layoffs at companies like Microsoft prove that large doesn’t necessarily equal “stable”. Smaller companies offer the opportunity to learn new skills, help guide the direction of the company, and possibly attain leadership positions more readily.

If you are seriously considering pursuing or finishing your degree, there are many options open to mature students. I have one friend that did not get a degree, yet attained an MBA based on his work experience and another friend that doesn’t have a high school diploma or GED, yet has a BA, MBA, and JD all complete. Finding a program that will work with your schedule, experience, and needs will take some research but is not impossible. For profit schools have come under a lot of federal scrutiny the last several years based on consumer complaints. Online for profit degrees are especially suspect. If you decide to pursue an online degree, make sure that you do your homework. Generally an online program affiliated with a brick and mortar school is a safe bet. One of the schools that is completely online and a not for profit is WGU (Western Governor’s University) and has gotten high marks from hiring managers and other recruiters (and is quite affordable). Always remember community colleges as well, especially if you have a large number of pre-requisites to fill. They are highly affordable and it is often much easier to transfer to a larger school if you have good grades at a community college.

Only you can determine if finishing a degree is worth the time and effort, but if you are finding that the lack of one is seriously impeding your career opportunities, it may be worth considering.

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