Ask Matt: Why do companies focus so much on degrees?

  • Updated: December 10, 2012 - 8:30 AM

Dear Matt: Why do companies overlook experienced candidates who have all the required skills for a job, and proven achievements to back that up, but not a college degree? Shouldn't it be about the ability to do the job more than having a degree?

Matt says: I think we all know people who don't have a college degree who have figured out how to succeed in their profession quite nicely. We also know people who have a degree who might not be where they want to be professionally. I understand your frustration -- after 10, 15, 20 years, shouldn't it be about the knowledge, skills and achievements you have obtained in your profession?

While many employers would answer yes, a completed bachelor's degree serves a couple of functions, says Bill Baldus, a career counselor with Metropolitan State University (metrostate.edu) in St. Paul. It helps employers place applications into "yes" and "no" piles for jobs that may have lots of candidates, and it serves as confirmation that the candidate has completed a curriculum that includes development of leadership and soft skills that employers might be seeking -- which they may believe makes a candidate more well-rounded.

"In today's economy, technological progress and changing business conditions -- such as the rise of globalization -- mean that everyone's job is going to change constantly," says occupational expert Laurence Shatkin, PhD (shatkin.com). "Employers want workers who will be able to stay current with, or even ahead of, these changes. People who have a four-year degree have learned how to learn, so they are better equipped to respond to the challenges of change."

Shatkin, however, knows that there are good jobs out there for those without a degree. In his new book "300 Best Jobs Without a Four-Year Degree" (jist.com), he pinpoints several jobs forecasted to experience rapid growth through 2020 that do not require a degree. Jobs in health care and construction dominate the list.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2013 (naceweb.org) says employers are looking for candidates with soft skills such as communications, ability to work in a team, problem-solving, planning, organizing and prioritizing work, obtaining and processing information and technical knowledge related to a job, among others.

Job seekers without college degrees certainly can have those skills. So what's one to do then, when there is no degree but proven success in a field? Network. By meeting decision makers and leaders, you can wow them with your ability to prove you can do the job. You will have to work harder -- but by succeeding without a college degree, you've already proved you can do just that.

GOT A CAREER QUESTION FOR MATT? EMAIL ASKMATT@STARTRIBUNE.COM

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