How much should employers take academic qualifications into consideration when recruiting?

Peninsula Team

September 10 2010

There is no definitive answer here, this depends entirely on the job role in question and if the qualification is truly essential, desirable or not needed at all, in order for the job role to be carried out effectively and successfully.

Obviously, academic qualifications are pre-requisites for some professions such as medical, teaching and certain jobs in the legal field, so therefore employers must take these into consideration when recruiting and can ask any prospective employee for evidence of these qualifications to ensure they are qualified to do the job.

In most other areas of employment, academic qualifications may only be sought after, rather than being an essential part of someone’s background. They may not be needed at all. It is in these cases that employers must consider how important to the job role is a specific academic qualification and the reason they want a prospective employee to have the qualification.

Academic qualifications can demonstrate a lot about a prospective employee. Primarily, they demonstrate knowledge in a particular field, and this is the reason most employers seek them at recruitment stage. However an employer should consider how up to date the knowledge is. There are some fields where changes happen frequently and even studies completed a year ago can become dated. Employers should also note that some qualifications have newer equivalents, for example O Levels are now GCSE’s, and should avoid indirectly discriminating on the grounds of age.

Another advantage of an academic qualification is that it demonstrates that an individual is capable of studying at a known pace, can absorb information and also be tested on this information. If the studies have been carried out while the potential recruit has been working, this also demonstrates qualities such as commitment and tenacity. If all employees doing a similar job role have the same academic qualification then there is also the advantage of them having the same frame of reference.

Some employers seek qualifications for kudos, for example a degree from a red brick university, or that all their employees have achieved a first class degree. Employers should think seriously about requesting qualifications for this purpose only – it does not make sense to do this if the job role is not dependent on this criteria and an employer may overlook the perfect person for the job.

There are many people who work in professional fields who are qualified by experience only and do not hold any academic qualifications. This may sometimes be seen as a barrier at recruitment stage but is often an advantage. Some employers prefer to recruit people who have more experience in the field they are recruiting in and would prefer to hire someone with 3 years work experience rather than another person who has spent the same 3 years at university. There are huge numbers of people who look at vocational qualifications rather than academic, and this is another angle for employers to consider.

Employers should not forget the vital, softer skills required that employees gather with work experience rather than through an academic qualification. These are skills that include communication, organisation, time management and flexibility which can make up a major proportion of a job role.

To summarise, employers should consider which qualifications are relevant and are essential for the job role to be carried out effectively to avoid missing out on candidates that have other important skills which mean the job role can be carried out as effectively.

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