The Recruitment Shift from Degrees to Skills6 min read

Ali Neill / December 2, 2019
Category : Recruitment
Caption: The Recruitment Shift from Degrees to Skills6 min read

In recruitment, we like to predict how the workforce will change over time. Recruiters want to stay one step ahead of the rest, so that they know what employees will be required in the future. To do so, you have to stay on top of changes to the economy, employment and migration laws and technology. We used to think employability started after finishing school or a specific degree, but it’s starting much earlier than that now. So that’s another factor to take into account: education. The shift from hiring candidates based on their degrees to hiring them based on skills is happening now and here’s why.


Once upon a time, we went to school and some of us went to university. We would specialize in our field with a career path in mind. This was the theory part of our career. Then, most of us would start working in a specific profession and work in a company until retirement. That was the practice part.  Over the past few decades however, technology has evolved and continued to change so rapidly, that what we learn in school or university can’t keep up. How can you expect 12 or more years of learning to keep up with technology, which has not been created? According to the World Economic Forum, sixty-five percent of children entering primary school will end up in jobs that don’t exist yet. That’s more than half! A percentage of students in high school or university will also face the same issue. Internet lawyers couldn’t exist before the internet – and I’d venture to say, before the internet was corrupted. Social media specialists couldn’t exist before social media – and only once it became a marketing tool. SEO experts popped up as Google became the dominant search engine in the Western world and decide what would or wouldn’t appear at the top of the search list.

Similar changes will continue to arise, which means students can’t rely solely on a degree to prove their skills. A degree can be broken down into different years, courses and expertise. Instead of saying, “I have a Bachelor’s in Literature”, students are being told to emphasize what that translates into. In Literature, we have many orals, so you develop public speaking skills and communication skills. We have essays to write (analytical skills and writing skills for reports) and books to read (critical thinking and research methodology). We might also do some linguistics, psychology and history. The different courses in the Literature degree can translate into adaptability, strong general knowledge, communication and marketing skills, confidence and analytical thinking.

If an employer is looking to hire someone with strong language skills and IT knowhow, they might not find one single course, which incorporates both skills. For that reason, they’ll make a choice: what do I want now, and what can I teach. Some skills might indicate if a person is more likely or less likely to be a good fit in a company, but the degrees don’t. That’s why we hear more and more about soft skills as opposed hard skills. Ideally, soft skills provide information about a candidate’s character, and hard skills refer to concrete knowledge. Here are some examples: attention to detail could be a soft skill; modelling (in engineering) is a hard skill. In recruitment, it is becoming increasingly important to balance the two to find the ideal candidate.



Another major issue in recruitment is globalisation. As migration rises and students travel abroad during or after their studies, assessing a degree becomes an issue for recruiters. This is true for even the smallest of degrees. If every student around the world sat for the exact same exams to validate their end of year 12 exam, then we wouldn’t have an issue. However, in some countries (like Australia), the end of year 12 exam isn’t even national, let alone international. Now consider how much more complicated the degree evaluation becomes when you look at specific fields and expertise.

An article on Israel’s healthcare system addressed the dangers of hiring doctors who study overseas. Armenia and Moldova don’t have the same standards as Israel. For this reason, new employees often need additional training to ensure the required knowledge is indeed there. In a field like medicine, having the right skills is not only important for business; it could be a matter of life and death. Once again, translating a degree into a list of skills allows recruiters to better assess candidates.


Finally, another reason recruiters are favouring skills rather than degrees is because we live in a world where employees have more rights than ever before. The internet has made it easy for people to access more and more information.

When I say “information”, that could be access to more career opportunities (thanks to job boards). It could also be access to salary checkers and other salary information. Thanks to feedback from other employees in similar positions or even statistics based on the job offers in the job board database, employees can negotiate their salary and back up their demands with legitimate figures. Another great invention allowing for more transparency in the workplace is online feedback about companies. Think Glassdoor (or even Goldenline in Poland), which allows past and current employees to rate and comment on their employers.

Legal sections also offer resources for jobseekers and employees who aren’t sure of their employment rights (like the one on SuperJob in Russia or the one on YJBYS in China). Worker rights are different from one country to another and new contracts (for freelancers for example) make it difficult to assess one’s rights. That’s to the internet though, it’s become a little bit easier.

How has this helped the shifted from degrees to skills? Well, it has enabled jobseekers to promote themselves and to choose their employer (and not just settle for the first available job). Instead of relying on references and impressive degrees, employees can discover new jobs (thanks to job sheets) and new job posting platforms. That’s partially why unemployment is on an all-time low. Recruiters are struggling to find the exact type of candidate they want, and so they have to settle for someone with interesting skills, even if they don’t have the sort after degree.

This employee empowerment has also led to the rise of the entrepreneur, but that’s a whole other topic.

As recruitment progressively shifts its focus from degrees to skills, it does make one wonder how these changes will ultimately affect education.

For some further reading, check out this article about Work Without Jobs from Toptal. “I am a teacher/salesman/recruiter/engineer/etc.” could be an idea we slowly phase out of our societies.

Author: Ali Neill

As the job board tester and blog editor for the Jobboard Finder, Ali works on job boards from all around the world and keeps a close eye on the recruitment trends thanks to a number of sources, including the website’s social media pages.

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