Are University Degrees Essential When Recruiting? Only One in Six Employers Think So

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The role of university degrees in the hiring process is undergoing a substantial transformation. A recent survey by recruitment firm Hays reveals a notable shift in employer attitudes towards academic qualifications. 

Only one in six employers deem university degrees as essential, challenging the conventional belief that formal education is a primary determinant of a candidate’s suitability for a role.

READ: Poor Quality Applicants and Skills Shortage Ranked As Top Issues in Recruitment in 2023

Hays Survey Findings on University Degrees

The survey conducted by Hays discusses the changing perspectives of employers regarding the importance of university degrees in recruitment. The survey, involving 14,925 employers, indicates that nearly half (45%) consider an applicant having a degree as ‘not important.’ 

Another 39% view university degrees as ‘quite important but not essential,’ while only 16% consider it essential in the hiring process. This data emphasises a significant departure from the historical emphasis on university degrees and formal education in the recruitment landscape.

The survey also highlights a crucial aspect of this paradigm shift – three-quarters (73%) of businesses prioritise a candidate’s willingness to learn over their existing skill set. Employers are increasingly open to hiring candidates who may be underqualified or not possess university degrees but show potential for upskilling, with 80% expressing a willingness to invest in training, compared to 73% the previous year.

This reflects a recognition that skills development is an ongoing process and that a candidate’s potential can often outweigh their current qualifications.

There is also a regional difference, with 21% of London-based employers stating that they would not consider hiring someone without a degree. This suggests a potential misalignment between job descriptions that list a degree as a requirement and actual hiring practices, urging a reconsideration of job requirements.

Forbes envisions a future where the traditional curriculum vitae (CV) becomes obsolete, emphasising the need for a more modern and effective approach to evaluating a candidate’s potential. She advocates for a collaborative effort across the entire talent ecosystem to facilitate a swift transition to a skills-based hiring approach.

What Employers Are Now Looking For

The survey and expert insights suggest that employers are placing increasing importance on a candidate’s skills, adaptability, and willingness to learn, more than university degrees and also challenging the historical emphasis on formal education. The key points employers are focusing on include:

  • Skills-based Hiring: Employers are shifting towards evaluating candidates based on their specific skills rather than relying solely on formal academic qualifications. The mismatch between education and the evolving needs of industries is driving this change.
  • Willingness to Learn: Employers highly value a candidate’s eagerness to learn and adapt. The survey indicates that three-quarters of businesses prioritise a candidate’s potential for growth over their existing skill set, signalling a shift towards a more dynamic and learning-oriented workforce.
  • Training and Upskilling: Employers are increasingly open to hiring candidates who may be underqualified to provide training and upskilling opportunities. This reflects a recognition that skills development is an ongoing process and that a candidate’s potential can often outweigh their current qualifications.
  • Attitude and Cultural Fit: The contemporary focus is on hiring candidates with the right attitude, cultural fit, and skills rather than strictly adhering to degree requirements. This approach aims to create a more diverse and adaptable workforce.
  • Adaptability and Agility: In a fast-paced and unpredictable world, employers value candidates who can adapt to new situations and learn new skills. This quality is seen as essential for maintaining competitiveness in the ever-changing business landscape.
  • Effective Communication: Alongside technical skills, employers are keen on candidates who can communicate effectively, both verbally and in writing. The ability to articulate ideas clearly and build rapport is considered a valuable skill in various roles.
  • Teamwork and Interpersonal Skills: Collaboration and effective teamwork are essential attributes that employers seek. Candidates who can contribute positively to team goals, whether in a leadership or supporting role, are highly valued.
  • Commercial Awareness: Understanding how industries or organisations operate in the market, including knowledge of competitors and awareness of current developments, is considered a valuable skill. Demonstrating commercial awareness through research and relevant work experience is crucial.

READ: Lengthy Job Interview Processes are Pushing Away Talent


Recruitment practices are now undergoing a transformative period, with employers increasingly prioritising skills, adaptability, and a candidate’s willingness to learn over traditional academic qualifications. 

As the demand for specific skills continues to evolve, candidates are encouraged to highlight their abilities, experiences, and potential for growth to stand out in a competitive job market. This shift signifies a broader acknowledgement within the business community that skills-based hiring is not just a trend but a fundamental change in the way organisations identify and nurture talent.

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