Recruiters - look beyond degrees to source the best talent

Written by
Changeboard Team

30 Mar 2011

30 Mar 2011 • by Changeboard Team

Do degree grades reflect performance potential?

The latest labour market information shows that unemployment now stands at 2.53 million - the highest it's been since 1994 and it's increasingly worrying that the number of 16-24 year olds out of work remains unacceptably high.

There are many recruiters that continue to stipulate a 2:1 as a minimum entry point (some of the smarter and larger graduate recruiters have realised this is a mistake and removed this barrier to entry into the job market) – however, we have evidence that educational qualifications are actually not very predictive of job performance.

The number of young people looking for work is likely accelerate even further over the next few years as soaring higher education fees make university an unattractive option for school leavers. Employers that continue to stipulate a 2:1 as a minimum job requirement could be missing out on a great candidate, simply because that person couldn’t afford to go to university. In light of this, now's the time for firms to reconsider their recruitment processes to accommodate those without degrees – if they don’t, they could miss out on hiring the next, Steve Jobs, Alan Sugar or Phillip Green. A 2:1 degree might be a convenient way to sift the mountain of applications recruiters receive, but in many cases it can be worth little more to employers than the paper it's printed on.

Think beyond the traditional degree

Recruiters are increasingly looking for innovative ways to identify high quality talent in an ever more crowded marketplace. Twenty years ago 20 per cent of school leavers became graduates, but the UK Government is now targeting 50 per cent by the year 2012. A consequence of this target is that the marketplace is now diluted with high achieving graduates and it's harder for recruiters to identify the most suitable applicants. Compounding the situation is that the graduate talent pool spans international borders too now – in a single year there are seven million new graduates in the European Union, all entitled to work in the member states.

In addition, there's been a substantial reduction in the number of ‘graduate roles’, perhaps by as much as 25 per cent, caused by the contraction of the global economy. This leaves even more graduates chasing a smaller number of jobs. As result, graduate unemployment is at its highest for 12 years and overall unemployment at its highest since 1994.

Additional screening mechanisms

So, what other screening mechanisms can employers use to sift through the large amount of applicants? There's emerging dissatisfaction with some of the selection techniques that are freely available to shortlist candidates. Not only do academic criteria such as UCAS tariff and degree class continue to show mixed value in predicting work performance, but graduate recruiters are coming under increasing pressure to demonstrate the return on investment of their programmes. This stretches resources across the delivery of the recruitment activity itself, and demonstrating to the business the value added by that activity.

One way in which recruiters are addressing these challenges is to adopt a more proactive approach, engaging candidates earlier and earlier in their pre-employment career.

At SHL, we develop talent assessment solutions for recruiters to allow them gain a broader and more complete view of a candidate’s skills and behaviours. A professionally run assessment process identifies and maximises a person's strengths to pinpoint the areas that should be further developed. This greater understanding of person-job fit allows companies to make informed decisions about hiring and developing existing talent.

How to attract & engage the best talent

As recruitment budgets are cut and the cream of talent becomes harder to identify, it's vital that organisations maximise the talent that already exists in their company before embarking on new hires. This can be achieved through succession planning and development and in order to engage the best talent organisations should employ the following steps:  

•    Identify the key roles in an organisation and the linchpin positions that are essential to company success
•    Evaluate talent to find key successors to these job roles considering:


  • Potential: measure candidate potential relevant to the role and organisation
  • Behaviours: understand the behaviours required for success in the role and assess the candidate against these
  • Results:  an organisation must define clear metrics for measuring success within a role

•    Match people to the job role. If the talent required does not exist internally, recruit external candidates using the same talent evaluation processes
•    Be transparent in your management succession processes
•    Regularly measure progress
•    Micro-engage employees

SHL research has shown that 47 per cent of the UK workforce are staying in a job they dislike for fear of having no other option, a fact which alone should prompt all businesses to take action. By using psychometric testing, companies can get under the skin of what motivates their employees and use the right techniques to ensure they are motivated and rewarded in the most appropriate way.

The future of recruitment

Today’s employers have an abundance of talent to work with - not only is there an ever increasing number of recent graduates keenly waiting for their first employment opportunities, but older workers are no longer required to retire at 65. This latter point is perhaps the biggest opportunity for organisations as by the time the UK economy has recovered from the current recession, we will be five years closer to the explosion of the demographic time-bomb when the need for skilled workers will be even higher.

To take advantage of the demand for skilled workers, it's not only extra important that companies recruit the right people in the first place, but also that they understand their employees’ motivators and triggers – i.e. what makes them tick as individuals. Each one of us is driven by a subtly different set of motivators and being able to understand and gauge this through psychometric testing is an invaluable resource for employers to allow them to obtain the best possible performance and contribution from each and every member of staff.

Another point to mention is that the bleak jobs market means that the number of young people looking for work is likely to accelerate even further as soaring higher education fees make university an increasingly unattractive option for school leavers. In light of this, it’s time for firms to reconsider their recruitment processes to accommodate those without degrees. An employer that stipulates a 2:1 could be missing out on a great candidate simply because that person couldn’t afford to go to university, and therefore can’t qualify for the selection process.

The lack of a 2:1 should not close doors for promising candidates and while we have seen some graduate employers, such as PwC have less of an emphasis on a 2:1, many are still opting for it. Another reason to consider hiring against job criteria rather than the ‘open sesame’ 2:1 is that we have found there is a mismatch between what employers want, and what graduates have. Our research has shown that employers really value ‘working effectively and communicating with other,’ yet this is right at the bottom of the list of student skills. Therefore it is essential that companies prioritise recruiting against their values and the competencies and skills needed for the specific job, above a 2:1.

Labour market information

Click below to download the latest labour market information commissioned by the Office for National Statistics.