Skip to main content
Why Degrees-Don't Influence-Sprout's-Hiring-Practices

Why degrees don’t influence sprout’s hiring practices

By Dom Merritt / May 22, 2018

Consider where you are in your career. Your current job role, responsibilities, daily tasks and goals.

Have you been formally recognized for your work? Have you won any awards or reached significant career milestones?

Chances are you have.

Now consider this: if you were to make a list of what enabled you to perform and achieve your highest professional achievements, does it include a college degree?

It’s unlikely that your formal education has influenced your success more than your experience — the mentorship you received early in your career, the difficult lessons you’ve learned over your years in leadership or the wisdom, insight and diversity of thought you glean from your coworkers and employees day in and day out.

So why are organizations still placing such an emphasis on educational pedigree? And what candidates are they losing in the process?

Hiring practices 101: college degrees as career qualifiers

Educational requirements have always been a polarizing practice. Over the past five to 10 years, there’s been an increase in companies requiring a four-year degree for all available positions – even the jobs that don’t require college-level skills.

But a growing number of companies are taking the opposite tack and doing away with degree requirements altogether.

And while reasons behind this decision vary from company to company, many cite the growing need for a more diverse applicant pool.

This not only includes those with alternative or non-traditional educational backgrounds and experience, but those who potentially didn’t have the means or support to pursue a degree due to their gender, identity, sexuality, religion or socio-economic status.

Full disclosure: Two years ago, Sprout required college degrees for some available positions.

But as our commitment and approach to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) grew stronger and more intentional, not only did we owe it to our applicants to reconsider our position on degrees, we owed it to ourselves to continue working toward a truly diverse, inclusive organization.

Hiring practices 201: the evolution of candidate viability

So if we’re not evaluating candidates with traditional qualifiers, how are we evaluating them?

Here at Sprout we’re now much more concerned with whether or not a candidate is capable, than if they are “qualified.”

We believe – as Neil Morrison of Penguin Random House UK so succinctly puts it – “there is increasing evidence that there is no simple correlation between having a degree and ongoing performance in work,” and that “the brightest talents come from a variety of different backgrounds, not just from the top universities.”

There’s a portion of our workforce that has no formal higher education whatsoever and that goes straight to the top. Our very own CEO, Justyn Howard, doesn’t have a college degree and was recently named Glassdoor’s No. 1 CEO in 2017 for U.S. companies with 1,000 employees or less.

These employees rely on skills acquired from previous jobs and life experiences, as well as Sprout’s own in-depth, on-the-job training to succeed in their roles.

You’ll also find a decent amount of career crossover here. That is, employees in a current role unlike their formal education or previous work experience.

Because of our emphasis on candidate “capability,” we – along with the help and vision of the applicants themselves – are able to identify which skills and knowledge best translate to a career at Sprout.

For example, we’ve employed previous kindergarten teachers as customer success reps and former financial analysts as product marketers.

As long as the candidate is fully capable of fulfilling and excelling in the role, it doesn’t matter whether or not they’re traditionally “qualified.”

But our educational requirements aren’t the only part of the hiring process that has evolved.

Hiring practices 202: a critical look at 21st century job descriptions

We’ve recently taken steps toward refining our job descriptions as well. Though many of our open position listings still bear the traditional format of “Responsibilities” and “Desired Skills & Experience,” some now provide a detailed roadmap to give candidates a deeper sense of what that particular role will look like in both the long and short term.

These “impact” job descriptions, as they’re referred to, focus more on the depth and breadth of what you might accomplish in the role vs. what you are expected to bring to the table.

It shifts the candidate’s thought process from “Am I qualified for this position” to “Would I be successful in this type of role?” It becomes more of a self-assessment where applicants can ask themselves, “Does this align to what is important to me and my career trajectory?”

We’ve only recently begun the transition to impact job descriptions, but already we’re hearing from candidates that these action-oriented and forward-thinking descriptions really resonated with them, and are an excellent proof point of Sprout’s dedication to career growth.

In turn, we’ve also noticed an uptick in the quality of the job leads themselves. These more comprehensive job descriptions seem to attract applicants who are better-fit and better-prepared for the role as it is positioned.

Not to mention that this approach has removed some of the previous barriers to entry that discouraged perfectly “capable” candidates from applying for fear of not being “qualified.” We’ve found that the way you describe a role can actually change who sees themselves in it.

These types of job descriptions have internal benefits as well. First, they leave little room for ambiguity in the role, so you and your employees are all crystal clear on the overall vision for the position and how it fits into the broader team.

Additionally, the process of writing the descriptions can sometimes help you identify potential problems or issues with the role – providing you the opportunity to address and work out those issues before adding a living, breathing, feeling person into the mix.

To be clear, there are some challenges. Writing impact descriptions is not a walk in the park. In fact, one of the biggest barriers we’ve encountered in their implementation has been how time-consuming it can be to actually write them.

You’re essentially plotting out a (flexible) timeline for the first 12 months of a position, which requires a detailed knowledge of that role, its department, key goals, performance markers, etc.

It also requires collaboration and alignment among multiple members of that specific team, as well as the broader organization – a sometimes challenging task on its own.

This process is also increasingly difficult for new positions or for startups whose positions are notoriously undefined and undetermined.

Despite these challenges, we’re encouraged by the success we’ve seen so far and remain committed to the ongoing transition to these descriptions for as many positions as possible.

Hiring practices 301: real world applications

It’s not enough to declare surface-level commitment to diversity in your workplace by adding a sentence or two to your company mission. They’re called DEI efforts because that’s what they take – effort.

Over the past two years Sprout has taken active steps in furthering our own DEI efforts; including the gradual removal of unfair and oppressive job requirements and the steady transition into a more impact and capability-focused application process – among many others.

DEI is in the DNA of Sprout’s hiring practices because we truly believe diversity and inclusion lead to a healthier, more agile organization positioned to better serve our customers as well as our surrounding communities.

Dom Merritt

Dom Merritt

is the Sr. Manager of People & Teams at Sprout Social. When he's not disrupting the HR world, Merritt is teaching Management and Communication classes at Loyal University Chicago. Outside of the office and classroom, Merritt is likely getting his passport stamped or attempting to master the art of sailing on Lake Michigan.
Related Articles

Sign up and have Adapt delivered to your inbox.