Is a degree always necessary?

A while ago I was with a group of HR professionals and one lady who had 20+yrs experience in HR, 16 of which was in an Officer or above role, asked for some advice about getting a new role.

Pretty straightforward you would think, but although she had diverse experience in both tasks and industries she didn't have a degree and as a single parent just would never find the money to get one. She wanted to apply for a role with a public service but they asked for two entries, 1. a degree with CIPD membership and two years relevant experience or 2. a degree, working towards Chartered Status and 4 years experience - it doesn't state what type of degree.

Everyone had a different opinion as to the best way forward, but collectively we didn't think there was much she could do in challenging the criteria - so what does everyone else think?

  • Hi Claire,

    Great post - personally, I do think experience is good enough and wouldn't see the need for a degree after holding that level position for that length of time.

    In this specific instance; I might have challenged the criteria. You don't mention for this specific individual what qualifications she had but given that CIPD qualifications at level 5 and level 7 are equivalents to under-grad and post-grad study on the RCF I would say you have an argument on the fit for the role.

    Likewise, if she qualifies through Experience Assessment and that awards her Chartered Status I would say that, ultimately, is what the hiring company would be looking for and should be taken in to account.

    Kind regards,
  • Good experience should always be good enough unless there's a professional body need for a qualification (finance / medicine are the ones that spring to mind).

    My degree is entirely unrelated to any of the careers I've held - does that make me inherently better or worse than another candidate?
  • In reply to Laura Fazackarley:

    Thanks Laura, from what I remember she had CIPD Personnel Practices from 18 years or so ago and the CIPD criteria was 1. CIPD Chartered/Associate and 1. Working towards Chartered. The lady is really well grounded in HR with a solid background in ER, policies and general HR and have gone to her in the past to bounce ideas off of, so if I can help her that would be great.

    Have you any thoughts as to what she could say on her application to challenge the request as I think that's what she struggles with as she doesn't want to come across militant?
  • In reply to Meg:

    Also difficult Meg, certainly I believe a degree whether from school or later in life can add value, but to generically ask for a non-specified degree, I would question the relevance and what does the the recruiter hope to achieve.

    I also agree that for some roles a degree shows training, which may be very relevant to the skills/knowledge required and perhaps in the Person Spec it will ask for a level of grade.
  • With it being public sector I would expect the reason for asking for the degree is linked to the job banding system as opposed to it being an actual requirement from the recruiting manager although most within the NHS certainly (unless for specific roles) JDs do say 'or equivalent experience' to provide flexibility. With it being linked to the banding system for roles there will be very little she or the manager could do.
  • I feel that asking for "a degree" (as opposed to a specific qualification) is an indication of the level that you would expect someone to be able to work at - with demonstrable skills in formal writing, evaluation and research, project management, teamworking etc. But while a degree is a simple way to demonstrate those skills, it's by no means the only way (or the best). In roles I've recruited where "a degree" is asked for, unless it's a necessary requirement I've always added "or similar experience". Professional experience doing the job would count for a lot more with me.
  • I also feel there's a discrimination aspect here (generally, not in your specific case). There's a wealth of talent out there who haven't had the means to go to university and gain a degree but can definitely add value to a business. A previous employer would only employ from top universities and only those with a 2:1 or higher. The industry was supposed to be fast-paced, forward-thinking and new - there was absolutely no justification for only employing from that background. Luckily they're diversifying now I believe.
  • In reply to Meg:

    It's certainly indirect age discrimination - while a high proportion of younger employees will have gone to university (42% of young adults who took A levels in 2014), a much smaller proportion of older employees will have had that opportunity (participation rate of 20% in 1995). So unless it's a genuine requirement, it's open to challenge.
  • In reply to Claire:

    Hi Claire,

    She's probably better off speaking to the CIPD hub on +44 (0)20 8612 6208 as one of the staff there will be able to take her specific circumstances in to account - and work out which way is best (equivalents or experience) to position herself.

    To answer your question though, if it were me, I would state the level qualification for her CIPD Personnel Practices as the qualification she holds - I would avoid putting the year obtained unless necessary/prompted to since the criteria you've shared doesn't specify any time limit for having held 'the degree' ;-) so by my reasoning, even if she had any University degree it could be 20 years old... CPP was before my time so I'm not sure what level it was - maybe level 3? That's equivalent to A level just FYI, but I could be wrong on which level on the RCF it was.

    Stating on the application she's working towards Chartered should be acceptable if she is - talking to the CIPD will help her make sense on whether that's feasible or not.

    I do suspect in this instance, the Chartered Membership is more important to the hiring body than the degree is - as others have said I suspect it's just to show a 'level' within the role that her experience should more than make up for. She could even feel free to say something along these lines in her application.

    Alternatively, if the application has it - get her to pick up the phone and speak to the hiring manager. Understanding whether the degree really is the be all and end all in this role or whether they think she should apply based on her experience - it'll also make her application (if it goes ahead) stand out as they will look for it.

    Hope that helps!

    Kind regards,
  • In reply to Nina Waters:

    My first reaction was, like Nina's, that this would be indirect age discrimination.