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October 18, 2022

Why You Should Recruit Candidates Without Four-Year Degrees

In 2021, fewer than 2 in 5 people age 25 and older in the United States had bachelor’s degrees or above. In today’s tight labor market and amidst economic uncertainty, many employers have voiced concern over competition for talent. For many companies, talent without four-year degrees is an untapped pool of qualified candidates, with 45% of such candidates reporting being open to changing employers.


Degree requirements narrow your candidate pool and limit diversity

According to the New York Times, an analysis by Emsi Burning Glass found that 44% of online job postings in 2021 required a bachelor’s degree. By prioritizing degrees, you risk having a surplus of applications from candidates without the necessary skills for a job and restrict your ability to fill roles by screening out qualified candidates. In our interviews with candidates without four-year degrees, many expressed feeling stuck and having their value and experience overlooked.

“I can’t apply for certain positions because I don’t have a degree. If you don’t have a degree, your experience only goes so far. So it’s either you have a degree, or you just have to stay where you are until a position opens up that you can apply for, or slowly work your way up.” – HR Assistant, Federal Agency

Degree requirements also curb diversity, equity, and inclusion. In the summer of 2020, 61% of employers pledged to increase representation of underrepresented groups at all levels. However, for many employers, ambitious DEI initiatives have yielded disappointing results. Requiring four-year degrees for jobs can actually hinder your efforts to recruit diverse candidates. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, requiring a bachelor’s degree eliminates 7 in 10 Black job candidates and 8 in 10 Hispanic/Latinx candidates. Dropping degree requirements can be a key facet of an effective and well-rounded DEI strategy, as it expands your talent pool to include a more diverse group of candidates with varied experiences.


Win talent without degrees by focusing on skills and tailoring your messaging

So, how can you tap into this overlooked group of qualified candidates? Start by thinking carefully about what qualifies someone for a position, and focus more on skills in job postings and less on degrees. 

By de-emphasizing degrees, you open up an opportunity for more applications from candidates who have all of the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience required for a role. Don’t just take our word for it, though. Earlier this year, 31% of employers reported that they were replacing education requirements with relevant skills or core competencies.

Once you understand what it takes to be successful in a role, improve your targeting and tailor your messaging to win talent without four-year degrees. Candidates without degrees are more likely to use Indeed than LinkedIn to learn about a potential employer, so perhaps consider looking to Indeed more often as a sourcing channel. Candidates without four-year degrees rank work location, job stability, and work-life balance as the most important factors when considering potential employment, which would be important details to emphasize in outreach and job postings. 

Most importantly, keep an open mind and allow people to show you what they have to offer.

“It’s just not about some piece of paper. It’s what that person actually brings to the table.” – Consultant, Automotive Retail Company

Talent without four-year degrees is untapped talent that many employers aren’t thinking about yet. While degree requirements are mainstays for many companies, they’re not critical for finding qualified and diverse candidates. By focusing on skills, customizing your messaging, and being open-minded, you can fill roles more consistently with top talent, with or without a four-year degree.

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