It's against federal law for an employer to discriminate on the basis of non-work related factors such as race, color, creed, sex, national origin, disability, and religion. Many states are also considering legislation to make it illegal to discriminate based on physical characteristics such as height and weight. And, Congress just passed legislation making it illegal to discriminate based on a person's genetics.
Even though federal laws make such employment discrimination illegal, most companies still discriminate based on unrelated factors, but it's rare for it to be overtly visible. When applicants ask why they did not get the positions they sought, employers cover up discriminatory practices behind such phrases as "we found a stronger candidate" and "we don't think you'd be a good fit." Having been a corporate recruiter for many years I can say with certainty that employment discrimination is widespread in the U.S.
One of my hot buttons is misuse of educational qualifications. I've delivered corporate interviewer training throughout the world to Fortune 50 and startup companies. Hiring managers list educational qualifications for a job opening and almost always require a bachelor's degree. And employers often eliminate a potential top performer because he or she doesn't have one.
These companies harm qualified applicants and themselves by disqualifying applicants based on educational criteria that are unrelated to job performance. Just last week, I discussed this issue with a colleague about another company that required a BS or BA degree for a low-level customer service position.
Many of the most successful entrepreneurs in history are non-degreed and, hence, not qualified for even the low-level customer service position. Here's a sample list of them:
- Michael Dell, founder and CEO of Dell Computer;
- Richard Branson, English entrepreneur best known for his "Virgin" brand of over 360 companies including Virgin Airlines;
- Bill Gates, founder and former CEO of Microsoft;
- Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle Corp.;
- Harry Truman, 33rd president of the United States;
- Christopher Gardner, highest-producing stock broker in Dean Witter history who was portrayed in the 2006 movie The Pursuit of Happiness; and
- Dean Karman, world famous contemporary inventor best known for creating the Segway, an electric, self-balancing two-wheeled human transporter.
Even Albert Einstein, who revolutionized theoretical physics, flunked a college physics course and had great difficulty finding a job out of college.
When employers use non-essential educational requirements to discriminate against qualified applicants, the candidates and employers lose. The candidate misses out on a good opportunity while the employer discards an opportunity to hire a top performer.
The reason many interviewers and internal recruiters use education to discriminate is fear of making a bad hire. They basically try to make a safe hiring decision rather than the best hiring decision.
To overcome this bias, you must be prepared to highlight your past performance and offer examples of other people (like those listed above) who have delivered high performance even though they didn't have formal education. You have to make a compelling argument why you'll make a great hire. For research to support your argument you can check out more data on this topic at Scientific Selection.
How many people do you know who are working in a field unrelated to their college degree? Are you an applicant facing this type of discrimination? Or, are you a hiring manager using education to miss the chance to hire a top performer? Share your thoughts here.