Why a degree is no longer everything

For as long as anyone can remember, the traditional path for school leavers in Australia (and indeed most countries around the world) has been to attend university, gain a degree and find a job. Although this mindset has become much more flexible in recent years, with an increasing number of young Australians opting for other routes into the workforce, the value of a university degree still appears to be fairly high.

This is reflected in recent figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), which indicate that the rate of attainment of higher level qualifications (including university degrees) among 20 to 64 year olds rose from 38.3 per cent to 49.9 per cent in between 2001 and 2011.

However, is getting a university qualification still the be-all and end-all for young hopefuls today – or are organisations increasingly looking at other attributes in their recruitment and selection of employees?

According to a new study from Millennial Branding and Beyond.com, having a university degree may no longer be the main criteria employers are looking at – and in fact, it may not even be preparing candidates for many of today's jobs. Instead, other qualities – such as personality – can have a much more significant impact their chances of employment and long-term career prospects.

So what are employers now looking for?

Findings from the consulting firms' 'Multi-Generational Job Search Study 2014' suggest that “cultural fit” is now the number one factor in the search for candidates, with 43 per cent of the almost 3,000 respondents saying this is the number one criteria when looking for new hires. The priority that cultural fit holds over academic credentials is clear to see, with just 21 per cent believing that whether the candidate has taken relevant courses is most important, followed by internship experience (13 per cent).

Just 2 per cent said they focused on GPA in the hiring process.

Much of how well the candidate fits in with the company culture depends, of course, on their personality. In terms of the specific personality attributes today's organisations are looking for, 84 per cent of survey respondents said that a positive attitude is the most important thing they seek. Communication (83 per cent) and teamwork skills (74 per cent) are also crucial.

Such is the focus on these transferrable skills that almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of employers said they would consider a candidate without a degree. While many still place value on a university education, almost three-quarters (73 per cent) believed that these institutions are only “somewhat preparing” students to enter the workforce.

Rich Milgram, founder and CEO of Beyond.com, told graduates they need to remember that employers are looking at the person rather than the piece of paper they are holding.

“You hire a person, not a resume – college graduates need to take this into account as they prepare for their career,” he said.

“Corporations are looking to make a long-term hire, preferably individuals that are flexible and can work well in a team environment.”

Are Australian graduates up to scratch?

It is clear to see then why personality assessments are so important in the recruiting process, whether you are hiring a graduate or someone with years of experience.

According to the 'Personality Characteristics of Australian Graduates' study from peterberry_author, graduates in Australia are more likely “to feel stress and pressure more quickly” than the general population. Results from Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI) tests administered to a sample of graduates suggested they are more prone to personality faults such as being irritable, short tempers and the inability to keep calm.

Obtaining a university education remains a popular choice for young Australians, judging from the ABS's figures, so we are likely to continue seeing strong graduate numbers in the employment market – and digging into their personality could be the key to ensuring you make the correct hire.