Businesses are recognising there's more to a candidate's employability than purely academic qualifications, finds Danielle Wright

In their UK operations, corporates such as business management consultants EY (formerly Ernst and Young) and book publisher Penguin Random House, have either formally ditched the need for job seekers to have university degrees or removed degree or A-level results in recruitment assessments.

The move comes for EY after the company commissioned talent management firm Capp to spend 18 months analysing the firm's student selection process.

Capp confirmed that a strengths-based approach is now a more reliable indicator of a candidate's potential to succeed in a role with the business than academic results.

"We're much more focused on identifying skills that people might have, rather than their qualifications, even though that's still relevant," says Simon O'Connor, EY New Zealand's managing partner, who admits he would wade through the 200 or so applicants himself when he recruited so the HR department didn't only present those with the best grades.


EY's UK operation recently announced the changes to their student recruitment process, removing academic qualifications from the application criteria for graduate, undergraduate and high school leaver programmes. They will use online assessments of a candidate's strengths and a numerical test to assess their potential.

To level the playing field further, EY will have first interviews as "blind" interviews, in that academic data or information about what school or university the candidate went to will not be shared with interviewers.

"It's a way to encourage people who may be put off to apply, and it's also a way for recruiters to learn different things about an applicant in order to judge their future success," says O'Connor.

From a New Zealand perspective, he says most applicants will still have degrees, but wider experience will continue to play a greater part of the recruitment process in the years to come.

"Twenty years ago cyber crime wasn't a big issue, but now, young people who have spent time creating their own web projects may be considered without a university qualification, where their experience is proven," says O'Connor, giving an example of a time when experience may lead over academic considerations.

He says EY are definitely seeing older applicants, as well as those coming from varieties of fields and career routes. "Some come to us with an engineering background or are scientists who started tech companies and sold them on. These people haven't done the traditional 'graduate, OE, come back as a manager' route," explains O'Connor.

"Our applicants are now also much more diverse ethnically, which adds vibrancy to the whole business."

Just months after EY's announcement, global publishing group Penguin Random House made the statement that they would also no longer require a university degree for employment.

Margaret Thompson, Penguin Random House NZ Managing Director says she can't comment on the UK company's announcement, but says though qualifications are welcome and respected in the NZ company, they're not a pre-requisite for employment.

"We take on editorial interns from the Whitireia Diploma of Publishing course every year and provide them with six months on-the-job training and experience," says Thompson, "but we have also had some interns from marketing move into editorial -- it comes down to attitude, ability, some experience and a passion for the industry."

Book publishing has been an industry often criticised for its lack of diversity and independent publisher Lee and Low Books recently released its Diversity Baseline Survey measuring the amount of diversity among publishing staff across North America, highlighting the issue further.

The move by Penguin Random House UK to seek wider recruitment criteria is therefore a welcome change, but won't affect the NZ company, which is already open to employing candidates via non-traditional routes and promote from within.

"We are able to provide a good deal of on-the-job training for those applicants who show ability, drive and a commitment to learning," says Thompson. "We also encourage and provide external training to staff who wish to advance their skills or gain a degree in a course appropriate to their position in the company."

Both EY and Penguin Random House see the move as a way to attract more varied candidates in an increasingly challenging business environment that will benefit from the creative solutions and adaptability of staff, as much as intellect.