Career Success

What Will Really Get You Hired

By Mike BergelsonApril 7, 2014

Your qualifications may not matter as much as you think they do.  A new Gallup survey of U.S. business leaders reveals a surprising gap between what most people think is important in a job application and what really is important.
We’ll look at what the data shows, and what it means for your professional development.

Forget About College

The researchers asked U.S. business leaders which factors were very important for managers making hiring decisions for organizations.

Here’s what they said:


Source: Gallup-Lumina Foundation 2013 Business Leaders Poll on Higher Education

Are you surprised by how low those figures are for college education? If so, you’re not alone. Gallup asked the same questions to members of the American public, and revealed quite different numbers.

Almost half of the people surveyed thought that a candidate’s college major would be very important in a hiring process, and 30% thought that the college from which they received their degree was very important.

So there’s a clear discrepancy between what hiring managers think is important and what everyone else does.

What This Means In Practice

Survey results are one thing, but how are businesses applying this in the real world?

Google is a good example of how it works. Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations, told the New York Times that the company generally doesn’t ask for GPAs or test scores any more, and that the proportion of employees with no college degree has increased over time.

Instead, Google has five hiring attributes, which Bock expanded on in a recent interview with Thomas Friedman.

  1. General cognitive ability, or your ability to process disparate information “on the fly.”
  2. Leadership – not so much what you’ve been in charge of, but more your ability to step in and take charge where necessary to solve problems.
  3. Humility – the ability to make your contribution, then embrace others’ ideas.
  4. Adaptability – the ability to learn and change your opinion.
  5. Expertise – the kind of field knowledge mentioned in the Gallup poll. This is the least important of the attributes in Google’s view, but still makes the top five.

Every company will of course have its own particular set of skills and attributes it’s looking for, but what most firms have in common with Google is that their picture of an ideal candidate is determined by what skills and knowledge that person brings, not where they went to school.

Or as Thomas Friedman put it, “Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it).”

What Does This Mean For You?

Clearly this research doesn’t mean that your college degree is worthless, or that you shouldn’t pursue formal education. Although few of the survey respondents said that a college degree was “very important,” only a small minority said it was “not at all important.” For most hiring managers, it fell somewhere in the middle.

And of course these results are based on an aggregate of general business leaders. In certain professions and for particular roles, qualifications may be extremely important.

The important point to take from this research is that knowledge and applied skills in your field are the crucial things to emphasize in any job application. Mention your formal qualifications, of course, but focus on demonstrating how you’ve acquired skills that will help you do the job. Give the hiring managers what they want.

More than that, you should be taking every opportunity to develop and broaden your practical education. College is a great start, but learning is a lifelong process. With MOOCs and other online learning tools now taking off, there are more ways than ever to gain new skills and expertise in your chosen field.

Do you think a college degree is important in getting hired? What other things do you think hiring managers are looking for?


Mike Bergelson

Mike Bergelson

CEO at Everwise

About the Author

Mike Bergelson is the CEO and a co-founder of Everwise, a talent development startup that connects employees to the people, development resources and experiences they need to thrive at every stage of their career.

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