Candidates for a position Candidates for a position. (Source: Shutterstock).

To compete for new talent in today’s ultra-tight labor market, credit union executives may want to consider dropping college degree requirements for new jobs. There are professionals who believe this can expand the pool of qualified candidates who have the experience or the equivalent in education in lieu of the collegiate diploma.

Some HR experts recommend the degree requirement should be nixed for all jobs, including executive positions, while other HR executives say it is OK to forgo the bachelor’s requirement or make it optional, but only for some jobs.

To be sure, among several big-name corporations and financial institutions the needle has moved, if not jumped, in favor of hiring talented employees who have the proven professional experience, but lack an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. What’s more, some credit unions and industry organizations such as Extensia and PSCU have been ahead of the curve when it comes to attracting qualified employees who, instead of having a college degree, were hired based on their successful work background and technical certifications or professional designations.

“At Extensia, we never really imposed a degree requirement on our candidates,” Brianna Vaughan said, vice president of operations at the Northridge, Calif.-based CUSO that provides member business loan products and services.

While Extensia always looks for a candidate’s educational attainment, the CUSO takes a much closer look at the candidate’s work experience. So for job seekers who may not have a degree but who have 20 years of experience, she noted, Extensia sees that as real life education that is equivalent to a formal degree

“We prefer to look at both education and experience, but we also determine if the amount of experience that (candidates) have equates to the position’s requirements and responsibilities,” Vaughan said. “We try to approach it that way much like our business; it’s customized and personal, so we review every resume submitted to see if those skills and experience match our responsibilities for the position.”

Nonetheless, she acknowledged dropping the degree requirement could also carry some reputational risks.

“Customers need to know that they can trust the organization that they’re working with and there’s a certain expectation of trust that goes with having a formal degree,” she said. “But it’s our job to prove to customers that they can trust us. So from our standpoint, we use our biographies to demonstrate that we have this experience, but more importantly, we demonstrate our experience daily through the strong delivery of service expectations. This allows our customers to see us as that trusted advisor and know that we have the capabilities, the education and the experience to meet their service needs.”

Senior Vice President of Human Resources Lisa Sutton for PSCU in St. Petersburg, Fla., pointed out the payments CUSO has not taken a stand in terms of relaxing degree requirements, though  it is open to interviewing candidates without a BA or BS.

“So our jobs when posted will typically say that we would like (a candidate) to have a degree or the equivalent in education and experience,” she said. “Just because a person doesn’t have a degree does not knock them out of the process.”

Equivalent in education in lieu of a college degree can mean several years of successful work experience in combination with technical or professional certifications or designations, or an industry’s continuing education program.

Sutton has found that hiring managers are fairly open minded about wanting to interview talented employees with work experiences, particularly for PSCU’s large implementation team, which requires candidates with strong technology platform skills because they are responsible for implementing different financial products and solutions for PSCU’s member credit unions.

“So our hiring managers really lean toward experience as the highest factor in making a decision to hire in that (implementation team) space,” Sutton said.

But should organizations forgo the degree requirements for senior level and executive positions?

“Why not?” Danny Iny asked. He is an entrepreneur, best-selling author and CEO of an online business education company, Mirasee in Montreal.

“Melinda and Bill Gates never graduated college,” he said. “Nobody seems to mind.”

However, one may argue the Gates’ example is the rare exception not the rule. But it may not be as rare as one may think.

A 2017 research study found that nearly 6% of Fortune 500 CEOs and almost 7% of women CEOs do not have college degrees, though the vast majority of top executives do. Nearly 11% of the Forbes billionaires’ list and 20% of the nation’s 30 top millionaires, also do not have a four-year degree, although the vast majority of wealthy individuals hold a degree, according to the study conducted by Jonathan Wai, a research scientist of Duke University and Heiner Rindermann, a professor at the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany.

What’s more, a few positions for CEO, CFO or HR executive recently posted on CUNA’s jobs site showed some credit unions were searching for candidates with a degree that was “ preferred or desired,” but not required. Instead, some of the job descriptions noted candidates with an education equivalent of professional designations, technical certificates and 10 to 15 years or more of experience would be considered.

Bank of America, the nation’s second largest financial institution, joined the ranks of other major corporations by no longer requiring a college degree for positions such as analyst, relationship manager, consumer banking market manager, treasury solution analyst, client service representative, small business consultants and more, according to jobs site, Glassdoor.com.

Other major companies that have dropped the college degree requirement for some of their top jobs are Google, IBM, Apple, Ernst & Young in the United Kingdom, Nordstrom, Hilton, Penguin Random House, Lowes, Publix and others, Glassdoor.com reported.

“Drop the application tracking system, or at least switch off the filtering related to education,” Iny said. “Lean more into the assessments and simulations that actually give you a sense of what candidates can bring to the table. When Ernst & Young did this, they saw a 10% increase in the diversity of new hires.”

Iny doesn’t even look at resumes when hiring for his company, but he does invite candidates to fill out an application form.

While the form asks questions on why a candidate is applying for the job and their professional background, the application also asks simulation or scenario type questions about how a candidate would manage and resolve challenges and issues that are relevant to the position’s duties.

“This is a good way to weed out those candidates that don’t have the technical proficiency to do the job, which will make narrowing down the (candidate) list much easier,” Iny said.

He recently published a book, “Leveraged Learning,” that offers insights about how education is evolving, why more young people are not choosing to follow the beaten path of obtaining a college degree, and where professionals can find the training and education they need to succeed.

To reduce the “halo effect” or cognitive bias, Daniel Kahneman, a 2002 Nobel Prize winner for his work on decision making, recommends that each candidate be scored on his or her answers to interview questions. The candidate who receives the highest score should be hired even if there is another candidate who is liked more than the person who scored the highest.

“A vast amount of research offers a promise: you are much more likely to find the best candidate if you use this procedure than if you do what people normally do in such situations, which is to go into the interview unprepared and to make choices by an overall intuitive judgment such as ‘I looked into his eyes and I liked what I saw,’” Kahneman wrote in his book “Thinking Fast and Slow.” His book explains how any business can develop and use this interview process.