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One Degree of Separation

By May 20, 2010No Comments

People out there that aren’t in the recruitment industry often seem to find a range of things to be critical about us in recruitment.  Sometimes the criticism is justified – lack of communication, poor follow-up, scant knowledge of the market we are recruiting in – these are all common complaints that we in recruitment must improve on universally in order to lift our perceived credibility and reputation out there.  Another one is that we are unlicensed, we have no governing body to slap the wrists of dodgy practitioners and prevent them from operating, we are free to stalk the streets wielding an unlicensed gun loaded with bullets of ‘fake job ads’, ‘empty promises’ and ‘insufficient feedback’, to indiscriminately shoot down the careers of our candidates.

Another criticism often leveled at us is that there are ‘low barriers to entry’ in recruitment.  By this, people are referring to the fact that you don’t have to go through the rigmarole that our fellow professional services providers go through to get a start in their chosen profession – PCE 1 and 2 for Chartered Accountants; LLB in Law for lawyers; Real Estate Certificate for estate agents.  Apparently ‘anyone can do recruitment’, or so I was told at a pleasant BBQ a few months ago.

But is this necessarily true?  I don’t want to go into the whole range of personality requirements that make up a good recruiter, not at this stage anyway, I’ll save that for a later blog.  What I want to look at is the common prerequisite amongst a lot of recruitment firms, particularly the large, global brands, for someone joining their firm to be in possession of a University Degree.  As a rec-to-rec consultant I hear this frequently.  I take in job briefs from my recruitment clients that generally follow a pattern listing recruitment experience, market knowledge, networks and contacts, sales ability and billing track records as high on the scale of importance.  And often there is also the requirement for a degree.  It doesn’t seem to matter what subject it is in, or even what University it is from, just that it is there in existence, that scroll of paper and photo of the recruiter once wearing a rented hat and gown.

So what difference does it make to a recruiter’s ability to generate a lead, visit a client, take in a job, post an advert, handle the response, interview the candidates, market in to clients, organize interviews and negotiate subsequent offers?  This is a simplified version of what a recruiter does, but stripped bare this is essentially what recruitment is.  Add to that some impressive EQ, natural relationship building skills, an ability to prioritise, plan and organize, and a hunger to close the sale, and you have a recruiter who will do an admirable job.  Will a University degree teach someone to do this?  Will it enable them to understand when it is best to let a client ramble on, or when it is best to take control?  Will it enable them to plan their day around recognized metrics, structure their processes to ensure consistent follow-up, and inject into them that essential hunger and desire to succeed that is so important in recruitment?

Of course there is no correct answer to this.  The recruitment firms who require evidence of University education believe that the answer to all of the above is ‘yes’.  They will tell you that a degree shows a level of intelligence that will come across in client and candidate interactions.  It will enable the recruiter to learn things more quickly, pick up new systems and develop new ideas more regularly.  It shows ambition and a level of commitment to getting the job done.  Overall it points to someone who has recognized goals in life, overcome challenges and obstacles, achieved those goals, and therefore will be able to handle the weight of performance expectations a standard day in recruitment will throw at them.

I myself have a University degree.  The subject bears no real relevance to my chosen career in recruitment (well, when I say ‘chosen’, what I mean is that it kind of came along and found me in an hour of need).  I got my degree from an old red-brick institution in Nottingham that used to be known as a Polytechnic, but just before I joined them they were given permission to call themselves a University.  If you say Nottingham Trent University really quickly, I have found, often people glaze over the word “Trent” and only hear Nottingham University, which is handily enough one of Britain’s top Universities.  But neither of these two factors were ever really an issue as I built my career, it was simply the fact that I had a degree of some description that mattered.  Now, I do feel that studying this degree helped me develop in some way that has helped in my professional life.  It taught me how to develop networks and contacts, how to dissect information to get to the crux of an issue, how to problem-solve and it built my self-confidence until I was able to stand up in public and deliver a pitch (well in my case it was delivering an argument – I studied Law – but it’s all the same thing really).

But it is easy to feel that way, seeing as I actually have a degree.  I don’t have to wonder about any “what-ifs”.  My Wife, on the other hand, does not have a University degree, yet she is just as good a recruiter as I am, and she would no doubt closely question whether having a degree really does give you any additional skills that can be applied to recruitment.  She successfully recruited as an external recruiter in Health, followed by Banking, before going in-house and recruiting into DHB’s and local government.  The biggest hindrance to her has been that not having a degree meant she didn’t have enough Points to qualify for NZ immigration (so she went through Work to Residency – before you set Immigration onto us).

This is a debate that could go on for some time, and there really isn’t a correct answer, but I would be interested to hear the opinions of you recruiters and business owners out there.

For the record I decided to have a look back through all of my recruitment consultant placements over the past 2 years, from May 2008 to April 2010, and see which had University degrees.  Here are some interesting results:

49%                 University Degree educated

74%               New Zealand Universities (the rest were either UK or North American Universities)

10%                 Incomplete Degree studies

2 Masters Degrees and 1 MBA

A wide range of degrees were obtained by those recruiters in possession, including two in Chemistry, two in Japanese, and one in Geology.

Furthermore, an interesting trend emerged as New Zealand headed into recession.  In 2008 the majority of recruiters getting placed were without a degree and in 2009 the huge majority were in possession of a degree.  Clearly the barriers for entry increased as the supply of labour increased and recruitment companies were able to be more picky about who they brought into their business.  So far in 2010 it is an even spread, but no doubt with a shrinking pool of talent, the need to look beyond a University education will become increasingly necessary.

There is much that can be drawn from this discussion and these figures, but I will leave the final word to Oscar Wilde:

“Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

Jonathan Rice

MD at New Zealand rec-to-rec firm Rice Consulting and co-founder of on-demand recruiter offering Joyn. Recruitment agitator and frustrated idealist, father of two, husband of one, and lover of all things Arsenal and crafty beer.