Do Degrees Matter Anymore for Startups?

Ever since you were a kid your parents have preached the importance of getting a good education. From the first day of kindergarten till the day you graduate from High School, they’ve been telling you, you need to go to college and earn a degree.

But what if they were wrong? Of course, earning a degree is still a very desirable pursuit. And in many professions and industries, you can’t compete or advance without one. After all, no one wants to receive medical care from a doctor that didn’t earn a degree.

Are College Degrees Necessary?

But are college degrees really necessary in every field? What about technology careers? How many different jobs are there in the tech industry that people can do without obtaining a degree? These days, tech companies hire all kinds of employees that don’t have degrees. Sometimes, all it takes to be qualified is actual hands-on experience.

This can be especially true with many startup companies. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common to find workers at startup companies that don’t have any kind of degree. What they do have is real life, real-world experience. So is that enough? Do degrees even matter for startups anymore?

More Companies Hiring People Without Degrees

Of course, every company is different, so there’s no set answer to this question. In addition, the answer will vary depending on the position. According to an article on Entrepreneur, “a diploma is still an employer’s best assurance a candidate possesses the skills needed to help run a company.”

But, according to Glassdoor, there are several big-name companies that do hire people without degrees for some of their high-level positions. They include Google, Apple, and IBM, among others. So there are definitely opportunities for people who haven’t earned a degree.

Why the Change in Philosophy?

So what has changed over the past decade, or so, that has led to more companies hiring people without degrees? For starters, many talented people are foregoing college simply because it costs too much.

With college debt being so high, some people decide they’re better off finding work instead of earning a degree. In fact, there are more than 42 million borrowers of student loans. And more than 2 million of those students have student loan debt of more than $100,000.

Additionally, many companies are starting to recognize that just because a person hasn’t earned a degree, that doesn’t mean he or she isn’t qualified to do the work. Companies like IBM and Google have learned from experience that they can find some very talented people by looking outside of the normal applicant pool.

Startups Are Looking for Different Qualifications

Another thing that has influenced this shift is that startup companies value different things than the more traditional career paths. In other words, startups, especially tech companies, value a person’s skills more than a person’s educational background.

They also look at people that can learn and grow with the right training, and increase their skills and abilities. In fact, most startup companies tend to promote learning. And they invest time, effort, and money into training their employees. They do this regardless of whether or not they have a degree. Instead, they’re more focused on their employees’ passion, enthusiasm, and energy.

The Best Way to Find the Best People

As mentioned, even Google and other large tech companies care less and less about a university background, and more and more about your ability to learn new things and advance with the company. As a matter of fact, Google’s former SVP of People Operations Laszlo Bock said:

When you look at people who don’t go to school and make their way in the world, those are exceptional human beings. And we should do everything we can to find those people.

Laszlo Bock

This kind of thinking is great news for people without degrees. However, companies shouldn’t just be searching for these talented individuals because it’s the right thing to do. The fact is they should be looking for the best and brightest people because it’s the best way to find the right people for their business.

Firsthand Experience

I’m a content writer and communications professional by trade. I graduated with a degree in Broadcast Communications/Journalism. However, that didn’t prevent me from having the opportunity to work for a startup company that had nothing to with my background.

Several years ago I was approached by a friend to gauge my interest in working for a startup company he and his brother were involved in. His brother is a patent attorney and he wanted to launch a patent brokerage firm. But he was busy running his own law firm and needed someone to help him launch, and then essentially run, the business.

I have no formal business training, and I knew nothing about patent law. But my friend knew that I was an “expert” at getting things done. He knew I would be able to handle the operations and they both figured my communications background would help with the marketing side of things, too.

I wasn’t so sure I was the right fit, but my friend told me, “When you’re starting a new business you need someone that gets things done.” So they hired me. They were confident I would be able to learn the necessary knowledge and skills needed to help the company move forward. They didn’t care that my degree didn’t match the job description.

Startups Do Still Look for Degrees

The bottom line is degrees are still good. And in many industries, you won’t be successful without one. Every startup is different, and truthfully, some will only pursue people with degrees. But the workplace is changing and more and more companies are seeing the value of hiring talented people even if they don’t have a degree.

Ultimately, if you have the ability to earn a degree and you can afford to take on the student loan debt, then pursuing a degree is a good idea. But if college isn’t a viable option, or it just isn’t the right fit for you, all is not lost. There are many opportunities to find work with some of the best companies out there, including many startups.