RISE conference Hong Kong: Is a degree really so important when hiring?

Two leading tech sector employers have different opinions on the necessity of university education

As organisations compete to attract tech talent, two leading employers in the sector met at the recent RISE conference in Hong Kong to discuss the different tactics they use to find the best candidates.

Cindy Wang, chief marketing officer at Uxin – a China-based online used car retailer – believes a university degree makes hiring faster and less risky. She said her degrees - a bachelor’s and two master’s - helped her stand out from the competition and landed her a number of interviews. “Degrees can just make your life easier,” she said.

Her organisation looks at factors other than degrees, but she said a qualification is useful to demonstrate basic knowledge of a subject, such as coding, so you won’t slow the rest of the team down. Degree-holders also have a proven ability to be organised and self-disciplined. That’s especially critical in the tech sector where the pace is fast and self-motivation is essential, she said.

“If it’s a really talented person and they have great potential, then no hesitation, [I will] give them the job immediately. But HR also has its systems and hiring strategies,” said Wang. For example, Amazon’s hiring philosophy is based on ensuring that 80 per cent of new hires will not make significant mistakes, she said.

At Freewheel, a technology-driven advertising management company owned by Comcast, co-founder and chief technology officer Diane Yu said that requiring a university degree as a prerequisite for a job can cause HR to miss out on potentially great candidates because students who perform well academically may not be the most successful in the workplace. Instead, employers should assess talent on the basis of “raw capability of learning, what they’re reading, what they’re following, how quickly they can act and adapt,” she said.

“As an employer, what I look for in employees is not their prior education background. I go for raw talent, smart people who are willing to learn on the job,” she said. Candidates without degrees may be more innovative thinkers: ‘’Their learning capabilities are not limited by their prior education. Those are often the employees who come up with innovative solutions to help our organisation be successful.’’

To succeed in tech-driven industries, Wang said: “You need to keep learning a lot of new things, and that’s not something you can learn from college.” She pointed to fast-growing industries such as fintech and artificial intelligence, which didn’t exist a few years ago, which means they are being driven by non-degree holders by necessity.

She advises her recruiting team to make assessments based on performance over a longer period and to be open-minded.

“When you bring them in, you look for whether they have the potential, whether they adapt, whether they learn, then you will know. In three to six months, you will have a good indication. But in many cases, your interview won’t tell you correctly. Accepting all kinds of talent to join your team is the key for the organisation to be successful.”

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