In Recruiting Gen Z, Look Beyond a College Degree

Gen-Z Americans—those born after 1996 with a superior grasp on all things digital—are more racially and ethnically diverse than any previous generation, according to Pew Research Center. Recruiting practices need to be modernized to dip into this talent pool.

McKinsey found that Gen Z represents approximately 40% of global consumers, which is fueling an ongoing strategic focus on this generation’s shopping habits. But just as shifts in research and development aim to increase their spending power, companies’ recruitment efforts should similarly empower this new wave of employees.

Beyond a four-year college degree

Gen Z is aware of the obstacle of student debt and is less certain to view a college education as key to a place in the workforce. A survey by ECMC Group found that Gen-Z Americans see education as integral to their future, but only 23% believe a traditional degree will land them  a good job. This shift has led many tech executives to think beyond a college degree as a requirement for hiring.

“Stop focusing on degrees and functional experiences with other tech firms and start focusing on skills,” says Brittany Podolak, senior vice president of human resources at Dell Technologies. “Think about the full portfolio of skills and how people have obtained their skills. This is really important, especially if we’re going to create better economic opportunities in underrepresented communities. Because if I’m only relying on the degree as a proxy then I’m already excluding a percentage of the workforce that doesn’t have a degree.”

The stats back up Podolak: When employees disregard applicants without four-year college degrees, they exclude 68% of African Americans, 79% of Latinx, and 73% of rural Americans, as well as two-thirds of veterans, according to Opportunity@Work.

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Modern hiring qualifications

Employers must dip into multiple talent pools. What does this look like in practice? Harvard Business School’s study on degree inflation recommends employers ask themselves a series of questions, including:

Which specific hard and soft skills are you looking for in critical middle-skills jobs in your company?

    1. Can you find viable candidates with those skills without asking for a college degree?
    2. Should you update job descriptions to reflect your true needs in terms of functional, professional and technical competencies?
    3. Instead of a four-year college degree, can your company identify the specific credentials, certifications, associate degrees or licenses that would help access the hard skills you require?
    4. Instead of a four-year college degree, can your company identify in-house training and work experience models, such as apprenticeships, to impart soft skills relevant to your organization?
    5. Does your candidate evaluation process need to change?

Though this is just a starting point, the transition toward more equitable hiring practices may better attract Gen-Z employees who are passionate about fairness and equality. And don’t discount the profitability benefits of a more diverse workforce.

Originally published on by Donovan Louis, an undergraduate intern at Dell Technologies. And Sept. 9, 2021, on

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