Entrepreneurs, hire workers without a college degree, look for skills and certifications.


The US economy is in a very interesting place right now. Amid all the issues of inflation, interest rates and politics, the US economic engine just keeps going. And that is potentially a problem for startups in finding good talent. Sure, there are some “proper layoffs” at big companies, but that’s more due to too many people being hired over the past three years versus the economy. Even with the right sizing, competition for jobs is fierce. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics for April 2023, there are 10.1 million job openings in the US. So where does future talent come from to fill these jobs? Probably not from graduates.

The number of actual lecturers and graduates has been falling steadily for several years now. In the fall of 2022, approximately 17.9 million students were enrolled in colleges and universities in the US. This is down from $21 million in 2010. Meanwhile, the cost of a college degree has increased over four years, ranging from $105,000 for public-state universities to $220,000 for private universities. What is interesting is a report from the Burning Glass Institutestating that the percentage of jobs requiring a college degree is down from 51% in 2017 to 44% in 2021. And according to Gallup, the percentage of American adults aged 18 to 29 who consider a college degree “very important” , dropped from 74% to 41% in the past six years. But there’s another major trend that’s rising, and that’s the number of companies that don’t require a college degree.

Companies, especially those in technology, have sought to upskill and retrain and conduct faster background checks to get enough of the talent they need amid labor challenges. Now they’re trying something different: no college degree required. And this list of companies is not only impressive, it’s still growing. Companies that are now hiring without a degree include IBM, Accenture, Okta, Dell, Bank of America, Google, Tesla, Delta Airlines, Apple, Costco, Whole Foods, Hilton, and Starbucks. Instead of four-year degree requirements, many companies are instead focusing on certifications and skill-based hiring (work experience/knowledge) to broaden the talent pool.

So, without a college degree, what do you look for in potential employees for your startup? Let’s start with the five insights below.

Communication skills. It is very difficult to acquire good communication skills unless you communicate often. Previous jobs in hospitality and service, tourism and retail, as well as other customer-facing jobs, teach real world skills in how to communicate, negotiate and interact with customers. There are many things that companies can train people on, but communication is hard to learn in real time on the job.

Adaptability. IBM polls the top 1,500 CEOs each year and asks them to list, in order of priority, the most important traits new hires must have to be successful in their company. Citing the rapid pace of change, they chose 2022 creativity as their number attribute. Why? They mentioned that a new employee’s problem-solving skills were critical, again due to the pace of change and the competitive market. Finding someone to add to a startup who can adapt is critical, as every day in a startup is like being on a rollercoaster.

Certifications. One of the few ways a new hire can jump-start and be valuable on the first day of a startup can be through a skill or industry certification. If a new employee joins the data analytics team and they’re certified by Tableau, great. Hiring a new employee to manage your social media and they know how to use Hootsuite, great. And if all your applications are in the cloud, adding someone with a cloud certification will make your life easier.

Job skills. The ability of a new hire to perform various key tasks based on skills or work experience is very important for startups. Why? Because in most startups there is no real training. It’s Hell’s Kitchen in a good way. So finding employees who have these skills and who can contribute on day one is therefore essential for the rest of the team.

Curiosity and desire. This can be one of the hardest things to discern or interview for. How do you measure curiosity or someone’s innate drive or desire to make a change in their life or game? Do they just want a job or would they like to be a part of something big? Steve Jobs once said to a Pepsi executive, “Do you want to sell sugar water or change the world?” All things being equal, it might be wise to hire for these two things for the knowledge of the job and train them to do the job. It would be very difficult to teach someone to be curious and almost impossible to arouse their desire.