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Making “BA or Equivalent” Work

The social sector is known for valuing diversity of experience in its workforce and for working to have its staff mirror its populations served. Then why, in reading nonprofit job descriptions, is there so much emphasis on jobseekers holding college and advanced degrees when the skyrocketing price of higher education makes those options unaffordable to so many? Is a BA or other degree really required for someone to be successful in a position?

For several reasons, we believe nonprofits would actually benefit from stating “BA or Equivalent Experience Required” (instead of “BA Required, Masters Preferred”) in their job descriptions:

(1) It’s more legally compliant. Requiring a BA can be construed as discriminatory. Stating “BA or Equivalent Experience” in a job description helps an organization stay compliant with hiring laws.

(2) It nets candidates possessing a range of experiences, not just a specific educational background. This strongly supports our tried and true best practice of hiring based on core competencies—such as qualities and characteristics gained through experience of all kinds.

(3) It fosters a diverse workforce. To many, attending college is not a path taken, either by choice or by circumstance. For those not attending college right out of high school, they may be starting their professional career earlier than most, thus gaining more on-the-job training from an early age.

But what does “or equivalent experience” mean exactly and how can a hiring organization best measure this requirement, especially in comparison to an academic degree?

What’s important is that candidates being considered for an open position have the right competencies—skills, knowledge, technical abilities, and personality characteristics—to succeed at a job.

In some instances, a specific type of educational background is required. This is certainly true of practitioners in healthcare organizations, for example. We’ve also found this to be the case occasionally in the fields of finance and IT. Even in these cases, however, it is typically specific coursework or certifications that are required, not a degree.

We want to know what you think about this topic. What are the advantages and challenges of stating “BA or Equivalent Experience” in a job description? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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