UK Ad Agencies Reconsider Degree Requirements

UK Ad Agencies Reconsider Degree Requirements

Digiday’s Grace Caffyn shines a light on a noteworthy trend among advertising agencies in the UK, several of which have recently opened up their recruiting to candidates without university degrees, in response to the growing cost of higher education and the industry’s lack of diversity:

In January, Dentsu Aegis Network, JWT and CHI & Partners all welcomed their first non-degree candidates. Rather than looking at grades or job history, both JWT and CHI & Partners now review how candidates answer four questions (like, “Tell us about one brand that you think badly needs our help and why”) to gauge their understanding of the industry. Teams then select new starters from an interview day involving 50 candidates. These candidates do not necessarily need a degree beyond secondary school.

“We felt we were missing out on good people because of that qualification,” explained Fern Nott, head of talent at WPP agency CHI & Partners. “You don’t need a degree to be a good fit for advertising.”

University is now a bigger financial burden for young people and their families in the U.K. The price of a university education has risen sharply since 2012’s tuition fee hike. Last year, this meant graduates had an estimated debt of £44,000 ($54,000) each, 171 percent more than those studying five years ago. Widening the net beyond graduates alone guarantees a more diverse talent pool.

Other UK employers have made similar moves in the past year, including the publisher Penguin Random House, whose group HR director called degree requirements “a lazy sifting tool” for HR in an interview last April. Like the ad agencies mentioned in Caffyn’s article, Penguin Random House saw this change as a way to make professional careers accessible to young people who may not have had the means or opportunity to earn a college degree.

In the US, on the other hand, college degrees have become even more of a requirement in the job market in recent years. Some US employers are looking at ways to expand their talent pool, particularly for technical roles, by opening up recruiting to candidates with nontraditional educations, but so far, major US companies have refrained from ditching degree requirements entirely.