The myth of the highly successful college (or even high school) dropout has lodged itself firmly in the startup scene. I couldn't help but wonder: How important is that piece of paper to startup founders when they're looking to hire talent? Or put another way, can you really drop out of school and get hired by the next Facebook?
To find out what entrepreneurs care about most when hiring key staff members, I asked 11 successful entrepreneurs their thoughts on the importance of formal education for their core team. These were their responses:
1. The data says experience matters more
Google, which is perhaps the world's most data-driven HR organization, has concluded that GPAs are not correlated with on-the-job success. While there are exceptions for highly technical roles (finance, law, engineering, medicine), in general, early-stage companies need a core team with a lot of grit, determination and a positive get-stuff-done attitude. This is what will help them overcome the many obstacles and moments of despair that are inevitable in building any organization.
— Matt Mickiewicz, Hired
2. Experience is education enough
Formal education looks great on a resume, but we will hire experience over education 100% of the time for our core team. Someone with experience can already relate to the position, and can bring in past experience or knowledge, which adds to their value. Usually someone with just formal education needs to shadow someone with experience to acclimate. However, formal education is an excellent complement to experience and makes for an ideal hire if an applicant is well versed in both.
— Will Land, Accessory Export, LLC
3. Love of learning matters more than specialization
I care that my people are educated, not necessarily that they are specialized. I want smart people who love learning. Some of our best core staff are Philosophy majors, English majors or Drama majors.
— Corey Blake, Round Table Companies
4. Experience over education every time
The importance of formal education varies by industry, but for my business — an entertainment marketing company — formal education is nowhere near as important as real-world experience. When given the choice between two qualified candidates, I would take the one with the career experience every time. I have a Masters degree in Marketing, and although I learned a lot of great theory, I learned more applicable lessons in a year at my first marketing position than in my undergraduate and graduate courses combined.
— Brittany Hodak, ZinePak
5. Formal education is an investment — in yourself
I hear arguments all the time about the value of a college education. I could go either way on that for entrepreneurs. But when we're talking about the staff that we hire in our firm we always look for college graduates. It is not that they are any more educated then those that didn't attend; it is that they have more discipline and can execute better. They've spent four years on their own working towards a goal (graduation) so they understand deadlines, attendance and have some element of professionalism. We hire college graduates because they've invested the time to become worth hiring.
— Roger Bryan, Enfusen Digital Marketing
6. Character is more important
Education is important, but I was always a creative type and never even finished my degree. My college was real-life experience. So it's best, in my opinion, to find out if a potential hire is wired for the position. History proves that many great minds do great things without a formal education: Learning and growing is not a one-type-fits-all scenario. Always have an open mind.
— Parker Powers, Millionaire Network
7. Education plus curiosity is the best combination
I’m a big believer in education. I don’t necessarily need a potential employee to have gone to college to learn a specific skill. Often times, I look for curious people who are capable of doing a variety of tasks. I do think people with a good solid education, some previous experience and who have had some personal projects tend to hit the ground running consistently pretty well.
— Luke Skurman, Niche.com
8. A degree is not a must-have
I'm a firm believer in the idea that formal education is overrated and it tends to be a poor gauge of skill or work ethic. I hire people who can simply get the job done, produce stellar work and do it quickly! My husband went to school for language arts, but happens to be the best coder I know. He took an interest, taught himself and continues his coding education on his own through online courses, professional collaboration or simply online research. That being said, I will almost always make hires from our local university. But a degree is not a must for me. The type of students that are savvy and go-getter enough to work for us know how to make themselves available through programs at the university. I need minds like that; who know how to use the tools at their disposal.
— Maren Hogan, Red Branch Media
9. Not everyone should drop out
Many successful entrepreneurs are dropouts: Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg. However, very few of them have built a team of dropouts around them. A higher education is important in many roles, especially finance where specific rules must be followed. Highly educated senior team members are great for keeping unruly founders focused. Experience matters, but completing a secondary education shows that a person has the perseverance, stamina and the intelligence to complete a mission.
— Mark Cenicola, BannerView.com
10. Experience and passion trump formal education
When it comes to finding the right person for the job, we pay more attention to personal values, innovation, drive and passion than formal education. I have found that the most effective employees come with real life experience rather than formal certification.
— Amanda Aitken, Girl's Guide Courses with Amanda Aitken
11. It depends, but cultural fit isn't negotiable
Typically for sales, customer service and operations roles, formal education is less important that past experience. These skills are more about the process and person than any formal education. For tech and product, since companies are more open to hiring young mavericks, top schools can be a safer bet. Not necessarily because of what they teach, but more because of their stringent selection criteria which ensures they've done most of the due diligence for you. Strategy and marketing are somewhere in the middle with balancing education and experience. The over-arching lens is culture: I would go for a better cultural fit than formal education or experience.
— Karan Chaudhry, DropThought
Tags: BUSINESS, CAREER ADVICE, CONTRIBUTOR, EDUCATION, JOBS, MARKETING, RESUME TIPS, STARTUPS, YEC