Street Smarts or School Smarts… The Recruiter’s Dilemma

It always surprises me when I meet a client, (don’t forget I’m a Rec2Rec), who insists on only seeing candidates who are ‘Degree Qualified’… and I ask one question… Why? 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ‘Academiaphobe’ – I have ultimate respect for those who are degree qualified… It’s a hard slog attending lecture after lecture, tutorial after tutorial, exam after exam for 3 or 4 years. Coupled with the very real responsibility of drinking copious amounts of alcohol – at all times of the day (and night) – with no source of serious income.  You learn all manner of big words like; pedagogue, superfluous and mirkin (well they’re the 3 big words I learnt at university), and you learn that if you don’t fulfil your assignment obligations you get an extension – and if that doesn’t work you have a generous appeals process… so how does that prepare you for the glamorous world of recruitment?

Yes, I acknowledge that a degree qualified accountant, may better understand cash accrual accounting against the other kind (or kinds) of accounting, and a civil engineer maybe able to navigate AUTOcad as well as FastTrack,  but does knowledge make you a better recruiter?

I recently interviewed a Senior Recruitment consultant in the Banking space. And for those of you who have been living on Uranus for the past couple of years Banking Recruitment has been about as successful and lucrative as the Australian Olympic Swim team… or Rowing Team… or Weightlifting Team… Anyway, this candidate has been billing $600k plus annually over the past 3 years – with no PSA/PSL accounts.  I called a client of mine – who has been searching for a great consultant to prop up their ailing Banking desk for the past 14 months – to discuss my candidate’s credentials.

‘Hi, Mr. Ed. It’s Craig Watson here. I’ve finally unearthed a seriously successful Banking candidate for you!’

‘Really?’ My client replied, with just a slight hint of desperate optimism in his voice. ‘Tell me about them.’

‘Well, he has 6 years experience in the Investment banking space, last 3 years with the same employer…’

‘Yes, yes…’ the excitement in his voice beginning to rise.

‘He has been averaging over $600k per annum for the past 4 years, runs a dual contracting perm desk. Very deep networks in both the candidate and clients side, loves client development, and has very realistic base salary expectations.’

‘Sounds fantastic, can you send his details over asap?  I’ll have quick look and we will set up an interview.  If he’s everything you say he is we’ll move through the process very quickly and offer within the week…’

So, I sent the details over.  Followed up with a phone call the next morning and couldn’t get through. Emailed again and left another 3 messages over the next 4 days… Finally, on day 5 I received the following email…

Hi Craig, 

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.  We are going to take a pass on this candidate as he does not have a tertiary qualification.  Although his background seems impressive, we require our consultants to be ‘Degree Qualified’

Please continue the search and let me know when you come across suitably qualified candidates.


Ima Knob


Ima Knob Recruitment


Look, I get it – I really do, but for the love of all things holy that attitude can be summed up in one word… Stupid.

Some of the best recruiters I know are not degree qualified, and they get by on something you can’t teach in university – Street Smarts.  Call it what you like – there are those that have a certain nous, a level of intuition, a sense of ‘reading the play’ that makes them far more valuable than a degree qualified counterpart… of course if you have both that’s a lethal combination!

But please, please… PLEASE recruitment owners, who have a one size fits all policy and insist on tertiary qualified consultants need to change – and change quickly…

Bill Gates didn’t finish his degree, and Sir Richard Branson dropped out before he completed his secondary education – and they did all right… So, if you are not willing to look outside of your ivory tower, and consider a Consultant who owns his space and bills $600k annually, but doesn’t have a degree – quite frankly – it’s your loss…

And to close off I say this… Having School Smarts is knowing that a tomato is a fruit… Having Street Smarts is knowing not to put that tomato in a fruit salad…


Craig Watson


12 thoughts on “Street Smarts or School Smarts… The Recruiter’s Dilemma

  1. Debbie Capuano on Reply

    I loved this article Craig – let’s face it – recruiting is predominantly about building relationships through getting to know clients and candidates and what they ultimately need and finding that for them – this is not something that you can learn at university. You just need to have a genuine desire to help people and care enough to listen and that will equate to placements. Particulary love the tomato quote!

  2. Bob Sharpe on Reply

    Valid points, Craig, and it can be foolish to hire ONLY based on the candidate being degreed. That said, not everyone at the university drinks copious amounts of alcohol day and night and some of us actually worked while going to school. Very few people can point to their resume and say that they managed a 4 year project successfully and achieved the upfront goal. That’s the real value of a degree. It’s tough to stay on task when everyone around you is goofing off. Thanks for posting, and thank you for the forum.

  3. A Recruiter on Reply

    There is a very good chance that you are not in possession of all the facts – perhaps this candidate is known to the hiring manager, or perhaps they heard something that put him off and he didn’t want to share it with you.

    The fact that you write an article calling him a knob and stupid goes a long way in perpetuating the reputation that a lot of agency recruiters hold.

    As someone responsible for hiring, I genuinely hope I never have to deal with someone who reacts in this way.

    Unprofessional to the highest degree.

    1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hi ‘A Recruiter’
      I would like to think that the hiring manager would share the ‘truth’ with me – otherwise why would I want to work with a dishonest client? But sadly, that is not the case. This client has a ‘degree only’ policy – no exceptions.
      And, as someone responsible for hiring, I hope you are always honest with your recruitment partner…

    2. IT Recruiter on Reply

      I agree – not much respect being shown for your client. Have you thought of asking him WHY he insists on his consultants being tertiary qualified? I note the client works in banking. When I was recruiting IT candidates for the banking industry, one of the big four banks would insist that all candidates be tertiary qualified. Sending one who wasn’t resulted in a short sharp answer – “Why have you sent me an unqualified candidate?” If you are a recruiter with that bank as a client, you might want to use the fact that all your consultants are tertiary qualified as a differentiator.

      BTW, isn’t it “merkin” not “mirkin”?

      1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

        Hi’IT Recruiter’
        Funny how the negative comments always seem to be anonomous… Your point makes some sense and I have asked my client why they insist on Tertiary qualified consultants (one of the first questions I asked actually). They told me it was simply their preferred process. Further probing produced no additional reasons… Anyway, I think you miss the point of the post, but that’s my opinion…
        Oh, and thanks for correcting my spelling of Merkin…

  4. Heath Brennan on Reply

    Craig, as usual I found this post to be very enjoyable and informative. You normally tackle these issues with a strong sense of irony and humour but still manage to make your point.
    I agree wholeheartedly with you. Lets be honest, the real art lays in assessing what a candidate will be able to do tomorrow.
    Yes, their history can be a portent into their future, but ALL the ingredients contribute to the final flavour.
    Keep up the good work

  5. Andrew McGregor on Reply


    Is the candidate still looking? I would love to meet with them but ce la vie we know very little about banking & finance recruitment!

    On a serious note it is another absolutely spot on blog and one I greatly enjoyed. I myself am not degree qualified however do have the art of actually listening to what a client and candidate wants from their recruitment partners.

    How many times I hear our clients moan about the fact they’re getting phone calls from grad+1 recruitment consultants who have no idea how to talk to them is beyond me! That being said we all need to start somewhere but let’s not make it from whether someone has a degree or not!?

    Keep it up!

    1. Craig Watson rec-to-rec on Reply

      Hi Andrew,
      Unfortunately he went off the market very quickly. Did you know that along with Luke we’ve taken over the Brisbane business? I’d be keen to catch up when I’m up there next and you have some time. Would you be up for that?



  6. Greg Thompson on Reply

    This issue has been around ever since Adam stole an apple or was it Eve ? Who cares.
    I’m more concerned with the reply.

    Where do prospective employers get off obtaining 3rd hand or party views, speaking to others, gathering information on others, and then create opinions. Very sick.

    Keep up the passion, keep up fight, let’s remove cowboys and cowgirls from this industry.

    Or, does no one really care.

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