Don’t Hire People Who Went To Grad School

This may sound crazy, but there are certain traits you should avoid when hiring—and grad students tend to have them.
August 29, 2011

Going to grad school is a predictor of low success rates in the workplace. I’m not saying this is 100 percent true—because no behavioral predictor is 100 percent true. But there’s a reason that Google lives and dies by behavioral interviews: On balance, past behavior does predict future behavior.

Hiring is a game of probability. It’s likely that if the person got fired from the last two jobs, you will fire them as well. It’s likely if a person was a superstar at the last two companies, she’ll be a superstar at yours.

By the same token, it’s likely if a person attended graduate school, they will have a hard time translating their strengths into strong workplace performance.

For one thing, most people who went to grad school did it to prolong adolescent needs for grade-based approval. (Note: This analysis comes from writers at the Chronicle for Higher Education.) This is because the model of grad school is generally outdated for today’s workforce, and high performers see this before they enroll. But people who are scared to try holding their own in the workforce see grad school as a way around the inevitable difficulties of finding a job one enjoys.

Here are three reasons why it’s a decent bet to stay away from candidates with graduate degrees:

Humanities are for people afraid of adult life

Graduate degrees in the humanities are a dead end. I should know. I went to graduate school for English, which was totally useless except to give me a little break from real life.

But it’s not just the field of English that is a dead end. One would have had a better chance surviving the Titanic than getting a job as any type of humanities professor. Humanities PhD programs suck up their time and energy with little return.

Most people who go to grad school for humanities defend their decision by saying they love their topic. But look, if you love your topic, you can do it after work. Open the book and read it yourself.

Business school is for non-self-starters

If you were hiring for a position in the Fortune 500, a recent grad from a top 10 business school might be a good bet. But since you are actually hiring for a small business, ask yourself: Why did this person just dump $100,000 into a business degree instead of dumping into their own company?

If the person doesn’t believe in themselves enough to give their own ideas a shot, why should you believe in them? A lot of people write about how business school is not a good path to entrepreneurship. The only reason we are even talking about business school in relationship to entrepreneurship is that so many people want to be entrepreneurs that business schools had to launch entrepreneurship programs to attract those people.

But Saras Sarasvathy, from Dartmouth’s business school, explained to me the research about which are the traits of a successful entrepreneur. And none of those traits require going to business school.

Law school is for uncreative types who become low performers

This is not true of everyone, okay? I’m sure there are some really creative lawyers. But you have to wonder, why are they lawyers? There are five, big myths about being a lawyer, but they boil down to that problem with law school is that to get in, you have to be great at school (reading, and regurgitating back to the professor what they want to hear) and you have to be great at test-taking (the LSAT still rules admissions).

But to be a successful lawyer, you have to be great at marketing and client relations. Otherwise you won’t make any money because you won’t bring in any business. It used to be that law firms were safety zones—like a college with tenure. But today lawyers get booted out of practices where they’ve become partner if they are not also a rainmaker.

The result: Lawyers are the most dissatisfied group of professionals in the workplace. In a poll of current lawyers from the American Bar Association, more than half the lawyers recommended that people do not become lawyers.

There are other grad school red flags: For example, someone has a degree that is practical—like a PhD in chemistry who is applying to a job at Merck. On face value, the degree makes a strong candidate. But if the candidate has two more degrees, run. Multiple degrees are from people who don’t know themselves, don’t value their time, and are stuck in a rut trying to impress people with academic trophies.

Look for someone who goes to grad school because they know what they want to do in the workforce, and they are guiding themselves on that path. The most important knowledge a candidate can have is not grad-school knowledge or skill-based knowledge, but rather, self-knowledge. Look for that in future hires. It’ll change your company for the better.