If you ask an MBA student, academic advisor, or the internet how to get into McKinsey consulting, the answer will likely include a list of prestigious “target schools” where McKinsey has historically recruited. In the US, these are often Harvard, Yale, and Stanford.

But these days, McKinsey is thinking bigger. “Great can come from anywhere,” reads its recruitment website, which adds: “We hire people, not degrees; we believe in your potential, whatever your resume.”

McKinsey has doubled the number of schools where it takes its new employees, from around 700 to 1,500, according to Katy George, director of human resources, cited in 2023 by Fortune magazine.

Many companies are embracing this new approach.

The term “elite” has never been well-regarded in the United States, but it has really taken a hit recently. In Donald Trump’s mouth, during the 2016 campaign, it was almost an insult; the Black Lives Matter movement has brought attention to racial disparities on the path to wealth and power; At universities, free speech and safe spaces have become hot topics, with op-eds titled “The academic elite is out of touch” and “Why I’m no longer hiring college grads.”

Traditional markers of brilliance, such as a diploma from a top school, are being called into question. Companies have had to find other ways to show recruits, investors and customers that they are truly selecting the most talented candidates. Widening the recruiting net is one solution, but may reproduce some of the same shortcomings as the old approach.

After the killing of George Floyd in 2020, some companies publicly renewed their commitment to the new holy trinity of diversity-equity-inclusion. They hired DEI managers and published accountability reports.

This approach quickly became a political minefield and, at times, a legal risk. Today, we talk less about diversity (even if some surveys show that the objective remains). Some bosses emphasize inclusion or “belonging.” But already there was a tendency towards a broader idea.

According to consultancy BCG, the concept of “skill before degree” means that employers need to stop obsessing about the degree and really look for people armed with the right skills, no matter how they acquired them.

It’s about instituting meritocracy. And everyone is getting involved. McKinsey has designed a video game that purports to assess candidates’ cognitive abilities “beyond the conventional resume or interview.” McKinsey has also published an interview-prep website that allows “exceptional candidates, regardless of their background, to ace our interviews,” whether or not they have access to coaching… “or a network of alumni with good consulting connections.” Bank of America has partnered with 34 community colleges and says it has hired and trained thousands of employees from those schools. Goldman Sachs, which used to interview young candidates at only a few major universities, is now doing so virtually: “We’re meeting talent from places we didn’t go before,” its chief human capital officer wrote in 2019.

A handful of companies, including Walmart in 2023, stopped requiring a degree altogether for administrative jobs and a dozen states did the same for some civil service positions. In 2020, a coalition of major companies, including Accenture, JPMorgan Chase and Deloitte, set out on a mission to place more Black workers in well-paying jobs. This group has just changed its mission and now promotes “hiring based on skills, not just diplomas”.

There is consensus among economists: stopping requiring superfluous (prestigious, in the case of McKinsey) degrees is a good thing; labor is scarce, and diplomas are increasingly expensive. Relying less on qualifications can also increase diversity, even if this is not a stated objective.

“The most qualified person for the job deserves the job and should get it. How can anyone object to that? ” says Anthony Carnevale, who just retired as director of the Center for Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University and who worked on employment under three House administrations. White.

As a result, it’s difficult in the United States to define exactly what qualities are required for a given job — let alone evaluate those qualities — without risking a lawsuit, Mr. Carnevale notes. “Imagine yourself establishing – with lawyers in the room – the required knowledge, skills, abilities, personality traits, professional values ​​and professional interests; it’s delicate. »

As when we rely on the diploma, we can have a bias when evaluating a candidate on their experience, notes Anthony Abraham Jack, lecturer at Boston University. For example, he said, “traditional markers of assessment particularly ignore the work that low-income students do on behalf of their families.”

In short, hiring based on skills is not the panacea that will bring perfect meritocracy to hiring. “It’s not a quick fix, and there’s no quick fix,” says Joelle Emerson, CEO of Paradigm, a DEI consultancy. “Usually, if it sounds too good to be true – like, say, skills-based hiring – it’s because it’s too good to be true. »