Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

Q: I'm recruiting a director. My human resources adviser has told me not to put 'graduate' as a qualification. Why not?

A: Why not indeed? Perhaps you should sack your HR adviser.

I'm afraid there is a slight tendency in the HR profession to try to expunge intellect and academic qualifications as requirements for jobs.

Indeed, I have observed that there is an anti-intellectual bent to job recruitment in the public sector as a whole, which is sometimes reflected in our third sector. It should be resisted.


For a director post, intellect ought to be a strong requirement. A director's job involves the ability to think strategically, to look across the horizon and to think creatively. Of course, I'm not suggesting that simply having a degree is a precursor to such ability, but it's a good indicator, particularly if it is coupled with proven experience. You might also look at what they did at university (indeed, staying the course nowadays is good in any case).

These days there are many different types of graduate. You will undoubtedly want a good honours graduate - and remember that Luton is not Oxford, Teesside is not Cambridge.

You will also want to ensure you are recruiting someone with strong intellectual ability who can deliver. It's no good getting a brainy professor with lots of whizzy ideas if they have had no experience of delivering on them.

But really good organisations do recruit great talent, and intellectual fire-power is a crucial element in the make-up of any high-achieving organisation.

Top City firms and the civil service, for example, recruit top graduates.

Shouldn't we?


Decades ago it was believed that seeking a graduate qualification was discriminatory, given that access to university education was much more limited. These days, however, it can hardly be said to be discriminatory when access is so much broader. So perhaps your HR professional is trying to make the case that this might discriminate against candidates who are black or disabled? If so, this is a disgraceful argument and rather insulting to those communities.

Obviously, you wouldn't want to suggest that being a graduate is an essential requirement for all your jobs at every level. The key point here is that when you are expecting qualifications, they need to be relevant to the job you are recruiting for. At director level, they are relevant.

WH Auden had this summed up rather well: "It takes little talent to see clearly what lies under one's nose, a good deal of it to know in which direction to point that organ."

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