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PRH removes degree requirement from job applications

18 January 2016

From The Bookseller:

Penguin Random House UK is removing any requirement for a university degree for all new jobs to attract a “more varied candidate pool” in order to “publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere”.

Group human resource director Neil Morrison said he made the decision following increasing evidence that there was no simple correlation between having a degree and ongoing performance in work. PRH’s “brightest talents” come from a variety of different backgrounds, not just from the top universities, Morrison added.

. . . .

“Now, we need to be more visible to talented people across the UK. We believe this is critical to our future: to publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere, we need to have people from different backgrounds with different perspectives and a workforce that truly reflects today’s society.”

Graduates are still welcome to apply for jobs, but not having been through higher education will “no longer preclude anyone from joining and progressing their career with PRH UK,” the company said.

The move is also designed to send a clear message to job-seekers who have been through higher education that the university they attended will not impact their chance of success.

PRH UK has no requirements for A-levels or UCAS points either, so academic qualifications will no longer act as a barrier to talented people getting a foot in the door to publishing.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

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Big Publishing, Non-US

64 Comments to “PRH removes degree requirement from job applications”

  1. I’d say, “There goes nurturing, right out the window,” except that was defenestrated long ago. I can just imagine what the results of “editing” done by people who barely graduated secondary school (but who are presumably Talented!) will do to the quality of the books PRH UK will be publishing once some of these new degree-free employees are in place, especially since I’ve seen some pretty shoddy examples of “editing” done by trad pub editors who supposedly do have some sort of university degree.

    • In all fairness, recall that in any publishing company there are a lot of positions other than editing. Many of which do not require the skills taught in a college.

      A lot of companies have a blanket “requirement” of a 4 year degree, regardless of the position being filled. However, and this is just ONE example… do a lot of IT workers actually need a 4 year degree to do what they do? Hell no… I’m sure someone may argue this, but many IT positions need technical/vocational training, not a general degree.

      Most 4 year universities, in fact, are so behind the curve on the programming languages they are teaching that your degree is irrelevant before you even finish it, unless you want a job at a company supporting legacy code. The way to a solid IT career is constant training, whether you’re paying for it yourself, your employer is paying for it, or you’re buying materials and self-studying. 4 year degrees are just a checkbox on the HR side.

      Anyway – yeah it makes sense to drop the corporate-wide degree requirement.

    • I’m not sure a university degree is required for ANY aspect of editing. Being able to help fix plot and character issues is a matter of experience, how well-read you are, and being a critical thinker. As far as catching spelling and punctuation mistakes? The level of knowledge required to do THAT is surely sub-university.

      Experience and intelligence is surely far more important than advanced education in this regard.

  2. I say great for PRH! Decisions should be made on capabilities, not increasingly valueless credentials.

    • Bingo!

      Editing skills are very testable; copy editors are tested as a matter of course at newspapers. Include a “critique this story” portion of the test and you’re good to go. There’s no reason a degree is needed for this. I want to see more employers move in this direction and I hope they do.

      • I’m afraid not. This assertion could be true if, and only if, all of:

        (a) “Copy editing” is purely mechanical, and never for sense or substance, and
        (b) All rules applicable to “copy editing” are objectively verifiable, universal, and correct, and
        (c) English (or whatever language one is dealing with) never changes, or borrows from any other language.

        Proper copy editing still requires judgment. Whether contemporary bachelors’ degrees are providing that judgment is, of course, a separate issue… but they’re supposed to, at least by design.

        As an editor for periodicals and books, I found that at least 40% of the job required specific judgment and subject-matter expertise well beyond that of an 18-year-old with no further education or experience.

        Simultaneously, of course, removing the “bachelor’s degree” barrier will also
        * Perhaps — just perhaps — lessen some of the class bias in commercial publisher hiring, and
        * Make the “services” offered by a commercial publisher to authors even less distinctive than that available to indie/self-published authors now…

        • This. I’m a freelance editor, and I couldn’t have done this job well or even competently at 21, despite my lifelong love of the English language. I might have been able to pass an “editing test,” but that wouldn’t have made me a good editor. Not by a long shot.

          Proper copy editing still requires judgment. Whether contemporary bachelors’ degrees are providing that judgment is, of course, a separate issue… but they’re supposed to, at least by design.

          Not entirely sure what a Bachelor’s degree is intended to do in a general sense, but I’ve been better served in my editing by experience, not the least by reading experience.

          • But none of what y’all are saying requires a college degree. It just doesn’t. I covered the “judgment” part in the critique portion. That’s what the critiquing would be testing.

            • I think what you’re saying is what I was trying to say, Jamie. I should have made my point clearer.

            • I can’t agree with this.

              Usage choices require judgment; that kind of judgment comes from education honed by experience. And that’s particularly important when dealing with writing of substance, or with foreign antecedants. Experience alone is not enough; it won’t teach a copyeditor not to allow writers to use “business as usual” when writing about employment law in the American South,* it won’t help the copyeditor catch that Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow was not in 1815,** it won’t help a copyeditor spot that a news article draws population-level conclusions from a small sample. I don’t think I need to go on.

              The conceptual problem here is that what journalism calls a “copyeditor” is something entirely different from what a copyeditor does in the book-publication process. A copyeditor does a helluva lot more than check for comma splices!

              * Because it’s education that will have taught one that this phrase was often code for racial discrimination as late as the 1970s, and that just finding a “suitable synonym” will be editorial malpractice.

              ** There was a major-publisher high school history textbook that made this error in the 1990s.

              • Because it’s education that will have taught one…

                True, but often it’s education that doesn’t occur inside the context of earning a university degree.

                • Exactly. And I think, C.E., you’d be surprised by what journalism copy editors do. You seem to think they’re just proofreading. They aren’t.

    • Agree to a point. And think this could be a good idea, but to a point. I mean, I wouldn’t want to go to a doctor who hadn’t been to medical school. If handed a contract, I’d want to consult with a lawyer who’d studied business law before signing.

      I used to teach composition and rhetoric at several different experience levels in a few different colleges and universities. I’m not sure even the students who performed well in those classes would have performed well as copy editors without sufficient further training in it.

      As an editor for periodicals and books, I found that at least 40% of the job required specific judgment and subject-matter expertise well beyond that of an 18-year-old with no further education or experience.

      Yep.

    • I agree wholeheartedly, unfortunately I don’t think that’s why PRH is doing it.

  3. I would imagine that the people with the talent AND the degree are leaving for greener pastures. Many are discovering they can make more money (and choose what projects and writers they prefer to work with) by freelancing.

    So is this to “attract a more varied candidate pool” in order to “publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere” as they say, or was it because the applications with the required degree were drying up?

    • The degree would be even less important for freelancers, especially ones with Big 5 experience.

      • That leaves it up to the person doing the hiring. If THEY value the degree then…

        Here’s a question for the gang here:

        What would you value more in a potential editor? A degree or Big Five experience?

        • Neither. I would prefer common sense and flexibility.

          • + 1

          • Common sense doesn’t exist. It is another way to say “shared assumptions”.

            • Those assumptions of which you speak of, Nate, are exactly what I’m trying to avoid. I prefer someone who has facts (or at least tried to research the alleged problem) before they start accusing me of f***ing up.

              Prime Example: I was b****ed out by an editor for having a constable as the hero in a manuscript. Her reasoning was that constables do not exist in the U.S. I have two traffic tickets and several business cards that say otherwise.

              • It might be better to say that constables are not widely common in the US. I’ve never lived in an area that had them, and I’ve lived in 9 states.

                • The constable situation was an example, Anthony. The point being if an editor is going to criticize the technique and/or research of a writer, the editor needs to KNOW what they are talking about and not ASSUME they are always right, which goes back to the common sense of double-checking before the editor goes apesh** over an alleged issue.

                  Such an issue also involves tact as opposed to an educational degree.

                • Yes, I was saying it would have been better for the editor to have said that, and not go all “apesh**” about it.

        • I wouldn’t value a degree at all. Ability is ability. Knowledge is knowledge. People can either do something well or not.

          Obviously, I’d guess that most good editors have college degrees simply because so many people are herded through college. But the notion that the degree by itself indicates any certainty of ability or knowledge is a joke. And that assertion comes from 30 years of hiring people.

    • I don’t know. Given the sheer volume of liberal arts degree holders working at Starbucks and making interest-only payments on the student loans… I have a hard time believing they aren’t getting applicants with degrees.

      That said, the most recent depression (and yes it was certainly a depression) proved to a lot of people who would have entered school a few years ago that liberal arts degrees might not be worth much. So perhaps they are seeing fewer brand-new grads, if people are gravitating to other majors. I don’t know anything about recent grad statistics to say if the percentages of degree types have changed in the last 5 years though.

  4. Seems to me that ditching the degree requirement might also enable PRH to offer applicants lower salaries.

    • And the win goes to Bridget McKenna!

    • I don’t see how they can make publishing salaries much lower. Editorial positions have been on the low end of the pay scale for ages; the lower down you go, the worse the pay.

      Maybe it’s different in the UK, where everything is unionized. But there’s very little wiggle room in the U.S.

      Don’t forget, publishing houses used to have in-house proofreading and copy editing staff. That all changed during the conglomeration buy-up of the 1980s. I did some freelance copy editing in the 90s. Tech editing paid more than fiction editing, so I tried to stick with that. They didn’t ask if I had a degree. They sent me a copy editing test and hired me when I passed. End of story.

      • They’ll present it as “This is your big in to a white collar job with no degree! And if other publishers don’t follow suit, we’ve got you for life so you’ll feel like you can’t switch jobs when you are underpaid.”

    • Bridget, that was my very first thought: “They can pay them less now.”

      It may be more complex–editors starting their own freelance businesses or starting their smaller presses–but I’m cynical that way. I thought they were out to save money.

    • Bazinga! I know from long experience that’s what happens in health care, on the rare occasions the suits can get away with it.

  5. Penguin Random House UK is removing any requirement for a university degree for all new jobs to attract a “more varied candidate pool” in order to “publish the best books that appeal to readers everywhere

    This is great! I once pitched an idea to an editor based on a classic. This college educated curator had never heard of the book. So now all books will become Taco Bell (reference to Demolition Man, which is not a classic so should be well known).

    • I am actually ashamed that I got the Demolition Man reference. The only movie in which Sylvester Stallone has sex with Sandra Bullock on screen. 😉

      • Why be ashamed? Under the auspices of being an action movie, it was a great social satire.

        It was also prescient. I mean, President Schwarzenegger?

      • If you’re going to be embarrassed by early Sandy B. performances, Bionic Showdown is way below Demolition Man.

      • When I worked at Hughes in El Segundo, the EDSG cafeteria was “hired out” as the location shoot for much of Demolition Man. The Taco Bell in the movie was in the “refurbished” large meeting room. They filmed at night so as not to distrupt the normal working hour routines. There were heavy electrical cables for the lights and other equipment strung everywhere, and the location trucks were parked outside the building’s main entrances.

        When the movie came out and I saw it, I was vexed that I hadn’t come back at night to watch, particularly the young Sandra Bullock in her Hottie prime. 🙁

  6. What they want is young people plugged in to pop culture so they can find the next Snooki to give a contract to.

  7. Alternatively, this may be the only way they can attract IT employees.

  8. I’m not sure whether this speaks worse of Big Publishing or our broken, overpriced university system.

  9. It seems to me that this should be based on the likelihood of the applicant being as widely read as possible. A University education in the humanities is still the best predicter for that.

    • Perhaps they can just ask the applicants about books? No need to predict when she is sitting right in front of you.

      • Agreed. What does “predictor” mean? You interview job candidates. You talk to them. Sometimes test them. Who needs a piece of paper from some college far more concerned about extracting the college-debt sourced tuition funds from students than actually teaching them anything useful in the workplace

        • The piece of paper is far more about screening potential interviewees than the actual interview. Its a tool to weed the field down to a manageable number of candidates. If they are abandoning that tool in regards to inhouse editors, there are only two logical reasons I’m seeing:

          1) They aren’t getting as many candidates and want to WIDEN the pool rather than SHRINK it.

          2) They want to pay employees less money, including those with college degrees.

          Now, there’s another possibility that someone mentioned up-thread; this isn’t about the editors, its about everything else. Marketing, sales, ebooks, websites, IT integration… the best talents in these areas are not generally people who spent four years in undergrad situations. If there was a company-wide restriction on hiring people without a degree, its a wise move to lift it, regardless of anything else.

          But it does say “all new jobs”. So that is including editors. They wouldn’t have made the language that way otherwise.

  10. Even more horrifying are all the authors who lack university credentials. And outfits like Penguin just publish their books based on the product. And then university credentialed people read them without knowing the author’s academic pedigree?

    • @ Terrence

      Yeah, really. Can’t have illiterate, degreeless dummies like Shakespeare, Dickens, Twain, Hardy, Dumas, Hugo, Hemingway, Lincoln, Truman, Gates, Jobs, et al, in our workforce…

  11. My tertiary qualifications – philosophy and languages – did not prepare me to be an author, far from it. But back then, knowing /how/ to write was a prerequisite to everything else, even non-English languages. Content was not enough, you had to demonstrate form as well.

    The net result was that universtiy degrees acted as defacto guarantees of writing ability. Or put another way, they were the gatekeepers to the Gatekeepers.

    How odd, then, that one of the biggest, surviving gatekeepers is now ditching that very requirement for its own staff.

  12. Do new employees without a university degree receive a lower wage?

    • On average? IN the United States, yes they do. Don’t know about the UK, but I’d imagine its the same.

  13. I’m in two minds about all this. I would say that for most so-called white collar jobs in the UK, now, a minimum requirement is a first degree or at the very least a Further Education College qualification, unless you are setting up in business on your own behalf or undertaking an apprenticeship. It’s treated as a general qualification and to specialize, you need a Masters or similar. However, to teach Creative Writing in a university here, you now need a degree in that subject rather than experience as a writer. This means that writers are being excluded in favour of people who may have published a single volume of finely crafted literary short stories, but have managed to acquire a degree in CW. Which seems daft to me. Especially when some of those CW graduates go on to work in publishing, without any idea of the true breadth and vibrancy of the field they are entering. They don’t seem to have much notion of what people – other than their own very restricted set of colleagues – want to read. Also an editor needs a very specific skill set and too often recent graduates with degrees in media studies or similar don’t seem to have it. A group of ‘mature’writer friends the other day were discussing the howlers they had been presented with by young editors who seemed to have no sense of history and little grasp of grammar. A colleague who writes scientific non-fiction books mostly for kids, is routinely horrified by the sheer lack of even the most basic math and science knowledge in the ‘science’ editors she works with. Moreover, it takes only a glance at the comments sections of various sites and newspapers here in the UK to realise that roughly a third of the population now seems to be functionally illiterate and blissfully unaware of it. I often wonder if it is the same in other European countries, in Germany or France, but don’t think it can be. I certainly don’t see it on sites like this one! But then I don’t know if TPV is representative, or if this is an exception. I can see how there is a problem with the Big Five’s young-media-graduate London-centred approach – especially where marketing is concerned. It exists and perhaps they are aware of it and the need to change. But whether this is the right solution, who knows?

  14. I have mixed feelings about this. My first thought was that this is an excuse for publishing to pay even less. Plenty of “people of color” graduate from college–especially women of color–so there is no dearth of applicants, I’m sure.

    For editing positions, I don’t think you need a college degree IF you received an excellent high school education (which is increasingly rare) and are trained in an apprentice-type program. I don’t see PRH investing their time in nurturing these people, and I feel like the relatively few excellent schools are already extremely competitive, and probably not the most diverse places. (I remember reading the stats for the most competitive New York high schools.)

    That said, I think this makes sense for the positions that require degrees even for jobs that may not really need degrees.

    Overall, though, I’m somewhat skeptical. I doubt PRH is going to blossom into a diverse environment because of this decision.

  15. It seems obvious that what they are really wanting to do is pay their employees less money.

  16. Ahdunno. As Anthony mentioned, I’d say rather than being about the beautiful value of education, knowing the ways the Smeagles of PRH think, this has to do with paying people less. Much less, with those being newly employed being like many of the authors, so GLAD to be chosen, not realizing it’s a caste system.

    Frankly, one can be gifted with/without education. But if one hasnt the gift, one can learn as a skill… through precise, not 4 years of weaving/wobbling ed. that covers various not targeted.

    Yet, talent and sense of, seem to have a flow, that rote learning might not.

    Ahdunno. Just a .01

  17. Sweet. Now, if the writing thing doesn’t work out, I can fall back on a job in publishing.

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