SINGAPORE: Armed with only an A-level certificate and lacking work experience, Ms Sarah Shaikha was in an unenviable position when job hunting in 2016.

She knew she was competing against those with work experience and better academic qualifications.

But law firm Oon & Bazul LLP offered her a position as an administrative assistant. Throughout the job application and interview process, the firm chose not to look at her academic transcripts or certificates but focused on the qualities which they saw in her.

It has worked out well for the firm and Ms Shaika who has since been promoted and is now a human resource executive at the firm. She is even looking to take up a part time degree in human resources.

Hires such as Ms Shaikha are becoming more common, as companies become more accepting of candidates without paper qualification, said managing director of Michael Page Singapore Nilay Khandelwal.

Innovation startup Padang & Co also does not place an emphasis to academic qualifications when hiring.

CEO Derrick Chiang said he never lists the academic qualifications required for job openings at his company. He could interview university graduates as well as candidates with polytechnic education for the same job opening.

“I honestly have never thought of even asking for those (paper qualifications),” he said in an emailed response.

“We don’t even bother with the transcripts of even tertiary education; just the certificate for the record.”

None of his staff was hired “solely on paper qualifications” as “hardly anyone goes to school to study innovation”, as he explained his company’s focus on innovation.

The first thing he asks in an interview is “tell me your story”, so that he can assess the candidate’s skills and knowledge gathered from their studies and work experiences.

He added that the 20 people in his team all “come from different educational, personal and professional backgrounds” and that this diversity is the company’s strength.  

While there had been instances where those hired end up being a bad fit, he has never blamed them on paper qualifications or the lack of it, said Mr Chiang.

Instead, he puts it down to a cultural mismatch, or that those hired found the job roles did not meet their expectations.

Mr Bazul Ashhab, managing partner and head of dispute resolution at Oon & Bazul said: “We are not evaluating a candidate based on his performance in a national school exam, but rather looking at the individual’s talent, recent experience and his/her aspirations.”

The firm has hired candidates who “displayed an entrepreneurial spirit, people skills and ability to understand the objectives behind the task and tackle problems with a solution-driven mindset,” without giving any weight to their paper qualifications, he said.

“In some cases, we have even adjusted certain roles to ensure that the candidate would have a better chance of success.”

Mr Bazul said Ms Shaika demonstrated a “passionate interest in dealing with HR-relevant matters” after she was hired, and that influenced the company’s decision to give her the role of an HR executive when a position opened up, he added.

The law firm “will continue to support her” as she pursues the part-time degree, and that they saw Ms Shaika “as the future HR manager for the firm”, he said.

There are benefits to assessing candidates not just on academic qualifications, said recruitment experts.

“They may be hiring a candidate who would be a better fit to the workplace culture and have a greater learning potential, such as finding new and creative ways to improve processes or customer experience,” said Randstad Singapore’s associate director of human resources Martin Hill. 

GRADES CANNOT BE SOLE FACTOR FOR HIRING

The overemphasis on grades was touched on by Education Minister Ong Ye Kung in a recent episode of Talking Point, a CNA current affairs programme.

He said while it is “reasonable to ask for qualifications”, companies should not be listing down minimum grades for individual subjects unless the job requires particular subject knowledge.

Social mindsets need to shift to reflect this, he added.

READ: Mindset change needed on how society views exams: Ong Ye Kung

Recruitment experts agree saying that while academic transcripts can be a useful gauge, they cannot be the sole hiring factor for companies.

“Academic transcripts indicate the intellectual aptitude of an applicant. They are also reflective of the individual’s diligence, research ability, critical and analytical skills, and project management skills,” said managing director of recruitment specialists Robert Half Singapore Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard.

But he added that “theoretical knowledge is rarely a substitute for practical experience”, and “does not reflect a candidate’s passion, their growth potential, or their cultural alignment with the company”.

“Particularly as industries undergo massive digital transformation, companies will look to complement their automated processes with employees who offer a depth of human insight and soft skills which an academic transcript cannot necessarily capture,” he said.

But human resource experts said the majority of companies will continue to use academic qualifications as a yardstick especially when hiring fresh graduates as they fear having someone who is not suitably qualified for the job.

It is about companies’ “risk appetite”, said Michael Page’s Mr Khandelwal.

“If they have been successful with a particular recipe, they probably would be a bit more resistant to change.”