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Beyond paper credentials

THIS WEEK'S TOPIC When hiring executive staff, how open would you be, as an employer, to ditching altogether academic qualifications as an indicator of cognitive ability and potential? How would you assess an aspiring employee?

Max Loh

Asean and Singapore Managing Partner

Ernst & Young LLP

ACADEMIC rigour remains a relevant indicator of cognitive ability but does not fully reflect potential and performance. In a regulated profession like ours, professional qualifications are mandated but employers should acknowledge there are different yet equally valid pathways to achieve that.

If we accept that learning is key to unlocking the future growth potential of employees and by that extension, of the organisation, then employers should place a premium on demonstrable continual learning and development as a highly valued ethos.

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Increasingly, candidates should differentiate through mastery of skills seen through a combination of academic credentials and experiences, and employers should apply a skills-based hiring lens that considers both technical and soft skills, and alignment of personal and organisational values.

John Bittleston

Founder & Chair

Terrific Mentors International Pte Ltd

WHEN building and running companies I have always paid some attention to academic qualifications. They demonstrate a measure of discipline that is vital. I have never regarded them as the most important criteria for engaging a potential colleague.

Nor do I regard experience as nearly as important as many employers. A certain familiarity with the technology of the job is important but far less so than attitude. Attitude to work, to other people including customers, to the products/services we are selling, to the company and to success in general. These are the criteria I am often asked to interview potential employees for. They are what matter.

Victor Mills

Chief Executive

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce

WE'VE already done this in the Chamber five years ago because SICC champions competency-based recruitment. Academic qualifications, and things like age, race and gender are not hiring criteria. Instead, we focus on the person's competencies - their character, their values, their ability to communicate effectively orally and in writing - their skills and skill gaps and, above all, their potential.

We are more concerned with the application of character, experience and knowledge rather than the number of paper qualifications. We are more concerned with the person's ability to work as a member of a team than where they went to school or college.

Jerzy Szlosarek


Epsilon Telecommunications

IN today's knowledge economy, academic achievement is important in evaluating a candidate's skills and expertise, especially for specialised roles such as network engineer. However, a candidate's educational background should never be the definitive indicator of his or her ability in achieving career success. The rapidly changing digital landscape means that employers should consider intrinsic qualities like critical thinking, creativity and problem-solving skills.

From front desk to engineers, we want people who can learn. Sir Clive Woodward, England's former World Cup rugby coach, describes such people as "sponges." Teams of sponges are better than teams of super-talented rocks who won't learn.

Dileep Nair

Independent Director

Keppel DC REIT Mgt Pte Ltd

TOTALLY dismissing academic qualifications in recruitment would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A more holistic approach would be preferred. Good academic results do indicate proficiency in numeracy, literacy, particular disciplines, as well as the ability to persevere in a course of study. These attributes have to be balanced with other qualities such as curiosity, creativity, leadership, communication skills, and ability to work in a team.

Psychometric testing, assessment centres and various online assessment tools can be used to get a fix on these qualities. Often, though, there's no luxury of time and you have to use a well structured interview to judge the potential worth of the candidate and the person's overall suitability for the job.

Arkadiusz Czopor

Managing Director, Asia South


A CROWN does not make one a king. A title does not make one a leader. Respect, the cornerstone of effective leadership, needs to be earned from the people we lead. The right to lead also stems from an individual's dynamism and powers of analysis. At T-Systems Singapore, having a degree does not guarantee one entry to the company nor a managerial role automatically. Academic results are only one-third of the equation.

As an employer, we recruit based on the individual's competencies, rather than relying on paper qualifications alone. It is a HR conundrum we have to resolve. We complement paper qualifications with in-depth interviews but more importantly, the competency assessment lies in the individual's performance during the probation period. That is the acid test which he or she will have to ultimately pass.

Seah Kian Peng



TALENT acquisition is as much a science as it is an art as there are many factors, both measurable and unmeasurable, that determine a candidate's ability and potential in a modern workplace. For us, academic qualifications serve only as a guide.

The screening process we adopt for executive staff searches focuses keenly on experience, track record, and acumen coupled with a "can do" attitude, resourcefulness to get the job done, and a collaborative spirit to foster teamwork. These factors go beyond academic excellence and are essential indicators of talent that we look for at FairPrice.

Chris J Reed

CEO, Founder, Entrepreneur

Black Marketing, The Dark Art of Marketing

I DO not look at academic qualifications when employing people, never have. All that money you're wasting on that degree or MBA, I don't care. I value one thing above everything else - your personality.

I ask myself: Can I put you in front of a client and will you represent me and my brands in the best possible way? EQ, not IQ. If the answer is no, I do not care how many degrees you have or what your grades are. If you have no personality, there will be no job offer.

Singapore needs to move away from measuring success on qualifications and pouring dollars into more academic classes out of school when often these people have zero charisma or personality and cannot be client-facing. Focus on social education, interactive real life education. Teach social nuances, networking, confidence building, presenting, personality shaping, personal branding in the real world. Art, drama, music, media, creativity, travelling outside of Singapore, experiencing different cultures and actually going out there to talk to other people will shape your personality and make you a better employee - more than any academic qualification ever could.

EQ, not IQ.

Bindu Bhatia

Managing Director

Asia-Pacific, Carlson Wagonlit Travel

I DON'T think we'd stop looking at academic qualifications altogether, as they can be a valuable signal of an employee's ability and competence. That said, it's certainly not the only criterion we consider. Experience is important - and not necessarily of just the travel sector; we do hire people who've worked in other industries as they bring diverse skills, ideas and experiences. Cultural fit is another big factor - we want people who share our core organisational values.

Even if a candidate doesn't have the most impressive educational credentials, we can gauge their cognitive abilities by doing scenario-based 360-degree interviews and by asking targeted questions that speak to their leadership and business acumen as well. At the end of the day, we want to hire someone who's going to enjoy working at CWT, bring new ideas and fresh perspectives, be culturally attuned as we are a global organisation and be results-focused - not necessarily the person with the most degrees.

Toby Koh

Group Managing Director

Ademco Security Group

EIGHTEEN years ago, I hired a young polytechnic dropout who had just failed in his small business in distributing computer parts. Truth be told, I shortlisted him after reading about his entrepreneurial stint. Real entrepreneurial experience is something which cannot be taught in any university and is a valuable asset to any organisation. This person is now a key member of my Group Leadership Team.

Academic qualification is only one of the factors to consider in the hunt for talent. Ademco puts great weightage on experience, ability to think dynamically, personality, character, collaborative mindset, empathy, great communications skills and many other vital soft skills. Nothing like a face-to-face meeting to understand and evaluate a person. We also use psychometric tools as an added indicator.

We have uncovered many gems who have strengthened our team simply because we keep an open mind in our talent search.

Magesvaran Suranjan


P&G Asia-Pacific and P&G India, Middle East, Africa

FOR each aspiring P&G employee, we look at a combination of character, leadership and aptitude, along with their compatibility with our company culture and aspirations. Besides technical expertise, we also evaluate candidates on emotional intelligence and learning agility.

These are the guiding principles that define our selection process for each position, no matter a candidate's background, academic or otherwise.

We believe how well a candidate fared at school is but one indicator of potential; the school of hard knocks is just as important as a form of assessment. Through experiential programmes such as the CEO Challenge, which simulates what new hires would do on their first assignment at P&G, we evaluate potential hires on how they solve real-world business challenges.

Tony Lombardo


Asia Lendlease

THE landscape for work and talent is changing rapidly. The workplace of the future will demand non-academic attributes, such as the willingness to learn and the agility to adapt in today's fast-changing world. Together with a strong emotional quotient (EQ), resilience and collaborative spirit, such intangible qualities have proven to be better predictor of performance and success.

At Lendlease, we have seen that placing employees with the right skill sets, capabilities and personalities into suitable positions bring out the best in them. We use behavioural-based interviews to assess people's learning agility and EQ when promoting them into leadership roles. Companies that effectively maximise the potential of their talent will be in the best position to thrive in the diverse and global talent market.

Tan Mui Huat

President and CEO

Asia, International SOS

OUR business of protecting our clients' mobile workforce from health and security threats requires our employees to work 24/7 and in diverse, often difficult environments and complex circumstances. Our clients depend on us to support them and respond quickly, especially in a crisis where lives are at stake. Due to the nature of our work, we hire, develop and progress people who display our core values of passion, expertise, respect and care. We value grit, perseverance and strong learning agility.

These attributes can be assessed by understanding how potential candidates overcome personal, circumstantial or physical adversities to achieve success as defined by themselves and not by societal norms. At International SOS, we have had the honour of employing some of the best minds including over 1,400 doctors, but we remain open to embracing those who take unconventional paths towards excellence, be it in education or experience.

Lin Chua

Co-founder and CFO


AT Fundnel, having a strong vision to change the private investment status quo means that we need to go beyond academic qualifications. While our hiring process takes into account relevant skills and job experience, attitude and culture fit matter even more.

Attitude determines willingness to learn and adaptability - vital traits in the startup world and today's ever-evolving work landscape. A relevant job skill today might quickly become obsolete tomorrow. These traits are also crucial when an employee needs to fulfil multiple roles across the team - commonplace in a startup.

Culture fit ensures that a new hire has the same passion and drive to succeed as the rest of the team, while sharing common traits such as being accountable and honest. A well-aligned team will be able to move forward quickly to create long-term success and realise the organisation's vision.

Cindy Leong


Relationship Studio

IN our business, the ability to build relationships with our stakeholders is very important. Thus, apart from intelligence and cognitive ability, we are always looking for how much EQ - Emotional and Empathy Quotient - a person possesses. The person has to be "people intelligent" and not only "book intelligent".

We are also looking for talent with an internal locus of control. Someone who is not a believer that he/she can "make things happen" will be less of a problem solver and will be relatively less effective at work. We also look for talent who are highly self-initiated and motivated. They are always up to something, curious about something, and working on a self-initiated project. And honestly, these traits are caught, and not taught in school.

Maren Schweizer


Schweizer World

I HAVE achieved great traction when I followed the 3As. We were able to take our 169-year old family business Schweizer Electronic to the next level. The three As are: attitude, attitude and attitude. How much does the talent's attitude fit with your team's, the "current" and "future" company, as well as your company's purpose. These are more important than any paper qualifications.

As a C-Level executive, start with yourself and spend time to create a companywide, leader-driven AAA environment, instead of asking your HR Talent team to do so. Matching your company and talent's personal mission will bring about talent attraction and retention.

Ray Ferguson


Caber Partners

BUSINESSES reward risk. We all do due diligence on a business before investing.

Likewise, HR and management need to step up and dig deep before recruiting and be objective and pragmatic. That means it can be perfectly fine to hire for roles where the candidate may not have all the paper qualifications that would normally apply.

Asking candidates to demonstrate skills they have rather than relying on the certificates bestowed upon them is the best way to hire smartly. Sure, it is time-consuming but anything as important as growing your business requires time and effort.

Gary Steele

Chief Operating Officer


WE credit much of our success to hiring the right people, not the one with the best piece of paper, as having the right team is the most enabling decision we make for our business. We believe you can always teach job-specific skills and tacit corporate knowledge, and that is why core to our recruitment philosophy is transferable skills, personality and shared values.

With transferable skills, new hires will be able to hit the ground running as they are quick to adapt and often add a fresh view and understanding to the role. We look for people with dynamism and commitment who like working with people.

Being an entrepreneurial company it's not always possible to pay top dollar, but we can express our purpose in an understandable, engaging way, that allows people to react and identify with it. People who share our passion win over the book smarts.

Karl Hamann

Chief Executive Officer

QBE Insurance (Singapore)

TODAY'S business environment calls for multi-dimensional skillsets and adaptability that academic excellence alone can't deliver. When considering a candidate, their work performance, global experience and history of driving positive business outcomes are what truly matter to us - we need to know they can thrive as part of our global workforce and results-focused culture. Our assessment of candidates involves informal chats, competency-based interviews and technical evaluations to help us get the full picture on their fit.

Their academic results are just one part of our thinking, and certainly not the overriding factor. Diversity and inclusion are also top priorities, because teams from diverse backgrounds garner a better understanding of our customer, shareholder and community needs.

Jessie Xia

Managing Director, Southeast Asia


AT ThoughtWorks, passion, determination, willingness to learn, and a good attitude often supersede academic qualifications especially for lateral moves. Academic qualifications provide a baseline for skills but in a fast-moving industry we believe that if an individual has the passion for tech they will continue to learn and grow individually and with the organisation.

This is reflected in our interview processes which ask candidates to show (rather than talk about) their achievements. We put them through case assessments that help showcase their skills beyond coding, such as lateral thinking and problem-solving.

Another focus area is to assess cultural alignment which is a critical evaluation criterion at ThoughtWorks. We have hired many passionate individuals who don't fit the standard mould of a developer and we have seen them become successful consultants who have added great value to our team.

Goh Puay Cheh

Executive Director

The Institute of Internal Auditors Singapore

TALENT is a top concern of the internal audit profession as outlined in "2018 Top Risks faced by Chief Audit Executives" published by IIA Global. In this digital disruption era, it is increasingly difficult to find candidates with the skills necessary to fill the evolving role of an internal auditor and address new and existing risks. Paper qualifications are only one of the key indicators of someone's capability and potential.

There needs to be a mindset change in hiring and an openness to assess talent based on skills and performance. For an aspiring employee, learning agility - learn, unlearn and relearn - is the key to succeeding in an uncertain environment.

Johan de Villiers

Managing Director

ABB Singapore and South-east Asia

WHEN it comes to executive positions, academic qualifications are not the be all and end all. In fact, past academic performance is not necessarily a good indicator of future outcomes when it comes to innovation and leadership.

While qualifications do show a person's ability to work hard, learn, understand and analyse, we believe that executives also require social and emotional intelligence, individual stamina and energy, emotional involvement and interest to successfully lead people. Judging employees exclusively on their qualifications means we will exclude many others who have developed strong leadership skills during the course of their careers. To overcome bias we developed a position profile for executive positions against which we assess potential candidates. Academic qualification is only one element of the profile and not a disqualifier.

At ABB an inclusive culture goes beyond executives roles, and our desired culture is one where differences are welcomed, and where everyone has the opportunity to develop and contribute in the best way they can, regardless of ethnicity, gender or even experience, education or views.

We think that diversity will help bring out the best in our employees. Whether it's increasing the number of women in senior positions, flexible working for all employees or mid-career re-skilling and education, we believe that addressing inclusivity is not only the right thing to do, but also (as many studies have proved) because diversity results in better business performance.

Gopi Mirchandani


NN Investment Partners Singapore

AS an investment management firm, we believe that diversity of thought can contribute positively to decision-making in investments and we value a collective culture capable of balancing different opinions, backgrounds and characteristics. When hiring we prefer candidates who can demonstrate resilience and are not afraid to challenge the status quo in the pursuit of improvement.

Academic qualifications may have a place in screening applicants for roles that require specialist skills but it should not be exhaustive and it is also definitely not indicative of the softer skills and business acumen needed in certain jobs. Our ambition as an employer is to have an unbiased work environment - independent from social classifications like gender, class and education - only then are employees motivated to develop and able to put their talent to work.

Magnus Grimeland

Founder and CEO


AT Antler, we value individuals with the right talent, ambition and vision. An aspiring employee needs to be well-versed in their field of expertise and possess the right drive and tenacity to succeed.

While academic qualification is one indicator, even more important for us are intrinsic abilities such as problem solving, drive, tenacity and ability to inspire change.

Jayaprakash Jagateesan


RHT Holdings

IN a fast-changing business environment, organisations need to be nimble and embrace alternative approaches to hiring, breaking away from traditional moulds in order to attract the best talent, remain competitive and stay ahead.

I believe learning has to be constant; it doesn't end with your highest degree.

While academic qualifications continue to be a trusted indicator of knowledge acquired in the past, there's more to aspiring employees than just the certificates they bring with them.

As workplace demands become increasingly fluid, we need to focus on the attitude and aptitude of aspiring employees to ensure the organisation has the right talent to face tomorrow's challenges.

Ian Lee

Regional Head, Asia-Pacific

The Adecco Group

BUILDING an inclusive labour market based on "talent without labels" is an important aspect of tackling inequality. We may not forego academic qualifications altogether but they should not be a barrier to entry in the job market either. Instead, we should use them for what they are - one of the many evaluating criteria in assessing an aspiring employee.

Many companies use academic qualifications as a proxy for merit and attach a special "prestige" to certain institutions or degrees, which should not be the case. There are alternate means available to assess merit such as psychometric testing or performance-based tests, many of which are available as software-as-a-service. Hiding the university that an aspiring employee graduated from is an easy and effective way to prevent the "prestige" bias.

Companies need to develop new models for recruitment and sharing CVs that focus on skills and talents and leverage HR technologies to make their hiring practices more inclusive.

Paul Henaghan


Data Centre Solutions, APJ, Dell EMC

ACADEMIC achievements serve as a foundation to determine if a candidate possesses the discipline to learn, but choosing to base hiring decisions solely on this would be limiting. At least seven in 10 business leaders realise that employees now need to learn beyond textbooks and be equipped with real-world knowledge. As technology brings about new realities of work to accommodate a broader range of expertise in terms of adaptability and creativity, candidates can be assessed in more multi-dimensional ways such as experience, personality and suitability for the role.

At Dell, diversity and inclusion is embedded in our hiring practices, and expanding our team capabilities beyond just academic performance is important. We believe a team with diverse strengths, thoughts and ideas impact positively on our decision making process and help drive better business outcomes.

Lim Soon Hock

Managing Director


THE global MNCs I worked for in the earlier decades always have this policy in recruitment: "In lieu of educational qualifications, an applicant with a requisite number of years of experience will also be favourably considered". As a policy, this line must be included in all advertisements or postings for job positions.

These MNCs treat skills, experience and expertise as an alternative pathway for potential employees to join the companies, in addition to educational qualifications. It is on par with academic qualifications. It explains why many of these MNCs are successful, as those with the requisite skills, expertise and knowledge can start to contribute from day one.

I prescribe and subscribe to this belief in all the companies that I have been involved in, even today. From my experience, the private sector is more receptive to hiring on the basis of skills and experience. It is heartening to note that the government is now promoting this in a big way. At job interviews, we speak a common language when a candidate has the right skills and experience - the ultimate test.

Albert Phuay Yong Hen

Chairman and Group CEO

Excelpoint Technology

AT Excelpoint, we identify relevant qualifications and qualities that really matter in a role, because we believe everyone has different abilities and is able to contribute in areas that make good use of his/her talents and interests.

For instance, a quarter of our 700-strong workforce comprises engineering-trained staff, who are dedicated to providing best-in-class design services and research and development solutions to our customers in the electronics and technology sectors. As their fields of work are highly specialised, we feel that it is fundamental for them to be well-equipped with relevant skill sets so that they can perform their technical roles efficiently.

Apart from academic credentials, we also recognise the importance of soft skills and experience. When assessing an aspiring candidate, we also look out for industry referrals, extracurricular achievements and personality - factors that show initiative, adaptability, an aptitude for achievement, passion, commitment, and people, problem-solving and analytical skills. Both academic and non-academic factors need to come together to help us assess the candidate's overall cultural fit and suitability for the job.

Through this practice, we have built a sustainable high-performance culture of engaged and innovative employees over the past 30 years.

Joanne Wong

Senior Director

APJ, LogRhythm

BEING in an industry that faces new types of threats daily, we definitely need to look beyond paper qualifications. The hackers we face do not rely on academic knowledge to successfully penetrate systems. They learn from their own experience and their self-taught skills make it challenging for cyber security experts to anticipate their moves.

This is why LogRhythm looks for candidates who have deep knowledge of the cyber threat landscape and are willing to pick up on emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning as they are integral to our solutions. These attributes keep us ahead of the game and allow us to mitigate any impending threats.

Matthieu Imbert-Bouchard

Managing Director

Robert Half Singapore

FROM our experience of connecting Singaporean job seekers with employment opportunities, we recognise the significant benefits of strong academic qualifications. That said, specific industry experience, product knowledge and project-based experience can also be key determining factors in the hiring decision. With the technology sector continuing to advance beyond the formal curriculum of educational institutions, this is particularly true for IT professionals.

Additionally, soft skills that are learned through real-world experience in the workplace are highly valued by employers - professionals who are adaptable, proactive, creative and have good interpersonal communication skills, have a competitive advantage in Singapore's dynamic employment market.

Martin Mackay

President and GM, Asia-Pacific & Japan

CA Technologies

AT CA Technologies, we believe in the power of ideas and their ability to change the world. Rather than just academic qualifications, great ideas usually stem from an individual's propensity to dream big, challenge conventions and embrace diversity of thoughts. We believe that every employee has the potential to bring great ideas to the table regardless of their academic background.

This belief is backed by our proprietary research which shows that, in sales, there is no correlation between academic success and commercial success. That is why we have a wide spectrum of initiatives to help our employees to excel in their careers - including the CA Accelerator, an internal incubator programme that fosters a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, and our "Bring What You Bring" programme which encourages staff to bring their intelligence, their savvy, their opinions, and of course their own personal brand of brilliance.

We also look for traits such as resilience, creativity and customer-centricity, core values that form the DNA of CA. When assessing potential executive hires, we must not only consider traditional qualities that will make them great assets to our company and our customers, but also if they can embody what CA stands for while being inspirations to fellow colleagues.

Joel Ko Hyun Sik

Co-founder and CEO

Marvelstone Ventures

I THINK that academic qualifications tend to be overestimated in evaluating a potential employee's cognitive ability and potential. In the real world, I have experienced many cases of mismatch between academic qualifications and employee performance.

Recently, I have been focussing more on what the candidate has experienced post-graduation, though there are admittedly many unclear and unmeasurable factors involved. Understanding someone's overall views and career experience, rather than being fixated on academic qualifications, can prove more informative in gauging their suitability or alignment for a job.

Sebastian Mueller

Chief Operating Officer


THE Education Minister raised an excellent point in that the meaningful inequality to fight is inequality in opportunity. Traditional hiring practices, especially those focusing on formal education over real skills, have been a barrier to many.

In our own hiring, we look at many factors other than academic qualification. The most important ones include cultural fit, personal motivation, interest in continuous learning and adaptability. This is of course besides the core skills needed for the position itself.

At the pace at which the economic landscape is changing, we have to build a workforce that is diverse and capable of adapting.

Jayajyoti Sengupta

Head, Asia-Pacific


AT Cognizant, we believe in hiring for skill, attitude and potential, not just for academic background. Globally, we are faced with a real dearth of STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) talent. And with today's rapidly changing technology, skills are getting dated faster than ever before. Project lifecycles are shrinking because businesses have to be agile and adapt.

Therefore, companies have to look beyond STEM education alone and find candidates who have a global mindset, think strategically, and the ability to stay ahead of the digital curve.

Cognizant has invested in building one of Asia's best recruitment programmes for non-degree holders. Our skill development and reskilling programmes take talent of all backgrounds and train them to meet business needs.

Wong Heng Chew

Country President

Fujitsu Singapore

IN today's digital society, and the need for an agile workforce, a highly diverse workforce is critical. Guided by the Fujitsu Way - which embodies the philosophy, values and the principles that we follow in our daily activities - we respect diversity and support individual growth among our employees.

We value an aspiring employee's attitude towards work just as much as having the right aptitude to perform. As an equal opportunity employer, we look for candidates with the best overall fit with the company - by going beyond academic qualifications, to include relevant skillsets and work experience, as well as good cognitive skills.

Olive Tai

Co-founder and Managing Director &

I DON'T see myself ditching academic qualifications altogether when assessing prospective employees. I need people for accounting, legal and marketing, for instance, and these areas do need the relevant educational background. I can't just hire someone based on a sunny disposition in an accounting role when he or she studied up to only Secondary Two, for instance. In many operational areas, simply having staff with the right attitude just won't do.

Having said that, a lot of my employees are hired based firstly on work experience but I make sure too, that these staff do have some basic education in the first place. I must be frank and say that it is tough to assess aspiring employees - we bosses often take risks in hiring people. I am fortunate - most of my staff have been with me for many years.

They started from the ground up, and work their way up via promotions. This is the best way to assess a person thoroughly, by observing his or her actual behaviour, choices and decisions. To me, personality and character are the most important traits.

Joshua Yim


Achieve Group

THERE is a saying in our recruitment trade that the mileage of any qualifications for candidates lasts only 7 to 10 years. Their future career mobility would be highly dependent on their specific contributions at work, achievements and even accolades won, than just paper credentials. As much as I must agree on the benefit of disciplined training in building mental capabilities through formal education, what companies ultimately want are leaders who make things happen and produce spectacular results.

Just look at the many outstanding entrepreneurs who dropped out of college, such as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Did they not exhibit a strategic mindset, forward-looking vision and boldness to change that have impacted the world with business success ?

Vipin Kalra

Chief Executive Officer

BankBazaar International

ALTHOUGH we do look for basic academic qualifications when hiring executive staff, it is never the sole criterion for evaluating a potential employee.

As a fast-growing business, we believe our talent is one of our biggest assets, and we take pride in building a workforce with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and skills. The most important thing we look for is belief in the BankBazaar vision and a passion to transform the financial services industry, something no level of academic qualification can replace. As our co-founders say, we want to build a team of people who work with us, not for us.

Chris Burton

Managing Director, Singapore and Malaysia

Vistra Group

AS someone who started work at 18 without pursuing higher education (a result of teenage angst!), I have a strong view that young people should be viewed on potential and personality, and not on pure academic performance. I would like to think it did me no harm, and I was able to obtain specific industry qualifications later.

Obtaining a degree can be an excellent indicator of cognitive ability and the discipline to apply oneself over a prolonged period. On the other hand, there are increasing numbers of studies that show there is little long-term economic benefit in obtaining degrees from lesser quality educational establishments. In addition, the acquisition of knowledge in itself will not be a prerequisite in the jobs of the future, because AI will very shortly be able to retain and apply knowledge more efficiently and effectively than humans can today. The successful workers of the future will be people-oriented individuals, who are able to get on with others and build meaningful, productive relationships with them. While techniques can be learned, in most cases these qualities cannot be taught, and the most effective individuals will be those who display these naturally.

So yes, my view would be to take a risk on keen, engaging young people and give them the opportunity to grow and develop in your company. You may be very surprised with the outcome. But this is indeed a risk. Many hirers will not stick their neck out - and take a lazy look at qualifications only.

Rathakrishnan Govind

CEO, LSBF Global

London School of Business and Finance

THE Singapore workplace has been traditionally paper qualification-oriented (especially on degrees from top universities). This recent move to promote alternative routes to good career opportunities is welcomed. Better late than never. As an education institution, LSBF should regard paper qualifications as important, but in our actual hiring practice, we don't.

I consider three fundamental factors in our non-technical hiring - attitude, skills competency, and critical thinking. While none of these actually hinges on paper qualification, people do gain management tools and technical expertise from higher education. A person without higher education but who possesses the relevant skills, attitude and thinking skills would be valuable to any organisation.

Bazul Ashhab

Managing Partner

Oon & Bazul LLP

A UNIVERSITY or postgraduate education is an assumed acceptance of an individual's ability to understand and execute instructions.

Leaving aside specialised professional and highly technical job descriptions, we at Oon & Bazul, are open to hiring executive staff without university degrees. As an example we promoted an employee to an HR executive role when she showed passionate interest in dealing with HR-relevant matters. We will be sending her for courses to acquire relevant skill sets. With Artificial Intelligence coming into play and the rapidly changing business environment, we recognise the greater opportunity for social mobility among our employees.

We are in the process of launching a robust HR system to spot candidates with entrepreneurial spirit, people skills and ability to understand the objectives behind the task and tackle problems with a solution-driven mindset.

As an employer, I believe people are the most important asset in an organisation. The success of a company depends on policies which will bring the best out of people. The hope and prospect of realising potential is the biggest motivating factor. This will increase social mobility. The key to achieving this is to take a root and branch approach to identifying and appraising resources without preconceived notions.

Adam A Lyle

Co-Founder and Executive Chairman

Padang & Co

YES is the short answer. As an innovation-driven company we always hire for mindset, attitude and passion for working with startups and making a difference. Obviously as a small company we want experience but we will still hire if they lack exact experience but have potential and meet the passion factor. Sure, we see if someone has completed study as it demonstrates discipline and associated skills acquired but it's not compulsory.

We are committed to working with government and industry to change the old approach to encourage organisations to hire based on capabilities rather than paper qualifications. We recently ran the SkillsFuture Singapore Hackathon 2018 where one of the challenges asked teams to develop new ways of acknowledging and conferring credentials, supplementing formal accreditation systems. The change is well under way.

Dolly Goh


Singapore National Co-operative Federation

IN today's evolving HR practices, traits like positive attitude, team spirit, resilience, conscientiousness and willingness to learn are becoming more critical than just academic excellence. These are the very attributes that SNCF looks for in addition to having the passion to make a difference in the community. Skill sets can be learnt, but such attributes take time to be internalised. Thus, even when selecting our SNCF Co-operative Scholarship Award recipients, we seek individuals who embody the co-operative values we champion - self-help, mutual help, equality, care for community and cooperation - and are fuelled to do social good. Academic excellence is not the primary selection criterion.

David Leong

Managing Director

PeopleWorldwide Consulting

AS a recruiter and employer, screening candidates' competencies, capacities and capabilities takes many forms. Academic certifications is just one of them and only a pre-qualifier. From experience, I choose candidates not because of good degrees, MBAs or PhDs but on their suitability for the role based on experience and demonstrable performance outcome. Interviews are mostly conversational where candidates are assessed based on relevance of responses relating to experiences, skills and habits. At the end, it's the gut feel of the interviewer that will give the candidate the job.

Paper qualifications stay on paper; the real worth of a person is the skills and ability to perform on the job.

Academic certifications are only a reference and guide, and not deterministic for job selection.

Robin C Lee

Group COO

Bok Seng Group

IT would not be practical to totally ditch academic qualifications as an indicator of cognitive ability, though I am partial to doing so when it comes to assessing the potential of an employee. As much as we would like to give everyone a spot at the starting line, for most executive roles, knowledge in certain areas such as legal, marketing, business analytics, finance and accounting has to be academically acquired. However, this is simply a prerequisite that will only get their foot in the door but does not guarantee success unless one has the right work attitude, interpersonal skill and continues to upgrade and upskill themselves to stay relevant. To me, an aspiring employee would be someone who is extremely inquisitive, embraces change, always on the prowl to find ways of doing thing better. He or she will also not be afraid of taking on responsibilities that allow them to grow and expand their horizons.

Edwin Khew Teck Fook


The Institution of Engineers, Singapore

IES projects the future employment of technically competent persons will be a mix of engineers and highly skill technicians or master craftsmen. This is to cater to the demand for a wide range of skills in advanced manufacturing, digitalisation and Smart Nation planning and implementation. To support the growth of Singapore's various initiatives, we need to recognise that technical and "soft" skills are inextricably linked and progressive pathways for not only engineers but technicians must be provided so that they can become highly-skilled master craftsmen and with training and experience they can become engineers, managers and C-suite executives. This involves establishing professional certification for technicians to be certified and recognised and IES is developing this pathway.

Zaheer K Merchant

Regional Director (Singapore & Europe)

QI Group of Companies

IT remains difficult to completely eradicate academic qualifications as the preliminary indicator of cognitive ability and potential, at least as a starting basic requirement for hiring in specific roles. That said, we are actively pursuing a merit- and performance-based system on top of academic qualifications, and which we think will separate the savvy and all-rounded candidate from the traditionally book-smart candidate. We will subject candidates to a series of performance-based tests, aptitude tests, evaluation of work knowledge and of attachment and job-specific knowledge acquired. We recognise that internships and apprenticeship learnings are brilliant gauges of ability within specific skillsets. Then internally, the continuing learning process and aptitude become key. We believe that skills and good aptitude are of utmost importance. The candidate who can hone and appreciate both of these will be among the cream of the crop.

Andrew Chan

Founder & CEO

ACI HR Solutions

ACADEMIC excellence is essential in ensuring the candidate is well equipped with the relevant skill sets for certain roles in an organisation. However, I am a firm believer in hiring on attitude and training for skills. From what I've observed, most employers are still making hiring decisions on skills alone, with too little attention focused on assessing a candidate's attitude. A positive and learning attitude goes an even longer way. Having a pleasant demeanour shows that you are easy to work with, follow instructions well and will potentially be of a greater value to the company.

Reuter Chua


ACCA Singapore

A RECENT research report by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) titled "Purpose and the profession" states that for professional accountancy firms, barriers in the hiring processes, particularly of young people, must be lowered to remove biases that can affect the success of candidates. Employers need to be clear about what they want from candidates, and make the application process open, clear and fair. But ultimately, this is all about making sure recruitment unlocks the potential of candidates, and which allows employers to make informed decisions about who they hire and why.

Stephen Wang

Managing Director

Talent Plus, Asia Pacific

ACADEMIC qualifications are not barriers. The six "I"s come to mind when assessing a candidate's talent : "Intensity" or passion to excel in their field; "Industriousness" - competition and work ethic; "Integrity" - values that they uphold and trust; "Interpersonal" skills to inspire and influence people; and whether they come with an "Innovation" and learning mindset; plus the "Intuition" to anticipate and listen to the needs of others. These are all indicators of a person's drive, intellectual wisdom and people acumen. While academic credentials are earned, a person's natural leadership skills are even better predictors of future growth.

Henry Tan

Managing Director

Nexia TS

IN hiring executive staff in our accounting firm, if there are regulatory requirements of certain certificates or licences, we will comply and insist on them. However these are not purely academic but skill-based. Currently we do insist on having graduates in our team and there are a number of pathways for staff to progress in the firm. For example, we have diploma holders joining us and doing ACCA or ISCA programmes whilst working, who progress up the ranks to become managers and above. Also there are others who may come in without the requisite certificates; they pursue the necessary qualifications to be accepted by the relevant bodies. The key is upgrading and to have the relevant skills.

Annie Yap


AYP HR Group

AS a business leader in the HR field, it is glaringly apparent that paper qualifications do not truly reflect ability and potential. Yet, education continues to be, unfairly and inaccurately, the primary benchmark entrenched in hiring processes. Granted, this inclination is understandable, as certain jobs do require a bachelor's degree or higher. But we have to recognise the insidious effects on social mobility, the breeding of negative sentiments and longstanding societal implications. Even for the workforce as a whole, this can lead to inefficiencies such as over-skilling, skills imbalances and low responsiveness in the labour market. For a holistic assessment, other benchmarks can be employed: Professional courses, overseas study-work stints, specific skills assessments, simulations and work-readiness.

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