Qualifications, credentials, and experience remain vital considerations when assessing candidate suitability for a key role. We’re not here to debate that. What we ARE here to do is to propose a rethink about what constitutes applicable (read: relevant!) qualifications, credentials, and experience. Because what you really need in your candidates today, can’t necessarily be measured by traditional means. What you need are people with lifelong commitments to learning, the ability to easily and quickly adapt, growth mindsets, and a fluent command of modern tools and technological advances.

People with those profiles come from all directions. Certainly some are Computer Science majors, engineers, and mathematicians. Some have data backgrounds, coding skills, and apps in the app stores to their credit. Some come from Harvard, Stanford, MIT. But guess what? Some are art majors, musicians, and writers. Some have social media and content marketing experience. Some came out of bootcamps and online degree programs. Some are in healthcare, or finance, or HR. Some stopped their educations after high school, and learned to code on their own. Some come from retail, hospitality, or the restaurant industry. Some are veterans. The point is, from all these fields and more come technologically adept, creative, innovative individuals who bring flair, imagination, commitment, and self-motivation to the table.

Having said all the above about alternative backgrounds, we’re not saying you should immediately run out and hire a group of ballet dancers, DJs, language poets, and steampunk sculptors to build your new IT department. If your company has tech needs, you’re going to want developers, engineers, and data scientists. What we’re saying, is that you shouldn’t necessarily eliminate those with alternative backgrounds, because it’s quite likely you’ll cut yourself off from landing those truly elusive diamonds-in-the-rough.

Studies have in fact shown that teams comprised of individuals with different backgrounds often perform much better than comparatively mono-dimensional groups. A 2014 Mckinsey study found that diverse teams can stimulate innovation and lead to financial gain for a company. In fact, companies who have embraced many forms of diversity are 30% more likely to see profits above industry standards. Deloitte echoed these findings in a research report entitled, “Waiter, Is that Inclusion in My Soup?”. The study found that businesses with high levels of inclusion saw an 80% improvement in business performance.  As Dr. Stephen Covey suggested years ago, “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

Diversity has obviously been a very hot-button topic for some time now, particularly in tech, but in this case, we’re actually talking less about the “traditional” measures of diversity (gender and race, for example), and more about educational backgrounds. How people learn, where they learn, what they learn. The truth is, the lack of a traditional university degree on a resume is still grounds for getting tossed onto the “No” pile at a lot of companies.

Fortunately, that’s changing. Smart, innovative companies are quickly learning there are simply better, and more effective ways to assess candidate suitability. Ultimately, it’s not about diversity or a lack of diversity, it’s simply about being open to the truth of where your best candidates are likely to come from. At Udacity, we try and provide an opportunity for everyone, no matter what their background. And in turn, we aim to send graduates out into the world who have genuine confidence, and the projects, portfolios, and experiences to back that confidence up. Our hiring partners know this, and they know what our graduates bring to the table. These hiring partnerships are mutually beneficial. Our graduates earn a legitimate opportunity to show what they’re made of, and our partners get first look at some of the most extraordinary candidates out there.

This model is becoming the norm, and the world is the better for it. So when next you’re reviewing resumes, don’t be so quick to throw the steampunk sculptor on the “No” pile. Check to see if they’ve got a Nanodegree credential first!