Opening doors to drop-outs

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on April 25, 2018 Published on April 25, 2018

Degree no bar   -  iSTOCK/ALEXSL

There is growing acceptance of candidates without a formal degree in the job space

Trawl through job ads and most will lay out qualifications required prominently – a degree being the bare minimum necessity. But in some circles, at least, hiring managers are opening white-collar job doors to drop-outs. This is true especially of startups.

Meet Synup, a five-year-old Bangalore-based SaaS-based marketing technology firm that has several college drop-outs on its rolls. “We are degree-agnostic,” says Ashwin Ramesh, Synup’s CEO and founder, who is himself a drop-out, having quit his BBA course midway.

Ramesh had already been running an enterprise when he joined the course, and felt the professors, who probably had no business experience, were teaching irrelevant stuff.

Had he had his way, he would not have bothered with finishing 12th standard either, says Ramesh, describing how he tried hard to fail his boards as he felt he would be forced to join college if he got through. Since the age of 14, Ramesh had been earning by doing data entry jobs and by the time he joined college was running a thriving business with 25 people. That explains his outlook on hiring drop-outs. “We only look for people with passion and ability to build great products when we hire,” he says.

He counts among his valuable resources software engineers Kaushik ASP and Nooruzzaman, inbound marketer Harsha Annadurai, and operations manager Santhosh Gopady. The first three are drop-outs. The fourth is a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who switched professions! All four say they have learnt more outside the formal education system than within.

Take Kaushik, who writes code at Synup. The Hyderabad-based lad had taken a gap year after his 12th boards to prepare better for the engineering entrance. But as he already knew most of the software languages, he started working on website development projects and began to earn money. He found college dissatisfying, and eventually quit.

He landed up in Bangalore and began interning at a startup, moving to Synup through a friend’s referral. Wasn’t there parental pressure to complete his degree? “Yes, some. Because I was the older kid. And I would have been the first engineer in the family,” he says. “But they understood,” he adds. Moreover, he says, “There is an intrinsic high demand for programmers, so perhaps it is easier to land tech jobs without a degree.”

Dropping out on the rise

Anaggh Desai, founder, AD Consults, thinks dropping out is becoming a common occurrence today. He says, “Many parents are allowing children to follow their hearts today. It is no longer a question of how will you live if you do not earn .” But Desai believes only those from cushioned backgrounds or those with no options at all are dropping out.

D Prasanth Nair, Managing Partner of InHelm Leadership Solutions, says he has seen three kinds of drop-outs in formal employment – those driven by some interest who quit studying to start an enterprise, those who couldn’t continue studies for family or economic reasons, and those taking a break from studies but who may go back to college.

Annadurai of Synup signals a fourth, emerging, scenario – those who intern with startups in their second year of college, and do so well they land a tempting job offer and decide to quit studies. Especially when they realise they are in the wrong course. As Annadurai says, “I was studying electronics, but am now doing digital marketing.” He feels that students are still not researching enough before they join college and end up studying something they are not interested in.

Certainly more people than ever are boldly dropping out when they find the course they signed up for is far from what they expected. But the question is – are recruiters biting? And are they treated on equal footing with those with degrees?

According to Desai, “It is getting to be a common occurrence in Retail, IT support, Administration and Logistics where many departments are staffed with college or school drop-outs, but have an experience of managing people and front-facing at that.”

Kamal Karanth, co-founder, Xpheno, a specialist staffing firm, believes old economy companies still don’t break the rules. “In services companies, field sales-oriented roles is where drop-outs are considered. But it is still very much a taboo to have non-graduates considered for key roles,” he says. Some companies may take drop-outs on contract and not as full-time employees.

“Sometimes after interviewing them and finding them ahead of pedigreed candidates, large firms and MNCs still reject them citing organisation policies,” he says.

Pros and cons

Hiring drop-outs can have several advantages. As Prasanth says, “They are driven by a need to prove themselves and are passionate towards what drives them – so firms which hire them can leverage their high energy. Also, they bring in out-of-the-box ideas, well beyond the textbook way of looking at things.”

Desai feels that drop-outs “tend to stick to one company more in support roles. Compare this with counter or delivery staff that would jump for a 5 per cent increase.”

Karanth believes drop-outs have a gutsy approach to work and don’t fear failure. “It means they stretch the boundaries and get things done” he says. However, he warns: “When mixed with high-profile people, some go into their shells. Some, due to lack of sophistication, are unable to grow beyond a point and tend to remain at the bottom of the pyramid for longer.”

Often, there is lack of acceptance. The Indian psyche is still very degree-conscious. But Prasanth says organisations can leverage drop-outs by deploying them in areas that motivate and interest them, designing a career plan for them that does not place them at a disadvantage, and also creating ways to help them complete their studies in case they want to.

Ask Noor at Synup if he feels at any disadvantage on the job and he is quick to deny this. He points how he started out in marketing at Synup but has switched to writing code, all through self-learning.

“You have better study resources on the Net. Especially tech tutorials,” he says. As for career growth, he feels a degree only helps in opening doors faster at the entry level. Going ahead, it will be experience that talks.

In an ideal world, yes. But as we wrote in the last issue of People@Work, resume snobbery does exist. As Karanth points out, “You can’t blame them (recruiters) as they are spoilt for choices with so much pedigree talent at oversupply.”

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Published on April 25, 2018
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