HRM Perspectives: Mismatching College Degrees and Careers

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 8
Words: 2054
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: College


  1. Introduction
  2. Reasons for Working in Fields and Industries Differing from Areas of Study
  3. Graduates’ Reasons not to Develop Careers in Fields Related to Their Majors
  4. Adaptation of HR Managers’ Practices to the Situation of Mismatching College Degrees and Positions
  5. Employee Orientation in Addressing Employees’ and Companies’ Needs
  6. Summary


In this chapter, an overview of existing research on the problem of education-job mismatch is provided with respect to the UK context and global tendencies. The purpose of the literature review is to present researchers’ ideas and the results of recent studies on why college graduates often work in industries and fields that are not related to their majors and degrees. Recently, the problem of the education-job mismatch in the United Kingdom and globally has received considerable attention because it is directly connected with the specifics of the labour market, with economic, social, and educational trends, and with changes in human resource management (HRM) practices to address the mismatch. This chapter introduces the findings of recent studies on the topic to provide a general overview of what researchers have determined to be the key issues.

Reasons for Working in Fields and Industries Differing from Areas of Study

Currently, the education-job mismatch is a well-established phenomenon in the literature on HRM, human capital in organisations, skill utilisation, and workforce skill differentiation. Research on college graduates’ experiences when searching for jobs is also presented, and it is important to review these studies to provide background for the question of why individuals often work in industries that differ from the areas they studied at college.

According to Liu, Salvanes, and Sørensen (2016, p. 4), the education-job mismatch “occurs when a worker is matched to an industry that does not value her/his skill.” Factors that influence this match include certain characteristics of the education received, the availability of jobs in a particular region, the geographic mobility of college graduates, and even their immigration status (Cappelli 2015; Figueiredo et al. 2017). As a result, students try to find jobs in industries not directly related to their major if another industry can provide better career perspectives and higher wages.

The problem noted by researchers is that small labour markets cannot provide young people with opportunities to find a perfect job match. Therefore, “workers in big cities are more likely to match their human capital to a job in which their skills are put to their most productive use” (Abel & Deitz 2015, p. 1). Abel and Deitz (2015) noted that large local employment markets contribute to college graduates finding good positions because they increase the likelihood that an appropriate position can be found. Consequently, better job matching is associated with higher wages for graduates.

However, many young people are unable to find an appropriate position in a matching industry because of the specifics of the employment market (Ghignoni & Verashchagina 2014; Lee 2015). Grant, Maxwell, and Ogden (2014) explain this matter, stating that there are no problems with the skills supply in the UK labour market, but the issue is that many employers have a relatively low level of demand for individuals’ skills, which leads to their interest in finding a cheap workforce. The consequence is that the college graduates choose jobs in alternative fields to apply their skills effectively.

Depending on the demand in certain industries, college graduates face the necessity of finding jobs in other areas where their skills can be utilised. Researchers have noted that graduates have varying chances to find an appropriate position in this case (Mahmud, Alam & Härtel 2014; Polachek et al. 2017). Thus, Kucel et al. (2016, p. 76) state that “graduates of entrepreneurial education are more able to adapt and prosper in the labour market (avoiding pitfalls of mismatches) than their peers who have not received entrepreneurial education.” In addition, there is a risk that young specialists will be considered overeducated for certain positions (Nunley et al. 2017; Zhu 2014). As a result, college graduates need to find jobs without focusing on their education, but rather through addressing the needs of the labour market.

Graduates’ Reasons not to Develop Careers in Fields Related to Their Majors

The studies on the topic also provide insights into the reasons why graduates often choose not to develop a career in a field related to their major or degree. This aspect is frequently discussed in literature with a focus on a certain theoretical framework. The human capital theory and the job-match theory are frequently mentioned in this context (Lee & Sabharwal 2016; Polachek et al. 2017). According to the principles of human capital theory, those people who have developed human capital, including their education, degree, experience, and training, usually find jobs that can better fit with their major and degree (Lee & Sabharwal 2016). However, this theory is not suitable for explaining the frequently observed mismatch between the skills of college graduates and the degrees and skills necessary for the positions they have taken.

In contrast, the job-match theory has been proposed as a major framework for discussing this topic. This theory is based on the assumption that the “education-job match can result in employees finding jobs that match their skills and knowledge, thus providing them with a sense of usefulness and security, ultimately leading to higher job control and job satisfaction” (Lee & Sabharwal 2016, p. 44). Nevertheless, the current tendency is that college graduates often avoid developing careers in areas they are familiar with from their education, and it is important to find out reasons for this phenomenon.

In many cases, college graduates do not want to pursue careers in the previously selected area because they are not sure of their career choice. Furthermore, they can face barriers associated with finding a job in a certain field (Netto et al. 2015).

Vinichenko et al. (2016, p. 24) added to this idea, stating that companies often refuse to hire college graduates searching for their first jobs because of “cultural and informational barriers, negative experience they had in the past when they did hire those who had just graduated to work for them.” Moreover, one more reason is mentioned by Nunley et al. (2016), who note that students’ business degrees do not open more career prospects for them compared to an internship, which can contribute to opening more employment opportunities for graduates. Thus, if students do not start finding jobs related to their major while studying at college, they seem to lose chances to be hired for a good position after graduation because of a lack of experience. Therefore, college graduates without internship and work experience can fail to find jobs in their fields because of barriers erected by HR managers.

In addition, there are also situations where graduates face the problem of being overeducated for the positions advertised in industries associated with their majors because only entry-level positions may be available. As a result, individuals choose to apply their knowledge and experience related to their degree in another field because of a low job satisfaction level caused by over-education (Boccuzzo, Fabbris & Paccagnella 2016; Boxall, Hutchison & Wassenaar 2015).

Nevertheless, researchers also state in their studies that a close match between college graduates’ education and selected jobs is associated with high job satisfaction (Lee & Sabharwal 2016). This suggests that many college graduates are deprived of opportunities to find better job matches corresponding to their education because of external barriers.

Adaptation of HR Managers’ Practices to the Situation of Mismatching College Degrees and Positions

In the context of the education-job mismatch typical of the UK and global labour markets, researchers have also examined how HR managers can adapt employee orientation, training, and development practices for this situation. Skilled and well-educated college graduates often face obstacles when finding jobs because of a rigid approach to staff recruiting implemented in many firms and challenging procedures and techniques for selecting and assessing candidates (Bondarouk & Brewster 2016; Keep 2014).

HR managers can formulate very strict requirements for potential employees, and college graduates often do not have the required work experience. One more issue is that leaders in organisations and HR managers may be unwilling to spend substantial financial or material resources to educate new and inexperienced recruits (Prieto-Pastor & Martin-Perez 2015). However, today HR managers in developed companies are oriented towards providing new recruits with all required resources to help them adapt through training, education, support, seminars, workshops, teambuilding, cooperation, and supervision (Universities UK 2015; Veth et al. 2017). These practices are considered appropriate ways to address issues related to mismatching candidates and their positions.

HR managers are expected to re-design the work of employees if their skills do not match the position they have taken in order to help them achieve higher goals in the areas in which they can perform professionally. Therefore, HR managers need to apply innovative approaches to inspiring the workforce, and provide them with an optimal structure of jobs and tasks (Srimannarayana 2016; Universities UK 2015). Changes need to be implemented in scheduling, distributing tasks, training, organising work, and assessing performance (Keep 2017b). Hiring candidates whose qualifications are a mismatch for a position entails risk, but HR managers can give more attention to helping these professionals in the context of the UK’s policy of developing the skills of human capital.

Employee Orientation in Addressing Employees’ and Companies’ Needs

In the existing literature on the topic, researchers also discuss how employee orientation can improve the matching of an individual’s skills to a company’s needs. In this context, it is necessary to describe two important concepts applied by researchers: employee orientation and skills utilisation. Employee orientation can be defined as the form of workplace training during which HR managers introduce new recruits to their tasks and work procedures, working environment, and particular rules, standards, and regulations adopted in an organisation (Rowland, Ruth & Ekot 2017).

If employee orientation is organised effectively, new employees become familiar with their responsibilities, develop required skills, and become motivated to perform their tasks successfully (Srimannarayana 2016). Employee orientation is extremely important for those new employees whose qualifications, degrees, or majors may not be fully related to their positions (Brinkley & Crowley 2017; Srimannarayana 2016). In this situation, attention should be paid to helping the personnel adapt to their new environments and duties.

In the context of the education-job match, HR managers usually align employee orientation with improved skills utilisation. Skills utilisation is defined in the literature as “ensuring the most effective application of skills in the workplace to maximise performance through the interplay of a number of key agents … and the use of a range of HR, management and working practices” (Grant, Maxwell & Ogden 2014, p. 459).

HR managers choose to hire employees based on their experience and knowledge, rather than a specific degree, and then they assess their skills and abilities with reference to performance evaluation practices, while also training and educating them to use their potential to its maximum (Keep 2017a; Støren & Arnesen 2016). In their study on improving UK employees’ well-being through HRM skills utilisation practices, Okay-Somerville and Scholarios (2018) found that strategies oriented toward enhancing employees’ skills positively affect their performance, commitment, and motivation. This approach can ensure that even those employees who appear to be mismatched with their job positions can contribute to a company’s progress.


The reviewed literature indicates that there are many recent studies addressing the issues associated with the aims and objectives of this project. However, the findings of these studies reveal that there is still a gap in research concerning the identification of clear reasons for the current education-job mismatch from the perspective of college graduates, not only with reference to external factors and labour market tendencies.

According to the existing literature, college graduates often have to shift to other industries and change their careers because of social and economic factors. They can also choose to search for jobs in other sectors because of HR managers’ biases regarding graduates. Therefore, it is important to address this gap in the literature concerning how HR managers can help employees adapt to new environments in the context of an education-job mismatch.

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