I am mostly curious about qualified candidates that cannot prove their skill, because they cannot get it to the interview.

I'm a developer, but the question is not focused on IT. I've had two cases to be curious about this topic.

One time I got a refusal to attend an interview from a recruiter, because I had 2.5 years' of experience with certain technology, but they searched for somebody with 3+ years. But in my opinion it does not even qualify the skill in that particular field, because one can work on side-project for 4 hours a week for 5 years with that technology: that is far less experience in comparison to somebody, who worked a full-time job, plus a part-time job, plus some courses for 2 years.

Another case is I was refused an interview was because I haven't got a bachelor's degree. But on the other side, I have almost 4 years of employment in industry and chances are my qualification would probably suit the position.

My guess is that some positions require a certain type of degree by law, but is it the case for all positions and does it even happens often?

I'm residing in Ukraine and these were Ukrainian companies, but it is generally interesting about laws for such cases in different countries.

  • 12
    I voted to close on a technical reason: whether something is 'discriminatory' isn't really a legal question, so much as a question of language. I know it seems like I'm being nitpicky, but it actually is a crucial difference. This question could be made into a legal question by asking whether the practice is "illegal" discrimination. Though, to spoil the ending, the answer is: no.
    – user36183
    Mar 29, 2021 at 14:05
  • 41
    A lot of people go to employment lawyers expecting to have a case because they've been discriminated against, only to find out not all discrimination is illegal.
    – user36183
    Mar 29, 2021 at 16:21
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    "that cannot prove their skill, because they cannot get it to the interview" - wait, so you expect an interview that lasts maybe some 30 to 60 minutes, a significant portion of which would be spent exchanging administrative/organisational information, to contain an opportunity for conveying some "proof" of your skills that are equally convincing as repeated evaluations, theoretical and practical tests, of different subject areas pertaining to your skills, over the course of 3 to 4 years? Mar 30, 2021 at 14:47
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    @ColinLosey Or "is years of experience a protected class?" Mar 30, 2021 at 16:46
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    Note that in Germany it is even required by law that at least one cook in a restaurant and one hairdresser in a saloon has a "Meisterbrief" which is equivalent to a bachalor degree according to some international criteria. There are a lot more jobs that require this type of degree in Germany. Mar 31, 2021 at 8:32

6 Answers 6


Yes. But it isn't illegal discrimination in many places.

Laws against discrimination prevent the discrimination based on forbidden categories. Take the national Olympic team:

  • They are allowed to discriminate based on athletic performance, obviously.
  • They are allowed to discriminate based on gender. There are men's teams and women's teams, and men cannot simply apply for a slot on the women's team.
  • They are not allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation.
  • Discrimination based on a minimum age might be legal, discrimination based on a maximum age probably not.

For an employer, it is legal in many places to discriminate based on (formal) qualifications, but not to discriminate based on sexual orientation or race. (It may be legal to discriminate based on nationality, however ...)

  • 1
    In some places it might be "indirect discrimination" (eg in most of Europe) if you could show that (1) a protected category was less likely to have the qualification and (2) the employer could not show it was a proportionate means to a legitimate end (as they probably could). Mar 29, 2021 at 23:03
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    @FrancisDavey there are similar protections in most if not all of the US. I seem to recall a lawsuits about companies requiring workers to be clean shaven, only to be sued because shaving can cause ingrown hairs and other skin conditions that disproportionately affect people of African descent. This same discrimination could be legal for say a fire department though since facial hair could prevent the masks from being worn effectively. I don't have a source for any of that off hand though.
    – PC Luddite
    Mar 30, 2021 at 3:16
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    The "discrimination based on a maximum age for the Olympic team" is probably legal, given that the Olympic soccer teams are generally restricted to a maximum age of 23.
    – MSalters
    Mar 30, 2021 at 9:58
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    @MSalters, good point for some disciplines, but not for others.
    – o.m.
    Mar 30, 2021 at 14:46
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    @PCLuddite: I think it gets more complicated when a company only hires handsome women because this is what is expected for, say, car shows.
    – WoJ
    Mar 30, 2021 at 16:07

In the UK, discrimination law works a bit like this:

  1. Define things you must generally not discriminate about.
    Examples - peoples sex or gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, disability.
  2. Allow exceptions where needed/appropriate, and define how to assess if the exceptions are appropriate (this will be needed to make legal decisions in particular cases).
    Examples - if you operate a Christian church, someone might argue that your religious leader can't be a Muslim. If you run a hostel for abused women, its probably reasonable to argue you need to seek a woman in certain roles. But if you run an authentic Italian restaurant, can you only employ Italians (ethnicity), or is that illegal discrimination and you can limit it to Italian speaking people (a skill anyone can have)?
  3. This basically, defines direct discrimination - if you did discriminate against someone, and it was based upon some trait in (1), and the matter doesn't fall into an exception under (2), then its illegal discrimination.
  4. However that leaves too much of a loophole for discrimination to happen in other ways. So UK law also defines indirect discrimination as well. If your action has the effect of being disproportionately unfavourable to a group that is protected under (1), then its also considered discriminatory.
    Examples - if you ask employees if they plan to become pregnant, and don't promote those who say yes, pregnancy itself is not a protected trait, but it will disfavour women compared to men, and sex and gender are protected. So your company policy would have a discriminatory effect. The same happens if you require people to not have beards. Some religions will require/expect followers to have a beard as part of their religious practises, and if you don't make exceptions, your rule will affect some people generally but many people of that religion, so it would have a discriminatory effect.
  5. Last there are a wide range of tests used by courts, to decide if something discriminates or not. Example - if 2 workers do work of equivalent value/difficulty, but aren't paid equally, that might show discrimination.

Putting these together, here is one current example in the courts.

In this company, shop workers are mostly women and warehouse workers mostly men. Question: if shop workers are paid on average less, is this discriminatory? After all, a man working in the shop gets the same pay as a woman.

But overall more men get the higher pay and more women lower pay.... so if the work is "equal", a UK court would conclude the pay system still discriminated indirectly against women.

  • Is there any guidance in the laws how exactly "equal work" should be defined? That to me seems the biggest challenge for these kind of laws.
    – Voo
    Mar 31, 2021 at 11:10
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    @Voo in the example quoted, the decision about equal work has worked its way through the court system, recently reaching the Supreme Court (at least assuming it's the Asda case that's been in the news). They've ruled on some aspects; others are ongoing.
    – Chris H
    Mar 31, 2021 at 11:49
  • Equal work would be a matter of fact not a matter of law. Meaning, judges use the principle, and as cases happen, their comments build a gradual outline of how its decided in various circumstances that have arisen so far, and the factors they've used and balanced, to reach those conclusions. (And yes, Asda)
    – Stilez
    Mar 31, 2021 at 12:55

Think about it from a typical employer's perspective.

They advertise a position and get hundreds of applications. It would be incredibly expensive to interview every applicant, so they don't. Instead, one of their clerical staff checks each application against a list, and every application that fails in even a single criterion is tossed. The application and résumé aren't actually read, simply scanned for specific details.

If there are too many remaining, more conditions are added and the stack processed again.

Note that at no point was any subjective judgement used. The culling could have been (and perhaps sometimes now is) done by a machine.

Now there are perhaps a few dozen applications left, and those are the ones that will actually be read by a more highly paid employee, who will use their human resources skills and experience to remove the obviously inappropriate applications.

The remaining dozen or so are then passed on to someone in the target department, someone that actually knows something about the specific job, and they further reduce the pile.

Finally, the remaining few are the ones that are granted the very expensive interviews.

Unless the initial criteria are blatantly discriminatory (e.g. no women, no one over 30), or the second and third level culls are made by someone with personal biases (which would become obvious after a while when people notice that all new hires are males under 30), there is no real discrimination.

The final list of candidates is very likely to contain at least one excellent future employee, and that is all that the company cares about. That many other candidates that are just as good were excluded doesn't matter. That a few candidates that were perhaps slightly better were excluded doesn't matter either.

Yes, the conditions are arbitrary (2 years versus 3 years experience), and yes they are unfair (formal versus practical experience), but they are necessary for the process to work.

  • "That many other candidates that are just as good were excluded doesn't matter." Doesn't matter to the company (or the law). Unfortunately too many companies use the same criteria so if you don't match those standard criteria it can feel unfair.
    – Dragonel
    Mar 30, 2021 at 17:15
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    @Dragonel How is it unfair? If there is a standard criteria it's obviously well known and been attained by all those who came before and applied successfully. Just put in the effort to learn or get the experience needed to meet that criteria - no one else who meets it, met it any other way
    – TCooper
    Mar 30, 2021 at 21:53
  • @TCooper I said "feels" unfair. If someone has "put in the effort to learn" on the job rather than going to University, then they may (or may not) be better at the job but they don't even get considered because it is quicker to look at qualifications in a binary fashion of degree/no degree.
    – Dragonel
    Mar 30, 2021 at 22:26

In the US, discrimination is prohibited only against a few specifically defined categories of people, known as protected classes. Race, national origin, religion, and to some extant age are protected at the Federal level. Some states, cities, and localities add additional classes, such as sexual orientation. I am not aware of anywhere in the US where educational attainments or work experience forms a protected class.

Thus, in the US, and employer is completely free to require a specific degree, a certain number of years of work experience in a particular area, or both. An employer is not requires to consider is soemn0oen not meeting its required qualifications could in fact do the job well. Many jobs routinely are advertised with such threshold requirements, and people not meeting them are not seriously considered.


In the UK, only medical professionals are required to have a particular degree. Civil engineers (designing buildings) need not have a degree, but plans must be signed off by a structural engineer with the relevant degree. Some other professions do not require a degree but do require some kind of formal training: law, teaching, flying aircraft, sailing larger boats or commercial ships, for a few examples. These are legal requirements in order to carry out that work.

In other professions such as software development, there is no legal requirement to have any particular qualifications. However a degree often teaches theoretical aspects of the work which are very unlikely to be picked up through work experience. Many roles therefore require a relevant degree to be sure that the person has that theoretical knowledge.

Years of experience in some area is a quick way to check whether you are able to apply that knowledge. This normally gives a minimum level of experience for full-time work in that area, as a quick way to screen out people who are obviously not ready to do the work. As you say, someone working in this area part-time may get through this first-level process. It is very likely though that the employer will then read their application and reject them without an interview; and if they get to the interview then they will not get the job. Be grateful that you were screened out at the start, because that means you don't have your time wasted!

Some employers may be happy to accept other types of experience. I spent a few years as a contractor, and my first role was using C++. I had 7 years in industry coding in C, but no industry experience with C++. However I had 2-3 years of experience working with C++ on personal projects, and they were happy to accept that as enough for an interview. I aced the interview, and I got the job. I've also interviewed someone applying for a trainee/apprentice role who had done a relevant course in her own time but was unable to show any qualifications or experience. I suggested that she went away and worked on something like an open-source project to give herself a "show reel" and demonstrate that she really wanted to work in software. Sadly she chose not to, but I would happily have accepted that as an alternative to experience in paid work.

  • Lawyers need to have finished law school in the UK. There are requirements for teachers too, that are more than just "years experience" but boil down to studying the topic.
    – Trish
    Mar 31, 2021 at 13:20
  • @Trish Thanks - I've updated that first paragraph with a few more examples too.
    – Graham
    Mar 31, 2021 at 16:18

At some point an employer must descriminate, if there are more applicants than positions available. They cannot give the job to everyone who applies.

All else being equal, then number of years experience, or education level is as good as any other way to narrow down the list of candidates.

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