VidCruiter Logo

Paper Ceiling

Written by

Tiffany Clark

Reviewed by

VidCruiter Editorial Team

Last Modified

May 16, 2024
Paper Ceiling
Left Arrow Icon Back to Main Glossary


  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • URL copied to clipboard!


The paper ceiling includes biased algorithms, exclusive professional networks, alumni networks, stereotypes, and university degree screens that block career opportunities for people who lack formal academic qualifications such as a college degree. In this scenario, a worker has the same skills, experience, and practical knowledge as degreed colleagues but can’t advance in their career because they lack educational credentials.


Because of the paper ceiling, millions of workers are overlooked, even though they have experience and in-demand skills. According to Harvard Business School, up to 90% of large-sized companies use an automated applicant tracking system for resume screening. Over 60% of businesses rejected qualified candidates due to the lack of a bachelor’s degree. This research also revealed that employees who lack college degrees typically perform almost as well as workers with degrees.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 55% of the U.S. workforce lacks a bachelor’s degree or graduate degree. 


The paper ceiling intersects with poverty, education, and social issues. Employer screening disproportionately affects rural, Hispanic, veteran, and Black workers. 


Paper Ceiling Examples


A mid-sized technology firm is rapidly expanding, with several open software developer positions. To meet project demands, the HR department has been tasked with filling these roles as quickly as possible. 


Historically, this tech firm has enforced a strict policy requiring a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field. This policy is based on the biased belief that a formal education more accurately ensures a certain level of readiness and competence.


Due to the firm’s policy, a self-taught programmer with five years of experience and a portfolio of successful projects may be overlooked if they apply for one of the open positions, screened out of the application process.


Related Terms


is the practice of overemphasizing and prioritizing educational credentials such as degrees, diplomas, and certificates over skills and practical experience.

Experience-Based Hiring

is a recruitment approach that focuses on the experience and skills candidates have acquired through non-traditional paths. This might include online courses, self-taught skills, or practical work experience.

Competency Framework

refers to a structured system that outlines the specific skills, behaviors, and attitudes needed to effectively perform a job. Competency frameworks are used by organizations to guide hiring, promotions, and development in a way that counteracts credentialism bias.


is an acronym for Skilled Through Alternative Routes. STARs are individuals who are actively working in the workforce with a high school diploma. STARs have developed valuable job skills through work experience, military service, community college, and other alternative routes. 

Learning and Employment Record (LER)

is a term coined by the U.S. Department of Commerce. An LER is a digital record that contains verifiable information about an individual’s achievements, including education and training processes, formal or informal learning, workplace-based training, or classroom-based instruction.

Interoperable Learning Record (ILR)

is a term coined by the U.S. Department of Commerce and is sometimes used interchangeably with LER. However, an ILR might specifically contain universally understood records, including certification exams, discovery-based training experience, single courses, non-profit experience, community-based library activities, and more.

Left Arrow Icon Back to Main Glossary