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Do Employers Care More About Education or Experience?

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The  Education vs. Experience debate has been a hot topic facing college graduates as they complete their degrees and flood into the workforce looking for, oftentimes, the first “real job” of their adult lives.

What Employers Want

Nine out of ten times, employers want to see real-world, hands-on work experience. Whether a student is just graduating or still in school, internships, part-time unpaid work experiences, and even full-time work goes a long way when being considered for a new position.

A survey published by Glassdoor reveals that organizations are placing more emphasis and value on a candidate’s skills and experience, in terms of how that translates to success in their company, over a candidate’s education level.

An article in both The Guardian and The Huffington Post reports that employers want to see that students and recent graduates not only have the knowledge required of certain positions, but that they can also demonstrate they have the skills and problem-solving abilities necessary to be successful. Additionally, involvement in an internship, full-time employment, or other work-related and extracurricular activities suggest initiative and maturity to future employers.

Technology and Skills

Advances in technology have greatly shaped the demand for certain skills in the workplace. Because technology changes so rapidly, new and more diverse positions are being created to keep up with these demands. Having a strong skill set with demonstrated abilities to adapt to changing work environments, motivation, and creativeness are likely to get someone further in these types of roles than just having a degree will.

Industry Matters

In the debate over education and experience, the industry in question makes quite a difference. In high level engineering roles, architecture careers, medical professions, or in the legal sector, a solid education is likely to be considered over, if not just as much as, someone who has a less formal education who’s taken a Biology or law class and worked in a similar setting for a few years. Additionally, there is a certain level of education that should be attained prior to entering the workforce. Oftentimes these types of career paths require some type of practical work experience, like an internship or residency, before hiring.

Other industries, like education, social services, or sales may require a degree or some specific level of education attainment, but typically value work experience and adaptability to work with various populations over a formal education. An article on Recruiter.com paints a picture that, “getting a degree may be practice for the game, but it is not the game” and suggests that it’s the hands-on work experience that enables individuals to build upon their skills, learn to apply new skills, and further develop an understanding of work ethics, including their strengths and weaknesses in the workplace.

Hands-On Experience vs. Education and Classroom Knowledge

Learning something in a classroom is much different than practicing and applying that knowledge in a real-world setting. Consider a nurse-in-training. Part of the curriculum is learning how to draw blood, however, watching demonstrations and videos is much different than actually performing the task on a real person!

Oftentimes positions are specialized to their company’s policies and procedures that much of the job training is focused on a “how things are done around here” kind of attitude. Candidates learn the ins and outs of the company they work for as they grow in their position. With this knowledge comes more experience. Knowing general information about the Human Resources field in a classroom setting looks and feels different than being responsible for an entire company’s employee files, including hiring, firing, insurance information, and worker’s compensation records.

What about Potential and Personality Fit?

Having the right personality fit is going to be just as important as whether a candidate has hands-on experience or an educational background that suggests the candidate is qualified for a position. Skills aside, how well your candidate assimilates to his or her work environment and with fellow employees says a lot about them and their potential for a long-term career with your company.

The challenge to this is in accurately identifying a candidate’s potential. Luckily, with the help of pre-employment assessments that measure personality, attitude and integrity, and emotional competency, we can further assess these things. Couple the use of pre-hire testing with reference checks from previous supervisors or college professors who can speak to a candidate’s performance, and you’ve got yourself a pretty holistic view of your potential employee.

So, Which One Matters More?

Despite a strong belief that work experience trumps education, it’s difficult to make a blanket statement claiming that education isn’t as important. Education serves as a foundation and springboard for a greater likelihood of success and increased pay across one’s professional life as a whole. After all, specific positions in certain industries require candidates to have a strong knowledge and understanding of the technical concepts of the job, experience or not.

We are now, more so than in previous generations, moving in a direction where education and experience is factored in at an equal level. A degree isn’t necessarily a guarantee of employment anymore. Employers want to see that students are dedicated and have the foundation of knowledge as well as the tenacity to stick to following through with something. A student who decides to pursue employment to supplement their education with real experience will quickly learn that their decision to do so has made them, overall, a more attractive candidate to employers in the selection process.