Education vs. Experience (Episode 1 Notes)

March 13, 2018

The Great Debate of Education vs. Experience

A Breadwinner writes in and says:

I have over 20 years of experience in my field but no formal education. Should I consider going back to school to remain competitive and to help me advance in my career? Which do you think is more important, education or experience?

My “Top 5” thoughts about Education vs Experience

1. It’s not an either/or proposition. Organizations need both. Think about what your objective is and if your education or experience are relevant to the position you’re pursuing. There are several factors that are considered when selecting a candidate. If I’m hiring for management, then I want someone with a demonstrated ability to lead and manage projects. So experience is important. If I’m hiring for an entry level position, then there’s not as much emphasis on experience. Getting your degree often creates a false expectation of having a well-paying job the day after graduation. That’s usually not the case. It takes time to work up to a mid-level or higher-level position even with a degree. At the same time, a good hiring manager is not going to discount someone for not having a degree if they have a lot of experience in the field.

2. How dated is your education or experience? You might have a master’s degree from 20 years ago. But the business world changes. You might think an accounting degree is good for all time but things change. The essence of accounting might remain the same but the laws change and so does the technology that allows you to do your job. A degree you got 20 years ago in technology is useless now if you haven’t done anything else or gotten any experience. Lifetime learning is crucial in most fields. You have to continue to evolve and question how relevant your experience is. It doesn’t have to be exactly what your degree is in but it does need to be useful. Education is not a guarantee of a job. Even if you have experience in an unrelated field to what you’re going for, you have to determine how you are going to apply that knowledge. Your career has to start somewhere. Every year employment law changes, my knowledge has to remain relevant in all areas if human resources ( FMLA, CFRA, ADA, ADAAA, FLSA just to name a few). I have to know what trends are changing and make sure my expertise remains viable.

3. Don’t just showcase yourself on paper. Make sure you’re putting your soft skills into the conversation. How quickly can you learn something if you don’t have a lot of experience? How well can you unlearn things if you’ve been in other worplaces? Both are important. If you are fresh out of college, have zero experience and haven’t signed a time card, you may not be the right fit for mid management. Highlight what you did in college, did you volunteer somewhere, what was your senior project, what was the topic of your thesis, did you do any community service. As a recruiter, I’m looking for at your track record and what other skills you have to offer if you’re new to the workforce or you’ve been around. I want to know you can practically apply your knowledge, you have an open-minded attitude toward new ideas and concepts and you play well with others

4. Work while you school and learn while your work. I know, it’s blasphemy! But it’s a benefit. Apply to be an intern over the summer even if a company you want to work for doesn’t advertise an intern program. Try to work over your winter or summer break. Internships show potential employers you’re a self-starter, good at time management and you’re motivated to get your career started. Working helps you determine if you want to be in a certain field because you get to see it firsthand. You can figure out if you want to be in the field. You can also network! I changed my major from my original filed after I got some real world experience.

5. Know how to market yourself. If you’re looking to change your career path, then don’t use a chronological resume. Use a functional resume or a CV. If you have moved around a lot or you have employment gaps, focus on the skills you have that apply to the job you’re seeking. Use the language from the job posting to emphasize certain skills without stretching the truth or just making stuff up. Have a bunch of different resumes! Multiple resumes are a job seekers best friend. I have had several that I used at the same time to apply for different jobs. Just your experience or just grades are not going to do it (secret: I don’t read transcripts). I do want to know what really sets you apart from the other people applying for the same position.

There’s more interconnectedness between education and experience than a divide. One without the other isn’t particularly useful. You’ll go through a lot of different stages in your career so highlight what your most unique attributes and put your best foot forward.