Degree vs. Experience?

“Is a degree or real-world experience more important?”

In a job search, it’s the age-old question, and a battle job seekers can’t seem to win. After completing a degree, Hiring Managers want to know how applicants have applied their newfound knowledge in actual situations (aka, experience), but when non-degree holders apply to a position (bringing years of relevant experience and transferable skills), employers overlook them in favor of candidates who have the a few additional letters on their resume.

So how do you proceed? While everyone’s situation is unique, here are things to consider:

  • Know the market. For some professions or companies, having both the degree and the experience is going to be critical to get in the door.  If these are in your target, then you may need to have both to even be considered. So, you have two choices: get the credentials or change your target. Company cultures vary, so do your homework.
  • Engage your network. You may be tired of hearing this advice, but there’s a reason it continues to come up. A strong network or referral can help you overcome a number of perceived “red flags” in the hiring process. Your connections can often help you bypass “policy” and get in front of the decision-makers.
  • Experience trumps education. Unless you’re seeking roles in highly regulated professions like medicine, having strong transferable skills backed by concrete results will be more appealing to an employer than a list of courses you aced. Having additional credentials is rarely a negative in the hiring process (although I’ve seen highly-educated candidates get overlooked because Recruiters believed they’d be out of the salary range), but earning a degree is a lot of time and effort that won’t significantly shorten your job search.  You need to weigh the return on investment.

Happy hunting!

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