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Education vs. Experience: what matters more to employers?

By Emilly Parris | 29 January 2021


When it comes to a candidate’s education vs their experience, every organisation, industry and employer is different. Both education and experience can enhance your career prospects, so they are both equally valuable but it ultimately comes down to you, your goals and the industry you’re working in. Let’s take a look and weigh in on some of the pros and cons of education and experience.

When experience matters.

team working together

When debating the value of education vs experience, you may hear about people like Bill Gates who never finished college, or Mark Zuckerberg who dropped out of Harvard to build what is now the largest social media platform in the world.

While it’s true that a formal education is not the only path to success, it’s worth noting that both of these successful entrepreneurs had an incredibly strong work ethic and drive to succeed. They are the exception, not the rule.

That’s not to say you cannot learn without putting in the hard work, but you’ll want to set realistic and reasonable standards for yourself.

So, when does experience matter more?

In industries that are constantly evolving—such as digital marketing, information technology and web development—experience is a key consideration for employers.

Most emerging roles in these industries may be working with technologies so recent, there are no formal courses and training programs on them yet. In such cases, experience can come in the form of taking on personal projects to expose yourself to new concepts, learning through video tutorials or simply shadowing a colleague who has learned these skills over time.

When education matters.

Knowledge forms the foundation on what you can build upon with experience. One of the main reasons to seek an education when it comes to your career, is to gain a qualification or certification in your field. For instance, to work in accounting or the medical field, an education is imperative.

Depending on the industry, a formal qualification may not be necessary, but it can help boost your resume and improve your credibility especially if you do not yet have the experience to show your employer.

Even in industries where a formal qualification is not required, such as sales and customer service—a qualification can set you apart from the competition, greatly increasing your chances of being hired and fast track a promotion to a more senior position. 

Another aspect to consider is that for a growing number of industries, increased government regulation has meant only suitably qualified and/or certified candidates are considered for roles, while those who do not possess the right qualifications are more likely to be rejected. It’s definitely worth taking the time to consider whether an investment into your education is worthwhile.

Combining the practical and the theoretical.

street signs of theory and experience

Most employers prefer candidates with a combination of both practical skills and theoretical knowledge. 

If you’re entering into a new career, your past experience may no longer be relevant. This is when a formal qualification can help you get your foot in the door to an entry level position and give you the confidence you need to start. Many online courses incorporate a practical element, such as work placement or internship as a requirement of the course completion. This can help to bridge the gap between theory and practice, which is hugely beneficial if you are lacking experience.

You may also want to consider taking a flexible, self-paced online course whilst working part-time or volunteering to build your skills.

Why pursue an education?

While there are plenty of roles that do not require a formal qualification, a thorough course or training plan can lay the foundation and add credibility to your existing experience. 

The right credentials can also help you secure a higher paid position and be in a better place to negotiate the terms of your employment. Many employers look favourably upon those with the right qualifications, because it shows expertise and that you are goal-oriented and self-disciplined. 

Get a head start on your studies.

It’s important to remember that an education doesn’t just mean a degree or certification—certainly, these are great options. But it can be as simple as taking a short course to fill in any knowledge gaps. Learning should be ongoing throughout your career, even if you have years of experience behind you.

Starting with a solid foundation is the most effective way to propel your career to great heights. Whether you’re looking to upskill or carve an entirely new career path, Upskilled offers a range of online courses that can help you get on the right foot. Have a chat with one of our education consultants or give us a call on 1300 009 924 to discuss your options.
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