Experience vs qualifications – which is most important?

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A university degree was once considered a requirement for many positions, but experience is beginning to be seen as a better indicator of a candidate’s competence for roles which do not require formal qualifications.

A report carried out in 2018 by Ambition AXA Awards for young people appears to support this, with 61% of employers surveyed stating that experience is now considered more important than education.

But as a hiring employer looking to narrow down an insurmountable list of candidates, which is really better, experience or education?

Experience inspires Confidence

Work place experience, an understanding of corporate culture and developing a strong work ethic can be just as valuable at the early stages of candidate career as industry knowledge. Experience can also highlight how well a candidate can work as a team or under pressure, and how they conduct themselves in a working environment. References from past employers are often more relevant than a reference from a university lecturer who cannot vouch for a candidate’s ability to show up on time every single day of the week.

In addition, practical and industry specific experience is not always present in modern university study. Indeed, academia has long been criticised for its irrelevance to real world application. While a student may learn at a greater depth and have a more complex understanding of the theory and background of an industry, this is all less useful if students are unable to apply it to real life situations. Studying in a classroom will never be able to fully replicate the practical requirements of a role, and those with a proven track record in employment might result in a safer hire.

Education equals Commitment

University students receive a bad rap in popular culture, being known for staying in bed late, being lazy and generally having an extra three years to enjoy themselves before officially “growing up”. However, higher education can create not only a better qualified candidate, but also provide valuable insights into the candidate’s character.

Graduates have proven their commitment to their work, having dedicated considerable amounts of both time and money to their chosen field. This assurance might be useful when looking to narrow down candidates, a graduate candidate is less likely to decide to move out of their chosen field of study further down the line. This dedication also indicates ambition and a desire to better themselves, which is useful when looking for long-term candidates.

University life doesn’t just provide a piece of paper or a few letters after your name, it also facilitates the development of additional life skills, such as personal and social skills, independence and tenacity, all of which are important in leadership and business.

So, which is it? Education and experience can each provide useful skills, and the best candidates often have both work experience and a solid educational background. However, when shortlisting applicants, it might prove more beneficial to assess a candidate’s attitude; does the candidate appear keen to learn, are they trustworthy, and do their values align with the core values of the company? And it seems that many employers agree.

48% of employers choose candidates because of their personality; education and experience can both be developed over time, but a candidate is more than their CV.
— Universum survey