Education Vs ExperienceDo you have qualifications coming out of your ears but not much experience in the field where you are seeking work? Or, conversely, do you have years of experience and proven success but no formal qualifications. We talk to people every day that fall firmly into one or the other of these camps.

The debate as to whether education or experience is more important when searching for a new role often rears its head when working with clients. The discussion becomes even more passionate in tighter job markets. Whilst it is great to have both – if you don’t, there are ways to optimise your situation:

1.  Highlight What Matters: whether you are a recent graduate with very little practical experience or a 20+ year experienced manager with no formal qualifications, relevant expertise matters to recruiters. Try to draw out what you’ve done in the context of ‘success’. Look at the achievements you’ve made in previous roles (or personally) and relate these back to the requirements for the role. For someone with oodles of work experience this might be easy – but make sure you highlight ‘relevant’ experience and substantiate it with examples and successes. If you’re a graduate or have little practical experience in the area you’re applying, highlight your expertise as it relates to the specific job requirements. This could include areas where you excelled during your studies; or soft skills such as team work, flexibility, confidence and a positive attitude. And don’t forget to consider part-time or volunteer work, as well as group and other projects you completed while studying.

2.  What if I Have No Work Experience? In many fields, qualifications are an essential pre-requisite – if you want to be a doctor you need to study first! However, with most areas, it’s great if you can do some kind of work while you study. Otherwise there isn’t much (other than academic achievements) to differentiate you from the next person with the same qualification. Even part time work that has no relationship to the area you are now seeking work in can count for experience and will certainly give you the chance to discuss transferrable and ‘soft’ skills. If, however, you are a recent graduate with very little work experience, highlight your academic achievements and think about the skills you developed while studying or even during school (think about sporting and other extracurricular activities).

3.  What if I Don’t Have any Formal Qualification? While qualifications are essential for many jobs, for some, experience may well count for more. I have several close friends in very senior sales roles who don’t have any formal qualifications. They have worked all over the world, working their way up from sales representative to senior executive roles today. This means they have a lot of expert knowledge in their area and they can demonstrate success. Again this comes back to highlighting what matters to the recruiter. They want to know what’s in it for them. Ask yourself what you can offer that the next candidate can’t. Think about your successes in the context of the role you’re going for and put yourself in the recruiter’s position – why do they need you in this role?

4.  Identify Your Transferrable Skills: everyone has transferrable skills whether you’ve studied and not worked or worked and not studied. If you need to have certain knowledge or skill sets that are learnt during study then demonstrate how you have that. If you have the degree but no experience, think about all the transferrable skills you learnt while studying. Again, look at group assignments and discussions you participated in.

5.  Think About Studying:  if you have no formal qualifications and feel that this is holding you back, you could always consider enrolling in a course. There are so many courses on offer out there – it doesn’t have to be a university degree. Do your research first and speak to people in the industry or area you’re seeking work in. That way you’ll get expert advice as to the types of courses and qualifications that will be most respected.

Today, it is important to have a good mix of both with employers often looking for unique individuals with diverse skill sets that will add significant value to their organisation. However, there are ways to maximise your personal situation.

Are you struggling to demonstrate how you can add value to roles even though you know you could? Would you like help maximising your experience and qualifications to give yourself a better chance at your dream job? If so, please see our Resume, Cover Letter and Selection Criteria Writing or Career Counselling Services.

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