Educational Background vs. Experience: What is Most Important?

As an employer or hiring manager, there are a lot of things you take into consideration when looking for a new employee. You want to be sure they can get the job done and even surpass your expectations. You want to be sure that they fit in with most of the people that are already employed and mesh into your company culture. Lastly, you want to be sure they are taking this job for the long-run. At the very least you expect them to stay with the company for at least two years. So in the process of looking for all of these things, the educational background and past work experiences of your top candidates is bound to come up. As an employer, what should you place more importance on: educational background or experience?

It’s a question that both job seekers and employers alike have asked themselves. If there’s a most common answer to this often-asked question than the answer is: it depends. It depends on what the job is, what kind of candidate you are looking for, what you expect out of the future employee and what you think is most important as an employer. A lot of employers automatically require their candidates to have a four-year degree to fill their positions. However, is it always necessary? Can someone who has a good deal of work experience, but no degree fill that role as well? By placing this requirement in your job post, you may be missing out on a good deal of talent. What you should do before you make an educational requirement is to ask yourself a few questions. What are the expected behaviors of this candidate? What abilities and knowledge must they posses? What are the most important skills? Then ask yourself if those requirements are attainable without a degree.

The president of Reliability Careers John Ha tackled this same debate a while back. In trying to answer the question, he took a look at what most employers associate with candidates, or employees, that have a degree. For one, most assume that they know how to analyze problems, conduct research and produce solutions. A great deal of higher education is composed of this specific skill. No matter what degree a candidate has, they worked hard to get it and probably exhibited these skills.

It’s also assumed that they can learn complex subject matters and are motivated individuals since they graduated and earned their degree. However, don’t candidates that possess a great deal of work experience likely have these characteristics as well? Perhaps you have a candidate that has had two jobs previously and no degree, and a candidate that has a degree but no experience. If the candidate with no degree worked in your industry before, does their experience put them above the candidate with a degree but virtually no experience in the field? This candidate has proven that they can get the job done, and have before. Cancelling out job seekers like this one alienates you from a great pool of talent.

Ultimately, as the hiring manager or employer, the decision is yours to make. Most desirable would be a candidate with a good educational background and experience. It’s important though that you weigh each option and decide if a degree is truly a requirement or just a desire you seek in your candidates. Depending on the job, the answer may be very different.

What do you think? Is educational background more important than experience, or is it the other way around? Or perhaps both? Share with us in the comments section below!

IMAGE: Courtesy of Flickr by gtalan