Education or experience: what do employers value most?

Knowing how to kickstart your career can be tricky. If you’re entering the world of work for the first time, or thinking about a new career, it’s worth knowing whether experience is more important than education, or vice versa. In this article, we explore the benefits that education and experience have on your CV, as well as outlining their importance to employers.

4 mins read
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19 Jul, 2024

The ‘education vs experience’ debate has been a hot topic of conversation within recruitment for years. While there is no definitive answer to which is more appropriate or sought after, when looking to bolster your CV, you want to make sure you highlight your relevant education and experiences.

As apprenticeships, internships and work placements continue to grow and become more accessible and available, you may be wondering if being qualified at degree level is really that important. That said, you want to prove to potential employers that you are the top candidate for their role, so it's useful to learn what employers most care about in jobseekers.

So, is work experience becoming the desired preference for employers, or do qualifications still highlight the best candidate?

Education or experience: is there a right answer?

Choosing either to concentrate on your education or gain relevant experience early on has its advantages and disadvantages.

For many years, education has been touted as the main steppingstone that leads to a successful career. But this really depends on where you are in your chosen career, the industry that you are in and the requirements of your profession.

When considering your next career move, it’s important to do some initial research into both avenues and determine the qualities that employers are looking for in your chosen profession. Every employer is different, so it can actually be down to the preferences of the person hiring you.

In some cases, you’ll be able to land a role without meeting all of the requirements in the job description if you have something else of value to offer, such as transferable skills, real-life experiences or a passion and desire to succeed.

The necessity of education

More often than not, a lot can be revealed about a person through their qualifications. Furthering your education to a high level can help illustrate your ability to learn at depth and speed, making you desirable to employers.

According to the Annual Population Survey, people who have no qualifications have an employment rate of 47%. This jumps to 72% for people with qualifications at Level 2; 83% at Level 3; and 87% at Level 4 and above.

Many high-level roles and certain industries require a strong educational background to qualify for the job. In sectors such as accounting, education, engineering and law, being educated to degree level is highly beneficial and can often be a requirement outlined in the person specification.

In the current jobs market, educated graduates are in high demand and it looks set to remain that way for the foreseeable future. Many employers will look at an applicant’s education and see a person who has the ability to learn complex subject matters and, where degrees are concerned, have the staying power to study for a lengthy period of time.

If you’re looking to enter a sector where a high education is desirable, outline the options available that will help you appeal to employers – including degrees, apprenticeships and further education courses.

The value of experience

Proven experience goes a long way to showcasing your ability for a role. If you have worked in an industry before, this previous experience may signify to an employer that you can do the job required.

Having relevant experience also helps individuals to develop new perspectives and learn vocational skills that are fully transferable within the workplace. Having workplace experience can also develop desirable skills such as problem solving, communication, and people management – demonstrating to employers that you can work effectively and efficiently within a team.

Experience is highly valued since it indicates that you are familiar with the latest workplace trends, technologies, and practices in your relevant industry. As much as hard skills are essential, certain soft skills relevant to all industries are needed for entry-level jobs. Having a previous role can help enhance your interpersonal, communication and adaptability skills that employers often look for in potential employees.

A healthy blend of the two

Unfortunately, attaining your dream job is not quite as straightforward as education or experience. A survey by Universum found that 58% of leading employers value work experience among graduates more than grades or the name of their university.

If you’re worrying about which career path to start out on – university or job – you can gain both skill sets whichever you choose. It’s important to remember that you can always go back to university or retrain in a different profession later in life.

If you’re already in the workplace, many employers will give you time to study for industry qualifications as part of a continued professional development (CPD) plan. This has become even easier recently thanks to advances in remote learning technology post-pandemic.

Most employers want to see and hear of theoretical and practical skills from candidates during job interviews, but you can gain both from education and experience. A healthy blend of education and experience will set you in good stead when it comes to changing, adapting, or starting a new career.

Looking to take the next step in your career? Send us your CV and find out how we can help you secure your next role.

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