If you were a recruiter given a choice between two candidates—one with a few years of hands-on industry experience and the other with excellent qualifications but no “real world” training—who would you choose?
Those who think education has little bearing on success throw out the names of famous university dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs while proponents of a college degree quote statistic after statistic to prove its impact on a person’s employability and earnings.
Someone with experience but no formal degree could be favored for certain jobs, but they may struggle to advance professionally. On the other hand, a college grad with the best education and book smarts may be completely at sea when it comes to dealing with real-world work situations with no prior industry experience, and struggle to land that first job.
The truth of the matter is that it’s not so much about education vs. experience, but education and experience. They’re not mutually exclusive, but actually go hand-in-hand in charting out a person’s career growth.
The corporate landscape is getting more and more competitive. Employers are interested in acquiring talented candidates with demonstrated ability, and they look for a complete package. That’s why someone who has solid educational credentials as well as real-world experience stands a better chance of making the cut.
A college grad, for an employer, is often a person who has a proven academic record, has mastered complex subject matter, has the ability to think analytically and logically, and has been exposed to an intellectually stimulating environment—someone who has demonstrated that she can rise up the ranks and can be trusted with more responsible roles, rather than someone who can only perform tasks she’s familiar with. They’ll expect that person to bring to the table everything they’ve learned and apply their skills and knowledge to solving real-world work problems.
But employers value real-world experience, too. As a fresh graduate playing the field, you can wait for someone to give you that first break—or you can work toward getting your hands dirty with some real-world experience before you ever finish your formal education.
There are several ways of doing it: internships, co-operative work placements, industrial trainings, apprenticeships, freelancing, and more. Some academic programs have a mandatory practical training requirement, while others may need you to take the initiative.
With the right combination of a successful academic career and relevant experience in your field, you could be giving yourself a leg up against the competition.
Tana Sanderson is the Director of Admissions for California College San Diego. With 18 years of higher education administration and classroom experience, she has served as the chief operational, academic and business officer for both non-profit and proprietary colleges. As a past Dean and Regional Director, she provided direction and leadership, managed the financial aid, academics, career services, distance education, and admissions departments. She has a Master of Science degree in Communications and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from San Diego State University. She has doctoral coursework in business. Tana is a native San Diegan.