In the Real World, Experience Can Be as Important as a Degree

If you have the right experience, the odds may be in your favor.

By Chad Broadus | September 2008


So you’ve found the perfect job posting – one that seems written
specifically for you. There’s just one problem, two little words:
"degree required."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many of the technical jobs that make both its 30 fastest and 30 largest growth
occupation lists have a bachelor’s degree listed as the "most
significant source of postsecondary education training." Completion of
a degree indicates an ability to commit to, and complete, a prolonged
and complex endeavor.  It also demonstrates mastery of a base level of
knowledge that’s fairly uniform across all institutions of higher
learning. The general assumption is this gives a potential employer
some degree of certainty regarding future performance.

Watch the video.

 

Whether true or false, do these general beliefs about post-secondary education influence hiring managers?

The Right Experience, Fit

According
to Joshua Kitchen, senior recruiter for Kforce Professional Staffing in
Dayton, Ohio, if you have the right experience, the odds may be in your
favor. "In the tech field today, a degree is like the high school
diploma of previous generations. There’s a huge performance gap between
recent college graduates and their non-degreed peers those posses years
of experience," he says. "Work experience is as valuable as a degree."

Having
talked to hundreds of hiring managers, Kitchen believes that,
ultimately, a hire comes down to the right fit. If the candidate has
the right skills and experience, and is a good personality fit, the
hiring decision is clear-cut regardless of level of education. 
"Employers want to hire a candidate that can not only do the work, but
also fit into the culture and have some longevity at the company,"
Kitchen explains.

The right experience is paramount,
but how much work experience do you have to possess to overcome the
education deficit? Anthony Miller, a recruiter with Volt Technical
Resources in Portland, Ore., says the general rule among recruiters and
hiring managers is to equate about three years of work experience to
every year in a college classroom. If you have a decade or more in the
field, chances are you’ll be a competitive candidate.

Miller
advises job seekers to apply for positions that require a degree if
they have the equivalent experience. "If a candidate has 12 years of
experience, go ahead and apply for a position wanting a four-year
degree," he says. "The candidate’s 12 years of experience is going to
be much more relevant than a candidate fresh out of school." In such
cases, both degreed and non-degreed applicants will have a similar base
of knowledge, but the applicant with hands-on background will have more
practice in dealing real-world situations.

Standing Out from the Crowd

If
you decide to apply for a job using your experience in lieu of a
degree, Miller suggests employing your cover letter and resume to
position yourself. "List the problems that you have solved at each
position," he says. "How much money did you save the company through
solving those problems?  How much time did you save the company through
your efforts?" Such examples will create a narrative that casts you as
a problem solver and solutions provider. Plus, using this technique
will make your application stand out from the pile of other resumes,
and show potential employers your experience is equal to the task.

If
Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Steve Jobs – all college dropouts – are
any indication, a degree may not predict future performance. If you
have the drive, determination, and experience to be the best, go for
it: Polish your resume and cover letter, and apply for the job. The
strength of your experience and personality might be just the right
combination to overcome the education requirements and land you in the
position you’ve dreamed of.

Chad Broadus is a tech professional based in Oregon.

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