Education vs Experience: Which Do Employers Value More?

Updated By Staff Writer on September 3, 2020

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.

So do employers look for experience or education? In reality, the education vs. experience debate is much more nuanced than an either-or question. Education vs. experience statistics vary, so the answer really depends on who you are—and who you ask.

Which is More Important: Education, or Experience?

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 lost 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.

If you’re wondering which one employers value more, the short answer is that they value them both on equal terms. Of course, there are exceptions (Like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs), but for the most part, ambitious, career-minded individuals should strive for a good balance of both education and experience.

What Do Employers Value More?

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.

For an employer, a college graduate 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 they can rise up the ranks and can be trusted with more responsible roles, rather than someone who can only perform tasks they’re 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. They want to know that their employee can put their education to use on the job—not just use the information to ace a test.

Does Education Count As Years of Experience?

Education and experience do have some overlap. For example, many students land internships, job shadowing opportunities, and find mentors because of the networking opportunities at their school.

This type of experience goes beyond the walls of the classroom and gives students a chance to practice everything they’ve learned in a job setting. They get more of a feel for the reality of the job and get a chance to confirm that this is the right career path for them. This is a crucial part of building a promising career—but it’s also not a complete substitute for on-the-job experience.

Internship responsibilities vary drastically from one organization to another, so employers can’t always be sure that the student really knows what it’s like to do the job they’re applying for. After all, some interns spend their days doing coffee runs, while others are thrown into the fire and making real contributions to the company.

For this reason, it’s important to go into detail about any educational opportunities you’ve had that offer real-world experience. Answer job interview questions by relating it to your internship or job shadowing experiences to really demonstrate that you’re a great candidate for the job.

Should You Put Your Education or Experience First On a Resume?

The question of whether you should put education or experience first on your resume is another nuanced topic. The answer is: it depends. If your education is recent and most relevant to the job, it’s best to put this at the top of your resume. However, if your experience is more recent and relevant, it’s better to list it before education.

For example, some job candidates might end up applying for a job that has little to do with their recent work experience. However, the right education could catch the eye of their employer and help them land the job, despite the lack of real-world experience.

Is Experience More Valuable Than a Degree?

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 training, apprenticeships, freelancing, and more. Some academic programs have a mandatory practical training requirement, while others may need you to take the initiative.

Start Your Degree Program Today

Education vs. experience: which do employers value more? Now that you know the right combination of a successful academic career and relevant job experience in your field, you could be giving yourself a leg up against the competition.

If you’re ready to get the education you need to land your dream job, request more information about Independence University today. We’ll help you find the flexible, affordable online degree program to boost your career.