Education vs. Experience: What's Most Important to Employers

A standard resume requires candidates to include their education, experience, and achievements. But what actually matters to those in charge of hiring? Is it where you went to school and what grades you achieved? Or is it how many years of experience you have in the field, regardless of whether or not you ever earned a diploma?

KnowHowIn a perfect world, it’s both

Ideally, employers like to see a healthy mix of both education and experience in a resume. If you have a college degree and a few years of job-related achievements? Congratulations, you’re the ideal candidate! But that’s clearly not going to be the case for everyone. Some applicants are much heavier on one side of the equation than the other, and determining what is most important depends on both the type of employer and the job market as a whole.

What makes someone “job-ready”

Studies have found most people in charge of hiring tend to consider those with a higher level of education to be more “job-ready” than those without a college degree of any sort. What determines job readiness? The hard skills required for that particular role are important, obviously, but many soft skills are taught through higher education, as well. These types of skills include good persuasion techniques, excellent communication, the ability to collaborate well with others, and competent time management. College can also provide specialized knowledge that proves particularly useful in career fields that have highly narrow parameters.

College graduates tend to make more

It still holds true that college graduates tend to earn significantly more over their lifetimes than non-degree holders. This is largely due to the fact that higher-paying jobs often require at least a bachelor’s degree (whether the responsibilities match the requirement is a conversation for another day).

Employers are also more willing to pay more for candidates with a specialized degree, such as a master’s or doctorate. While this pay gap is perhaps most visible when first applying for jobs, those with years of experience can also eventually demand higher salaries as they become true experts in their fields.

Times are changing

There is growing evidence that trends have begun to shift away from the emphasis on “education above all else” that has dominated the corporate mindset for decades. According to US News, the relatively low level of unemployment in recent years, as well as “the high cost of college and a pandemic-era reassessment of work,” has resulted in many employers lowering or ignoring their own requirements that applicants hold a college degree.

And in an imperfect world…it’s also both

Unfortunately, this often-conflicting information prevents anyone from saying confidently, “Education is more important to employers” or “Experience is more important to employers.” The true (but rather unsatisfying) answer is that it’s a delicate balance of both. Certain industries (medical, academic, etc.) continue to lean heavily on a candidate’s educational background because it means stronger candidates for that field. Others (computers, technicians, etc.) tend to look more closely at a candidate’s experience and the knowledge they’ve gained through real-world projects.

The bottom line? Don’t shy away from pursuing your dream job just because you may lack either the education or the experience. Find out from professionals already in the field what is actually necessary to do the job, and go out there and do it—whether it’s earning a degree or spending a few years getting hands-on experience.

Sometimes it’s just a fact of life that we start out a job search with very little education. Or perhaps you’ve just graduated from college and have yet to gain any professional experience. Either way, more and more employers are beginning to see candidates from all sorts of backgrounds and training can be extremely valuable members of the workforce. The days in which a college degree is required for almost any type of job are slowly fading, with more emphasis being put on a candidate’s drive and potential. So whether you have more education or experience under your belt, don’t let it discourage you from pursuing the career that feels right for you.

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