Education or Experience, What Do Employers Prefer?

Education or Experience, What Do Employers Prefer?

If you're considering an advanced degree or certification, you probably find yourself wondering if the added education is worth your time. After all, wouldn't your time be better spent gaining experience? The truth is that there is no easy way to determine whether education or experience is more important. In fact, it's an age-old dilemma that takes some serious thought.

Can You Guarantee a Return on Investment?

A college education costs more than you can expect to earn in one year, regardless of your career choice. However, you can still guarantee a return on investment. In any industry, a college degree guarantees you better job prospects and a higher salary.

Over the course of one lifetime, a bachelor's degree makes you likely to earn about one million dollars more than someone with no degree. Likewise, a master's degree comes with an even higher lifetime earning increase. But it's not as black and white as other types of education. In some industries, there's no need for a Ph.D. or advanced training. Other industries demand high-level degrees, or you won't be able to get your foot in the door.

There's also a guaranteed ROI for experience. As you earn your salary, you gain experience. Many jobs require a minimum of one year of experience, which is difficult to attain. Typically, recent college graduates struggle to find employers willing to hire them with no experience. For this reason, you could argue that experience also comes with a guaranteed return on investment.

A Mixture of Both

In most scenarios, a combination of experience and education is the right answer. Just like everything in life, it's all about finding the right balance.

You can find this balance in any number of ways. For instance, you might volunteer in your free time while you earn a degree. Or, you could take night courses as you work full-time in your desired industry. It can be exhausting, but your dual efforts could pay off.

Another option for experience while earning a degree is to participate in an internship. Depending on your college, you might be able to gain college credits while you work as an intern.

Know What Prospective Employer a Want

Without knowing your industry, you can't be sure whether education or experience is more important. Therefore, you need to delve into your industry and consider what prospective employers want from their candidates. This is easier than it sounds.

Look at job listings for jobs you could take to begin or advance your career path. To get started in the career, what are the education and experience requirements? As you progress, do the education requirements change? If you eventually need an advanced degree, you might consider taking a few courses early on in your career.

A little research can guide you and help you decide how to proceed with your career. Although most careers will demand a mixture of both education and experience, they all have unique requirements. Consider the best way for you to go about meeting the requirements and make a long-term plan.

As rare as it may be, some employers offer to pay for an employee's education. Find out if this ever happens in your industry, and you could save yourself thousands of dollars.

Colleges Don't Cater to Employers

While you do your research, remind yourself that colleges and professors don't have your prospective career in mind. They're not trying to prepare you for a particular job and instead only care that you meet the requirements for your degree.

Today, most degree programs focus more on classroom learning than they do field activities. The responsibility of gaining experience falls on your shoulders, but most college students don't realize that. By being aware of this and planning ahead, you can better prepare yourself to find a job as soon as you graduate.

If you have questions about what a prospective employer might expect of you, don't be afraid to speak with your advisor. Let them know you're concerned about not having enough experience for your desired job, and they may be able to help you.

Making Up for a Lack of Experience

You can't go back in time and participate in an internship or get a part-time job, but you can make up for your lack of experience. If all you have is a degree in your name, you need to get creative on your resume. Think of certain projects that showed leadership skills, or extracurriculars that relate to your career.

While you don't always want to include your college experiences on a resume, there's a time and place for it. Usually, you should only include these activities if you have no other relevant experience. As a fresh college graduate, this may be the case.

Here are some other useful ways in which you can make up for a lack of experience:

Include All Previous Positions

You may not have direct experience in a certain industry, but you probably have one or two jobs under your belt. If you think about your daily duties in those positions, you may be able to find a connection with your new career.

Think about the soft skills and hard skills you used in all of your previous roles. How do they relate to your new career? When you list the positions on your resume, make the connection between the roles clear. It's up to you to show a hiring manager how working in fast food relates to a corporate environment.


At times, networking can substitute for experience. You can reach out to people in your desired career and ask them about opportunities. Because some of the individuals were once in your shoes, they might be sympathetic.

Even if networking doesn't help you right away, it could assist you in the future. As you advance in your career, your networking will be an asset.

So, Education or Experience?

In conclusion, neither one is better than the other. If you want to be successful, you need a combination of both. You also need to learn what your future employers will expect from you when it comes to education and experience.

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