Qualifications versus industry experience when recruiting

What CV information should stand out to you when taking on staff? Geoff Ford discusses the factors to take on board.

In the minefield that is recruiting, finding the right candidate who fits the role in question and the company culture can come down to several important factors. The question that often surfaces in every employer’s mind is, what is more important: qualifications or industry experience? There is no straightforward answer to that question as each area brings its own values and merits.

Some may argue that qualifications give candidates a better grounding in their industry of choice, whereas others contest that work experience is the most valuable asset as it enables prospective employees to gain a deeper insight into how an organisations runs on a daily basis. Herein lies the conundrum for jobseekers, as gaining work experience in many companies requires them to be a student or graduate, and to apply for certain positions a degree is often one of the first prerequisites.

Gaining a qualification at any level is no easy feat and should not be ignored by employers. The benefits of candidates with a qualification are plentiful. Not only will they have acquired a detailed knowledge of their chosen industry, but the skills they glean from education are also valuable to employers. Throughout their time in education, students are tasked with several challenges including mastering communication skills, learning how to work cohesively as a team and demonstrating the ability to manage their time effectively. By the end of their studies, candidates are equipped with a skillset that is desirable by many if not all employers.

Conversely, during the recruitment process, employers may face the dilemma of having several suitable candidates all with relevant qualifications. In this instance, experience becomes the defining employment criterion. Industry experience serves numerous purposes. Firstly, it enables students and graduates to assess whether the industry is right for them, helping them to develop invaluable transferable skills, which they can take to future employment, for example client engagement. Additionally, for employers, experience demonstrates that the candidate already has an excellent working knowledge of the industry and thus should not need constantly micro-managing, as they will be adept enough to handle most tasks thrown their way.

On an important note, individuals who lack relevant qualifications should not be discriminated against, as it does not make them any less intelligent, nor does it inhibit their ability to develop the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the job well. In fact, offering some form of training and qualification on the job can sometimes lead to gaining an employee who will be loyal for years to come.

In reality, one area does not outweigh the other, but rather qualifications work hand in hand with industry experience to provide a full equipped and knowledgeable prospective employee. It may be beneficial for employers to select candidates who they see as having potential based on either their academic standing or skilled experience. Either way it all comes down to that gut feeling you get when you meet an individual who you know has what you have been looking for.

Geoff Ford is director of employment law consultancy Peninsula. 

Further reading on employing staff

SMEs prefer experience in candidates

Almost two thirds (64 per cent) of small businesses look for experience over qualifications when hiring, research finds.

Of that majority, 52 per cent feel experience is ‘more useful’ for the business, according to a study of more than 1,100 small business managers conducted by independent online HR consultancy Reabur.

Some 9 per cent of respondents cite that they ‘wouldn’t hire’ a candidate with no experience ‘despite the qualifications they hold’. In contrast, when advertising a new vacancy, 12 per cent of the respondents claim they placed a ‘minimum qualification level’ on the job specifications.

When hiring a new member of staff, more than two fifths (41 per cent) of respondents admit to valuing the ‘cleanliness’ of an interviewee. A further 29 per cent state that they were likely to hire a ‘polite’ candidate when interviewing for a vacancy.

The respondents were also asked if they offered internships within their business, to which a quarter, 24 per cent, answered ‘yes’. These respondents were subsequently asked if they had ever hired an intern as a result of their ability to perform the job role, to which 47 per cent said they had.

Reabur co-managing director Kirsty Burgess says, ‘It is really interesting to understand what many small businesses across the UK ‘look’ for when hiring a new member of staff. Having dealt with many businesses that have regretfully hired the wrong candidate, we know how important it is for businesses to conduct a thorough interview process and offer the role to the most capable and worthy applicant.

‘While many small employers prefer experience over qualifications, the advantages of ‘growing your own’ shouldn’t be overlooked, and although investment in training and developing a qualified, but inexperienced member of staff can be significant, the return on that investment is often seen much earlier than expected. Eagerness to learn new skills and gain experience is just as important.’

Alan Dobie

Alan Dobie

Alan was assistant editor at Vitesse Media Plc (previous owner of smallbusiness.co.uk) before moving on to a content producer role at Reed Business Information. He has over 17 years of experience in the...

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