How Important is Your Educational Background When Applying to Jobs?

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When you’re looking for a job, knowing what your target companies value most in job candidates can help you tailor your cover letter, resume and even interview answers to highlight the most relevant aspects of your background. From culture fit to leadership qualities to specialized skill or otherwise, there’s a huge number of things companies might pay attention to when hiring. You can pretty much guarantee, though, that experience and education will show up on that list of things in some way, shape or form.

For some organizations, it’s experience and expertise that matters more than just about anything else. Others focus on technical skill – from the ability to draw or create to the ability to manage a network like a pro. Still other businesses put a lot of emphasis on employees’ educational backgrounds, highlighting degrees and university names on the company website and in other materials. The question is then, which matters more – education or experience?

The short answer is: It depends.

Since different businesses are focused on and value different qualities in prospective employees, it is more important to discover what the organization you are interested in values most. If you have a lot of work experience, then seeking out and applying to companies that place a heavy value on experience or skill will result in higher quality offers. Have an impressive school resume? Then an organization who values education most might be your best bet if you are looking to make a solid impression.

In general, education matters a lot in some specific circumstances, including:

  • Businesses that place high value on education; whether a degree is required for the job or not. For some organizations, completing four or more years of college shows that you can stick things out and that you are driven to succeed.
  • Positions that require a specific degree, license or certification to legally perform the job; from healthcare to law, engineering and even some technology positions, education may not be optional.
  • Positions where the career path would terminate if the employee does not have the right certification or degree; you’d only be able to go so far here, even if you excel at your job.

Education may be less important to some employers and in some professions, including:

  • Sales and other performance based jobs; if you know your industry and can sell, your educational background will likely take a back seat to your performance and the revenue you produce.
  • Employers who value life experience and want a diverse, thriving culture may see a strong educational background as a nice perk or benefit, but not hold it as a requirement for employees.
  • More and more college grads enter the workplace each year, so a four-year degree simply isn’t as impressive as it once was to employers; those who place less weight on education often emphasize work and life experience instead.

So, which matters most – work experience or education? The bottom line is it really depends on where you are in your career, what field you are in and even the requirements of your profession. Taking the time to create a resume and craft interview responses that put both your education and your experience in the best possible light can help you stand out in even a crowded applicant field and allow you to make a positive impression on a potential employer.

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