There’s a long list of college graduates that are walking away from their commencements these days with a heart-stopping amount of student loan debt. My name is on that list. Our hope is to find a career path that is not only satisfying and enjoyable, but will enable us to somehow pay back the $30, 40, 50,000 or more that we have now in debt. We won’t even talk about medical degrees. This puts an enormous amount of pressure on grads, with bachelor’s degrees and graduate degrees alike, to find something that will sustain them. In the journey to find a great salary, some graduates end up switching career paths all together and not even finding jobs in their field of study that had costed them so much money in the first place. Irony, anyone? Don’t worry, my name is on that list too.

So, what does all of this mean in our job search? Do employers value education over experience, or the other way around? Of course, I’m going to answer this in exactly the way that you didn’t want me to: It depends. First, let’s talk about the employer. Employers will value different things based on what industry they are doing business in, what level the position is and whether or not the position requires more hard or soft skills. By and large, experience will win if you ask most hiring managers and this is a reasonable expectation.  Particularly if you are staying in the same field for a long time, experience tends wins out over higher education. According to research at Georgetown University, people who have worked longer make more money than recent graduates with advanced degrees (Ohm, 2015).

So, what do you do if you don’t have the experience yet? This is where education is your friend. The job market is highly competitive right now and an advanced degree could absolutely be what sets you apart from others. Or, if you are switching fields, or re-entering the workforce after an absence, the degree could be just what you need to make up for the lack of direct experience. However, in some fields such as technology and engineering, education and certifications will give you the competitive edge. IT skills are in high demand and the up and coming talent pool is lacking in those skills.

As you can see, there is no clear cut answer.

So, the question always comes back to what is right for you, personally. Empowering job seekers to know themselves and follow their intuition in their careers is what WorkSmart Counseling is all about. One way to approach this is to think outside the box, as people love to say. Education doesn’t always have to mean going back to school for a full degree. Consider getting a certification in your field, if available. Consider going to a community college to take short-term classes or workshops. Not every form of education has to involve years of research papers and loan payments that will make your head explode! But of course, those options are available.
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