Your resume is a document that displays your collection of skills, education, previous workplace experienc and sometimes even personality. Depending on who you ask, one section matters more than the other when it comes to finding a job.
There is a great deal of debate about whether employers value work experience over formal education or vice versa. In the past, many financial experts agreed that holding a college degree was necessary to get a good job. While having a degree is still helpful in 2023, it is not as influential as it was in the past.
In the last few years, employees have moved away from getting a college degree, and instead, opt to take an entry-level position. They use the four years normally dedicated to school, in order to work their way through the ranks of a company. This allows them to develop a resume faster than most new college graduates, as well as to avoid student loans and build up their savings. However, there are benefits to having a college degree you cannot get through work experience. Deciding which path is best requires a lot of consideration.
In reality, there is no easy answer for whether workplace education is more important than education. If you are struggling between going to work and getting an education, take the time to build a career map. A career map starts with your ideal job position. Working backward, you begin to fill in what other positions are necessary to reach your dream job until you arrive at an entry-level position. Once you know the entry-level position, you can get a feel for whether formal education is needed.
This method only works if you specifically look at an entry-level position. If you look only at the requirements for your dream job, it most likely lists some kind of degree. Many high-level positions list a degree as a requirement.
However, this requirement typically only applies to employees who are hired from outside of the company. Many companies prioritize promoting employees from within. As a result, employees may be able to bypass some of the necessary requirements, since the employer already knows what the employee is capable of in these instances.
Related article: Advancing from an Entry Level Job
Keep in mind that whether or not you are able to bypass educational requirements varies depending on the job. Some careers have significantly stricter requirements. For example, with most medical or legal jobs, you are rarely able to get promoted internally without first getting a degree.
Experience Involves Knowledge
One of the reasons it is difficult to choose between experience and education is that getting an education implies some level of experience. If you have a degree, it suggests that you have at least some experience in your chosen field. The issue is the type of experience. Practical work experience is not the same type of experience you get from pursuing a degree. When you have practical workplace experience, you demonstrate knowledge of how to handle yourself in the workplace. This includes skills like:
- Working alongside coworkers.
- Following orders from management and general company policies.
- Displaying workplace independence.
Pursuing a college degree covers some of these areas but in different ways. For example, college students often work together in groups on a project, but this is not exactly the same as working with coworkers. Many group projects allow students to pick their teammates, with the majority of groups being made up of students who are already on good terms with one another. In the workforce, you often have no choice in who you work with.
Following orders from management is also different than following orders from a professor. In college, you are expected to ask more questions and have some level of flexibility with project parameters. It is easier to adjust the goals of a project if a classmate is sick, versus adjusting project parameters at work if someone calls out. Your manager may give you a deadline extension, but little else. Managers are expected to act as guides to workers, but not to the same extent as a college professor, which affects workplace independence.
Specialized Roles Require Knowledge
Specialized positions do not have the same requirements as a traditional workplace job. Entry-level positions in areas like the medical field often require a significant foundation of knowledge. As a result, a college degree is an important qualification.
Related article: Career and Technical Education vs. Traditional College
If you know you want to work in a specialized field, you need to put aside time to get your degree. One of the downsides to applying for a job in a specialized field is that it is harder to have a fallback plan. If you do not get your desired job, your specialized degree may limit the other areas you can consider working in.
There are different networking benefits available to both students and workers. Many students utilize their networks on campus to get job recommendations from their professors. With these personal recommendations, students can sometimes bypass having minimal work experience.
However, professors are often limited in how many students they can recommend. Unless your professor is particularly well connected, it is unlikely he or she knows enough employers for an entire class. In many cases, you end up competing with your classmates to get these coveted positions.
Employees who go straight into the workforce instead of getting a degree have their own networking opportunities. Working at a job is one of the most effective ways to build a professional network. Not only do you gain access to internal promotions, but you can network with clients and coworkers as well. If nothing else, early workers have the chance to build up a list of professional references, which helps on future job applications.
Why not both?
If you find the idea of picking between work and school stressful, remind yourself it is not a binary choice. Many college students take on part-time jobs or internships to build up work experience. There are also many jobs where you can get help paying for your education. Not only does this help you to afford school, but you may receive a promotion and pay raise to reflect your new training. However, you are often expected to commit to working for the company for a set amount of time in exchange for help.
Another popular option is getting a two-year degree. In the past, students were discouraged from getting a two-year degree because it did not provide the same experience as a four-year degree. In 2023, two-year degrees are treated with more respect. Many two-year degrees focus on providing a specific set of work skills, such as teaching everything you need about accounting or nursing. This allows you to quickly get into the field of your choice without having to worry about a large employment gap on your resume.
Related article: Bridging the Skills Gap Between Work and Education