Are Qualifications More Important Than Experience?

The notion of qualifications versus experience is a regular topic in my line of work. On a daily basis I meet people with an immense amount of academic knowledge and qualifications but struggle to secure employment. This therefore brings about the question of – what is more important, qualifications or experience.

I don’t think there is a clear answer to this question but definitely good arguments on both sides of the fence. I personally took the university route; finished high school and immediately completed four years of university (Bachelor of Business/Arts (Japanese)). I therefore understand and appreciate the structure and dedication required to complete a qualification. To many employers, a candidate who possesses university qualifications shows attributes of commitment, a desire to better themselves, ambition and the sense of direction. People not only complete a university degree to secure a job and career but also for other benefits that impact all areas of their lives (intellectual, social and ethical etc.).

Despite the obvious benefits of obtaining a qualification, I often see recent graduates seeking employment (regardless of their degree) struggling to find a suitable position; as they have the academic and theoretical knowledge but lack practical and processional experience. Many of these people apply for entry level positions but are often deemed unsuccessful due to being overqualified, then apply for more experienced roles but again are unsuccessful as they don’t possess the experience required. For recent graduates, it is always a good idea to gain as much professional experience as possible, such as undertaking internships, securing temporary/casual work or opt for volunteer positions. The more experience you have in addition to your qualifications the better off you’ll be at the end of the day. You also have to be realistic in your job expectations. I have met with numerous recent graduates who have unrealistic expectations in regards to their salary and the positions they are seeking. I am always quick to point out their lack of experience and consequent true salary expectations.

The opposing argument is that of those who chose the ‘experience route’. After I completed high school, many of my friends chose to work and gain experience as opposed to undertaking more study. A majority of these friends now work in highly successful positions within finance, PA, sales and management. However, I have found now that those around me who opted for experience instead of study have progressed to a certain point and now find it difficult to advance without formal qualifications.

At the end of my university studies, I had very little money in the bank, (earning substantially less than those friends who opted on the experience route) but had an increased knowledge and awareness of businesses. Although at the time I was substantially poorer, I am much richer now in knowledge and experience. Obtaining qualifications has immense amounts of benefits but without experience it may not assist someone in their professional career. On the other hand, experience is a must in order to obtain certain roles/positions.

It needs to be understood that like study, the road to ones career is often long and therefore, my advice to those recent graduates entering the workforce with minimal experience is to obtain a lower level role to ‘get your foot in the door’. Once you are in a role you enjoy, money will follow. For those who opted for the ‘experience route’, you can never stop learning. If you get the chance to enhance your skills through education, go for it – at the end of the day you have nothing to lose.


Written by Linda Lewin