16 July 2013

Are qualifications more important than experience?

It's easy to focus on whether potential staff have the right qualifications, but should businesses place more importance on the value of experience?

It is easy to get caught up on whether potential staff have the right qualifications, but should businesses place more importance on the value of experience?

Explosion in qualifications on offer

Headhunter Gary Chaplin, who specialises in finding senior executives to fill posts throughout the UK, certainly thinks so. He claims the obsession with getting more people to go to university has seen an explosion in the number of courses and qualifications on offer.

He says: “Qualifications are seen by some as a way of guaranteeing knowledge and in some cases experiences. Most finance mandates we handle insist on a qualified accountant, usually with a preference for a Chartered Accountant, an ACA. It gives the hiring business the comfort that they have the basic skills, underpins their knowledge, and gives comfort through the backing of a professional body.”

Life experience is key

But he says looking for the right experience is also crucial when hiring an employee. Gary argues that it is experience rather than qualifications which is likely to prove they can actually do the job well.

In fact, he claims graduates with first class degrees may be less suitable for positions than their peers who didn’t do as well in their exams, because they were spending their time gaining other valuable experiences.

He says: “The majority of first class graduates I have met (at or near the point of graduation) are hugely intelligent, but have minimal life experience. Many have never worked, never developed chameleonic social skills…”

A lot of business skill development takes place on the job and by learning from mistakes and experiences. How to work as a team, engage with people and be a good leader are things people learn over time rather than something that can be taught effectively on a course.

We can all think of entrepreneurs who dropped out of university or high school, but went on to become phenomenally successful in their chosen careers. This illustrious list includes Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs to name a few.

What to look for when recruiting

Here are our tips on what to look for when hiring staff:

  • Don’t just look at candidates who got top grades in their exams, look at the type of qualification they gained and the skills they have as a result.
  • If certain qualifications are important to the role, remain objective and find out more about them as a person. It’s no good hiring someone who has the right knowledge but who won’t fit in with your other staff. Let other members of the team meet the candidates you are interested in, especially if they will be working closely together. A good team bond will boost staff productivity and reduce staff turnover.
  • Employment history and work experience is a good way of gauging how knowledgeable a potential employee is about your sector and whether they will need additional training. What work experience have they gained that demonstrates their skills and abilities?
  • How do the candidates come across in interview? Are they passionate, enthusiastic and easy to get along with? These traits will probably be more valuable to your company than a string of A-grades from school.