Qualifications vs. experience: What to look for in a candidate

By Robert Half 11 September 2018

For many employers, a job advertisement calling for highly skilled, tech-savvy candidates with stellar tertiary credentials to match would be the bare minimum for recruitment standards.

However, in an increasingly competitive job market where the most sought-after candidates are in demand to fill the most difficult roles, hiring managers may now need to expand beyond the prior knowledge technical skills, and look at candidates with strong cultural fit and soft skills to adapt to a business.

Choosing between qualifications versus work experience is often one of the most challenging decisions during the recruitment process, so it needs to be a decision made carefully. If you're currently searching for your next talent, ensure that you take these considerations into account before you make your final call.

The case for qualifications

It’s no secret that proper training can boost a candidate’s job prospects. Along with skills and knowledge, a jobseeker that has successfully completed a university degree or tertiary qualification shows ambition, direction and a desire to better themselves – traits that can pave the way for a solid career.

A tendency towards academic achievement can also hold powerful clues into how a new hire will perform in the workplace – the desire to excel in a learning environment often extends seamlessly to the workforce.

Top tip: Although it’s easy to be seduced by dazzling qualifications, don’t let a degree from an elite institution prevent you from looking at the bigger picture.

When assessing a highly qualified candidate, seek out evidence of internships, work experience, projects and extracurricular achievements – factors that signal initiative, people skills and an aptitude for achievement that isn’t limited to textbooks.

Why work experience matters

Whether you’re recruiting a marketing manager or a payroll officer, there’s no denying that real-world skills and practical experience offer benefits that go beyond the classroom.

Candidates that have amassed experience in a relevant position are generally well versed in industry issues, market pressures and customer demands – experience that can see them hit the ground running if they manage to secure the job.

Top tip: Work experience might be a powerful asset, but it’s also important that candidates possess the basic skills to do the job. Ensure that unqualified candidates boast a high level of literacy and numeracy, strong communication skills and a body of work that testifies to their professional wins.

Consult those in the know

If you're still struggling to choose between the academic over-achiever or the work experience junkie, turning to a recruitment agency can be a smart way to ensure you land the best candidate.

With a detailed understanding of your business and the types of employees who do well there, recruiters take into account both qualifications and experience, and use interviews and personality tests to match you with the right person – they may even know of them already.

While there’s no exact formula for securing new hires, the best candidates generally combine the best of both worlds.

Remember to consider factors such as initiative, attitude and real-world experience alongside credentials and you’re bound to secure the type of candidates that can kick serious goals.

If you need help with your temporary, permanent or contract recruitment needs, or further advice on this topic, contact your local Robert Half office today.

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