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

By Robert Half March 17, 2014 at 9:30pm

In the last few years, the increasingly competitive job market has called for highly skilled, tech-savvy candidates with stellar tertiary credentials to match. But according to a June 2012 Forbes article, The Case for Hiring ‘Under-Qualified’ Employees, untrained candidates often possess toolkits that can set the stage for professional success.

The article goes on to state that less-seasoned candidates are often resourceful, enthusiastic and innovative with an all-important willingness to learn.

If you’re recruiting a doctor, lawyer or chartered accountant, there’s no denying that the right education will often win.

But when it comes to many other professions, weighing up qualifications versus work experience is often trickier business. 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

The academic over-achiever or the work experience junkie: still wondering how to decide between the two? 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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