Practical experience vs. qualifications in the tech and finance industry

By Andrew Brushfield on 8 April 2016

Which is more important when it comes to getting a job in the IT and finance sector: qualifications or experience? We speak with industry insiders to get their opinions.

In the recent Australia’s Digital Pulse, it was revealed that digital technologies form one of the fastest-growing parts of Australia’s economy.

However, this growth is counteracted by a decline in the number of people graduating with relevant technological qualifications, leaving a projected gap of 100,000 workers by 2020.

According to recruiters, however, these qualifications form just one part of the industry picture. There’s a debate raging in job-seeking circles around experience versus qualifications – namely, are qualifications more important than work experience in the tech and finance industry? Or vice versa? Everyone has their own opinion based on a range of factors.

Experience is a popular choice

Tas Gray, founder and managing director of Axiom IT, says he takes the idea of experience versus qualifications on a case-by-case basis, however he often looks to experience as a leading driver of hiring someone. “Experience tends to count for more,” he says, “because people with experience can generally hit the ground running.”

The practicality gained during a period of working often outranks the value of a degree in this debate, however it’s not always the case. The answer also depends greatly on the advertised position. “For a technician in my company, experience is more important,” Gray says. “However in a more strategic position, such as IT manager and business development manager, I look more at degrees and the ability to self-learn that comes from studying at university."

These variations also play out in the finance industry where it’s important to be highly reliant on the qualifications and certifications that ensure professionals are knowledgeable in strict regulations, compliance and accounting standards. Today, large numbers of companies are looking for financial and accounting employees with two to five years of experience, whether in SMEs or multinationals. Businesses are increasingly looking for finance and accounting employees who can hit the ground running and represent an immediate added value – in both financial and business terms – for the organisation.

Qualifications have an important role

Camille Wodos, a chartered accountant running her own startup, looks at qualifications as the most important piece of the puzzle. “A university qualification shows you have commitment and dedication, and that you can turn up and do exams.” Wodos adds that while there are some great courses and pieces of information online, there are aspects of a traditional qualification that are more desirable. “You can learn anything from a degree by going on YouTube channels, but it doesn’t show that same commitment, while a full degree shows a three-year commitment.”

Wodos admits that experience is also valuable. However, she looks at experience in conjunction with qualifications when hiring. “Try to get experience while you’re studying,” she says. “If you can get an internship, that’s ideal.”

Internships are sometimes difficult to come by, but there are other ways to gain experience while also holding down a degree. “Be resourceful and make the most of what you have,” Wodos advises. “If you have a part-time hospitality job, you can still apply the knowledge you’re getting at uni by using your business brain, or you can do something online like start a YouTube channel, or look for freelance accounting work, or get an internship with a startup.”

The third piece of the equation

What is often not considered is that there may be a third answer in the debate: that neither experience nor qualifications are more important. Instead, the personal attributes – the so called ‘soft skills’ - of a candidate should be the leading factor taken into account.

This is the viewpoint of Kim Carruthers, founder of consultancy firm “We hire for intelligence and attitude,” she says. “We can train smart, passionate people to be great graphic designers or programmers in-house, but who we hire is people with great communication skills who really get that the customer comes first, and that it is our job to explain technology to them and not to be dismissive if they don't understand it.”

Gray can relate to such an idea, explaining that he also looks for people who are willing to learn, be a good fit in terms of the organisation’s culture and have an aptitude for the skills they need for the role. “If the person has a genuine interest and passion in technology, then that will take them a lot further than a degree,” he says. “We’re also looking for tech skills and customer service skills, and we need people with a good balance between having great technical abilities and being able to talk to people in a way that they can understand.”

This also goes for finance and accounting professionals. Over the years, finance has come to assume an evermore central position within the company, and as a result, there must be more intensive cooperation with other company departments, with the objective of offering support for decision-making and strategy development. The ability to explain financial information to people without a financial background, the ability to analyse the results and strong leadership and communication skills have all developed into core values that are necessary in financial positions in order to form successful partnerships within the organisation.

It seems that all parties agree on one thing: finding good people with the right mix of qualifications, experience and who are a great fit with the company and the role can be challenging.

Are you looking for a top IT or finance professional who possesses the necessary hard and soft skills and is a good fit with your company culture? Contact us today.

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