Qualifications Vs Experience: Which Is Most Important in Tech Recruitment?

  • December 10, 2019

In an ideal world, your job spec for your next hire would call for a highly-skilled, diversely-experienced candidate with an impressive set of qualifications and a string of letters after their name.

In 2019, it is no longer an ideal world.

Most industries are experiencing a talent shortage, and the tech industry is one of the hardest hit. In this candidate-led market, the most sought-after candidates can virtually cherry-pick from the most attractive roles from the biggest, most glittery names. And you probably wouldn’t be able to afford them anyway. No offence.

Employers must now look at differentials like cultural fit and soft skills when deciding on their next hire, and a job spec for a System Analyst may now ask for an ability to demonstrate “critical thinking ability and problem-solving skills” rather than a formal qualification.

One of the biggest decisions in the hiring process will be whether qualifications and education trump experience – because, in all likelihood, if current trends continue only the truly elite will be able to afford both.

Which camp should your business fall into?

There are compelling and often interchangeable reasons for opting for either experience or academics, and the preference may vary from role to role. Here we present the case for each side.

The Case for Qualifications

A degree or other equivalent higher education qualification doesn’t just demonstrate knowledge. Qualifications indicate a range of attributes that remain highly attractive to potential employers.

If you have achieved a degree-level qualification, the chances are you have drive, ambition, focus, direction, commitment, perseverance and the ability to learn, communicate and demonstrate understanding. Those all sound good to us!

The desire to excel in academia often translates to the same desire to succeed in the workplace and in all areas of life, and this is why we still see employers who will instantly shortlist any candidate with the appropriate degree from a top educational establishment.

A word of caution though – academic ability doesn’t always equal success on the job. There can be such a thing as being *too* academic, and sometimes an aptitude for learning and thriving in an academic, theoretical environment can end up being a barrier to success when theory does not translate to real-world practice.

A 1st class degree from a top university may show aptitude, but does it demonstrate initiative and the practical and interpersonal skills that can take skills from existing on paper to being applied in the workplace?

The Case for Experience

Many might argue that experience trumps qualifications any day of the week, and it’s easy to see why. While a degree proves an aptitude for learning, drive and focus, so too does a 5-year tenure on the job accumulating real-life experience – coincidentally, 5 years is the time taken to close the pay gap for graduate and non-graduate developers, according to Forbes.

So while one candidate may opt for an undergraduate degree in computer science, and another may opt for an apprenticeship or entry-level position, by year 5 both candidates may have accrued similar levels of gravitas and earning potential on paper, but the non-graduate has an extra 3 years’ of work history under their belt, and has potentially been invested in by the employer, undergone employer-directed and funded on-the-job training to mould them into an organisation-specific perfect candidate for internal promotion. They’ve also achieved this without stacking up student debt. Win-win for the non-graduate, it seems.

The Takeaway

In today’s knowledge society, where anyone can learn anything at virtually the click of a button and where education is a life-long process, the knowledge gained in a 3-year degree course is nothing, really, compared to the wealth of experience amassed over the course of a career.

But we are creatures of habit, and not only are qualifications a logical stepping stone into a tech career, but they are also often still the first place a recruiter or hiring manager’s eyes head to when looking over a CV, no matter the seniority of the position.

With the rise in popularity of on-the-job training schemes like apprenticeships, where students can work towards a qualification whilst gaining practical experience, it seems like combining tangible work experience with an on-paper qualification is the future.

In terms of whether your organisation should be prioritising experience or qualifications when making hiring decisions depends on your company’s ethos and opportunities for ongoing development and training. At Intec Select, we can help you prioritise your wishlist for your next hire, match your criteria to a selection of candidates who will fit the bill and ultimately ensure you make the right choice. Call us to talk about your requirements.

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