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IT Experience vs. IT Education: Which is More Important When Recruiting?

Mar 03 , 2016

A formal degree shows that you have achieved a level of knowledge in a particular subject area.

It's an age-old debate: is formal education more important, or is experience what really matters? In the IT field, hiring managers and recruiters must make this decision every day when choosing between candidates for positions they need to fill. Sometimes candidates will have everything hiring managers want and need, but other times, choosing the best candidate will still leave something to be desired.

So what's a hiring manager to do? Hire the candidate who learned on the job and has all the necessary skills, but no degree? Or the candidate who has a degree, with top marks and skills fresh in mind, but no experience to back it up? Here are some guidelines for sorting it all out and coming to the best possible decision.

Following Set Policies

First, it's important to follow any policies the company has already in place to govern hiring practices. If a certain degree or level of education is required for a particular position, that means someone higher up has already weighed in on the situation in the past and decided how things should go. Chances are, no matter how much you like the candidate without the formal degree, the policy was written for a good reason and needs to be followed.

Learning on the job shows that you can work with others to solve problems.

Looking At the Whole Picture

It may be oversimplifying the situation to look strictly at education vs. experience. Looking at the whole picture could reveal an advantage to one candidate or the other. For instance, did the candidate with a degree work on internships, projects or a part time job that added experience to the degree? Maybe the more experienced candidate completed an informal training program or attended conferences where education was received without official recognition.

Another aspect to consider: where was the degree received? Where was experience gained? A degree from a prestigious university may carry more weight than experience with a tiny company that no one has ever heard of. Conversely, experience with a Fortune 500 company may trump a degree from a mediocre college.

Advantages of Formal Education

A candidate with an IT degree offers the basic assurance that he or she was able to pass classes in the necessary skills, which shows some level of mastery. A recent degree may also indicate that skills are up to date. Formal education may also show a broader range of skills, since many courses go into a degree or certification program.

Advantages of On-the-Job Experience

One advantage of job experience is that it is practical and has already proven itself in a job situation. Education can be more theoretical in nature, depending on the quality of the program. While a degree is a piece of paper signifying work that was done, job experience is real and its results are tangible.

When the decision is difficult and distinctions seem few, many hiring managers rely on soft skills and attributes such as perceived fit with the corporate culture or the ability to collaborate with colleagues. Education and experience being equal, the decision can be a tough one to make at times.

GDH Consulting offers recruiting services to companies needing to fill IT positions. Contact us to see what we can do for your company.