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Education v Experience: What are employers looking for?

They say that “P’s get degrees”, yet a number of large corporations still require graduates to achieve extremely high grade point averages to even become considered for a role. It’s the age old debate. Some students focus on achieving high grades and choose not to pursue employment in their fields of interest. Others will throw themselves into finding relevant, practical internships that not only help them decide where their strengths lie, but to impress future employers. Inevitably, not many students can maintain such high marks whilst maintaining a busy work schedule and visa versa. What do employers really look for?

There are a number of requisite skills and personality traits that are necessary in all roles, regardless of industry and experience.

It would seem that there are certain practical skills all employers expect. The first of these is basic writing and computer skills. Whilst spelling and grammar don’t necessarily always indicate someone’s intelligence, they are basic skills that are expected of employees. If your resume work subsequent work require little editing, it will be considered a bonus. The majority of new graduates should not find this to be news, but knowing how to use basic Microsoft Office is another prerequisite.

Another skill that isn’t necessarily reflective of whether or not you have work experience is your ability to communicate yourself and your ideas to colleagues. Whether or not you are shy, it is important that you are polite, courteous and easily understood. Even if you prefer to keep to yourself, maintaining a positive attitude and learning to work with others will be invaluable to your company, and won’t go unnoticed by employers.

Outside of these basic skills and traits, the debate of experience vs grades tends to vary depending on the industry you want to break into. For example, in highly academic fields such as medicine, law, engineering and accounting, there is a certain expectation held across the board that you will have maintained a certain grade point average. This is based off the assumption that university content provides foundational skills and knowledge that is pertinent to your role in the workforce. Experience in an office setting is a bonus, however, in these fields there are often graduate schemes and programs to help students get jobs.

Despite this, the workforce is becoming a highly competitive industry. The ability to “stand out” from peers becomes increasingly difficult. Therefore, a means to distinguish yourself could be through your past employment. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have had office experience, but if you have managed a band or trained staff at the local cafe – it all matters. Display your personality and your interests as a way to sell yourself to employers in competitive industries.

However, if you are looking to pursue a more creative field, practical experience is usually integral to gaining graduate employment. Where degrees like law and accounting may focus on practical and intricate workings of the field, many media, communications and arts fields focus on ideas and conceptual understanding. This is not to imply that the education holds less importance, but it acknowledges that where tangible skills and knowledge are not taught in degrees, they are gained through work experience. Unfortunately for most, this means partaking in unpaid work for some time. However, the benefits to be reaped from working amongst creative minds and understanding the passion that drives your industry is invaluable.

There is no simple answer to whether marks or experience are more important. Ideally, it’s great to have some experience and relatively good marks. This will show theoretical understanding and practical application of skills. However, the best way to go about discovering what is right for you is to contact a mentor. Creating and developing your career network is vital to anyone looking to hit the ground running when graduation time arrives. Your network can provide you with first-hand advice on what employers in your chosen career are looking for. You never know, they may even help you score your dream job.

WORDS BY CYNDALL MCINERNEY.  Not sure how to be at the top of your game? Ask a mentor what habits led them to success through our Q&A.


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