Blog post

Education vs. experience

24th January 2017MMPurse

I was at a party this weekend and met a very nice young woman who had previously graduated as a design student and was starting her very first job within an advertising agency in Frankfurt. She had a hard time getting the job, and actually really wanted to work in London, but it seemed her shiny new degree was simply not enough to grant her even a first interview.

It’s a subject that interests me immensely and is not the first time it’s left me wondering how best to advise someone at the crossroads of their education/career path.

In Germany there is most definitely a strong emphasis on education and formal qualifications. For many jobs you will not be considered for interview unless you have the appropriate qualification for that role, regardless of the level of the position, or your previous experience. This can mean that ‘graduates’ are nearing their thirties when they enter the world of work and have no practical business experience. They end up being offered poorly paid junior jobs and make a remarkably slow crawl up the career ladder. It does not exactly encourage entrepreneurial behavior or breed a “go get ‘em” attitude.

In contrast, my personal experience in the UK and the US is that a candidate that shows experience and demonstrates the value they bring to any position has an equal, sometimes better chance of getting the job. However, perhaps this is dependent on the hiring manager in question. Would it be fair to say that people who themselves studied for a degree are looking to hire people that validate their own educational choices? And would someone that has a lot of practical experience be more likely to dismiss a ‘career student’ for someone that began working at a younger age? Don’t we all seek others in our own image?

There are many TV shows in UK and US, such as Dragons Den and The Apprentice, all of which seem to hold the ‘non-traditionally educated’ entrepreneurs in high esteem. My educational background is somewhat patchwork and I did not follow a traditional career path, so of course this strikes a very positive chord with me. After all, I’m after validation too. 🙂

But rewarding experience and entrepreneurism over formal education also presents its own problems. I have some very good friends who made significant sacrifices early in life to study, particularly in the scientific field where a PhD is minimum requirement for most jobs. They start their careers at a much later age because completing a PhD requires several more years of study. By the time they finish their education, their contemporaries could be on their second or third job and making considerable financial progress. It’s hardly an encouraging scenario for these boffins, whom are critical to the future of our existence. Think of a world with no scientists researching cures for Cancer, treatment of Alzheimer’s, reversal of Climate change and even progression of our basic daily needs.

So where does this leave young people now? How do we best advise someone in their late teens so that they give themselves the best possible opportunity to be successful? How do we encourage a balanced approach to education and experience? How about a TV show based on a well-educated successful businessman or one that follows a scientist undertaking blue sky research, the results of which will not be seen for another 10-15 years? Yes, I know… it won’t sell. 🙁

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