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What To Do If Experience Overrides Education

What To Do If Experience Overrides Education

By Leanne Bull


Say your company is searching for the ideal candidate to fill a vacant role. You encounter a candidate who brings an impressive mix of experience, but doesn’t fit your requirements in terms of their educational background. Would you still consider hiring them?

This can be a tricky question. Job postings traditionally outline educational requirements, specifying the desired degree or diploma a candidate should possess, which may need to be combined with relevant experience to make them a fit for the role.

However, if a candidate brings an impressive skillset coupled with relevant experience, you may wish to loosen your requirements around their educational background. But you may ask: when should experience override education? Here are some considerations to keep in mind if you’re deciding whether this type of candidate will be the right hire.


Evaluating an educational background


Educational requirements can help to gauge the candidate’s potential to successfully perform the duties and handle outlined responsibilities by demonstrating that they bring at least a basic understanding of the industry and their function.

Insight into a candidate’s educational background and academic standing may provide useful perspective when hiring for some roles, but you don’t necessarily need to know about a candidate’s grades to decide if they’re a fit. Regardless of the area of study, schooling helps to develop one’s critical thinking skills, ability to make decisions and to juggle competing deadlines.


Determining the relevance of the field of study


Depending on where a candidate is in their career, it’s possible that a degree and/or diploma may have been earned many years prior to applying to your company. It’s also possible that their career progressed in such a way that their educational background isn’t directly related to where they ended up. However, this doesn’t mean that the experience they’ve amassed in the meantime hasn’t effectively prepared them for the role in question.

A recent Monster Canada poll found that more than half of working Canadians, if given the chance, would choose to earn a different degree or diploma, if they could begin their post-secondary schooling again. The same poll found that while six-in-ten working Canadians agreed that their most recent or current job is related to their field of study, four-in-ten disagreed. That’s a significant amount of working professionals employed in a field without related education.

Before assuming a candidate doesn’t qualify based on what they did or didn’t study, consider taking a close look at the requirements you’ve laid out for the role. Try to determine if the skills they’ve developed are similar or transferable enough for them to succeed. Be sure to bring your intuition into the interview to help identify these skills.


Fitting into an evolving workforce


Another consideration to be mindful of is how the workforce is on the verge of a transformation due to the rise of artificial intelligence. This isn’t a question of if; it’s more of a question of when and to what degree your workforce will be impacted.

There are steps that employers can take to help prepare their workforce for the AI transformation, but you may also want to consider bringing on talent with different, unique skillsets. It may be worth thinking about hiring a candidate with an atypical background that can help introduce new skills and approaches.

Diversifying skills is an important step to prepare for eventual changes to the way work is completed. For instance, if you’re hiring for a role that requires consultative client services, perhaps a candidate without a specific degree, but whom has taught themselves how to code will be able to bring a fresh perspective that your clients will value.


Pinpointing management potential


While education can help to develop a solid foundation, nothing can prepare an employee for management more than experience. To be an effective manager requires much more than a prestigious degree.

Managerial candidates should bring strong soft skills and a high level of emotional intelligence. It can also be beneficial for a manager to think outside of the box, and to bring new, innovative ways of thinking.

When hiring for a management-level role, you may encounter candidates whose resumes do not list the standard educational background. However, their experience may demonstrate a clear progression in their career, including the ability to successfully move projects and programs forward. Strong management isn’t always easy to come by, but it can help to reduce the loss of talent. If you identify a candidate who is poised to be an effective manager, think about making an offer.


The benefits of investing in the right talent


If you’re hiring for a role in which there aren’t strict requirements specific to academic performance, recognize when experience should be prioritized over education. Hiring untraditional candidates box can have long-term benefits.

Not only can you demonstrate that you’re the type of employer that invests in your talent, but this can help you to enhance employee engagement and improve retention.  And you may just find that the different perspectives create a more agile, creative and productive workforce.


For the latest recruitment tips or hiring trends, visit hiring.monster.ca.