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New hires: Experience vs. qualifications

Anneli Knight
Smarter Writer

Anneli Knight is a journalist, writer and academic with a background in law and finance. She lives in Byron Bay

Anneli Knight
Smarter Writer

Anneli Knight is a journalist, writer and academic with a background in law and finance. She lives in Byron Bay

When it comes to hiring young recruits, do you pay greater heed to work experience or university degrees? 80 per cent of the new graduates you interview have a strong opinion on what they think you prefer. And it’s probably not what you expect.

A survey of job-seeking university graduates has found that almost half (49 per cent) feel their degrees haven’t adequately prepared them for the workforce.

The study, undertaken by online jobs platform OneShift, interviewed 1139 young job-seekers and also found that 80 per cent of them believe employers value work experience more highly than tertiary qualifications. 

Marta Higuera is the founder of tech start-up, Open Agent, an online portal to help people find the best real estate agent in their area.

The business has 20 employees, including many young people and recent graduates, and Marta says that while a university degree might help land you an interview, there is a whole lot more she’s looking for.

Cartoon of two people holding CVs

The more experience the better

“Work experience is more essential than a university degree because it tells me they have done something else – more than just what is required,” says Marta. 

“You have a lot of kids coming out of uni. What makes one different from the other is what they are doing apart from studying their degree.” 

The benefit of work experience is not only that it gives young people practical skills it also demonstrates that they’ve taken the initiative to find a job that gives them experience. A go-getter attitude is the number one trait Open Agent is looking for in staff. 

“We have really smart people who don’t have university degrees and they can progress through our organisation in the same way.” 

However this doesn’t mean Marta overlooks a degree, she does recognise the high value of learning and analytical thinking it can bring. She says that other than in the highly technical IT roles in her business, it is becoming less and less important what kind of degree they hold.

Broadening your horizons beyond formal education

CEO of OneShift Genevieve George says it is important for tertiary institutions to ask the question: how well are they preparing young people for the workforce? 

“The current transition from university to work can be very rough and many young Australians are finding themselves overwhelmed by a highly competitive job market that places little value on their tertiary qualifications and results,” says Genevieve. 

Genevieve acknowledges Australia’s high world standard of educational institutions, but is concerned that students feel under-prepared for the world of work. She feels universities should place more emphasis on practical work-based placements, either by incorporating them into degree programs, or encouraging students to participate outside their studies.

However, opportunities are available immediately for those students who take on the go-getter attitude. This is Genevieve George’s message to students: 

“It can seem difficult to make the time for work experience or internship programs when you’re studying or even travelling abroad, but these years are an excellent opportunity to build the skills, contacts and confidence that will help you succeed in the workplace. It shows great initiative and also offers you the chance to form a better idea of the kind of career you may like to pursue, or to be honest, avoid."

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