In terms of formal education, it seems that candidates are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
If they invest the time and money in a formal qualification, they are often rejected by companies early in their careers for their lack of practical, on-the-job experience. They are often considered too ‘academic’ and perceived as being unable to hit the ground running because of their largely theoretical backgrounds.
If candidates take the other route and jump straight into gaining practical experience, learning on the job and being mentored or coached, they are often not considered for roles simply because they lack the piece of paper that qualifies them formally.
Why does this Catch 22 exist?
It seems that it exists because companies tend to want the best of both worlds – and they can sometimes get it too! However candidates with the perfect balance of education and experience are difficult to come by.
Because of this Catch 22, candidates are not the only ones missing out on opportunities. Businesses are losing out on valuable talent simply because applicants do not fit the rigid perception of what is required for the role. For businesses to make smart hires, they need to look beyond short term, immediate needs and take a long term outlook.
Practical experience is often just as valuable as theoretical knowledge, and vice versa. It simply depends on the scope and objectives of the role. Does the role really require a formal qualification or would someone with the natural know-how, skills and moxie be able to take up the challenge?
Hiring managers should consider this seriously; make a decision as to what is really required for success in this role and then stick by their decision through the recruitment process.
Candidates should work on positioning themselves as the best of both worlds; if you have experience but no qualification, look into further education as an investment in your career. If you have the qualification but little experience, do some contract work, get a mentor and be prepared to work your way up.