Experience vs. Education – which one matters for your CV?

As a recent school leaver you may be thinking whether or not getting a degree or professional qualification is going to land you a more successful career – but is work experience more valuable to an employer?

If you’re chosen career path is in medicine, science, or engineering, then most likely you will need to obtain a degree to achieve your goals; but there are lots of jobs out there that don’t make qualifications mandatory. Should this mean you step straight into work after leaving school, or should you still get a degree to give your CV more credibility?

Choosing work experience or education as your main starting path after leaving school is a tough one to decide, and with so many different careers out there it could be impossible to predict what the right thing to do is.

To help you decide what to do, here’s our guide on experience vs. education – which one should you focus on for the perfect CV?

When a qualification is a must 

Certain professions require qualifications, from doctors and nurses, to accountants and lawyers. So if you are going down this route then you probably already know which degree or formal qualifications you need to study for and which college or university you need to attend.

Education is a necessary route to your chosen career path, but that doesn’t mean to say that work experience is of no importance to your CV when applying for your first job. No matter what the job you’re applying for, work experience will always be valuable to an employer and will give you a better chance of getting an interview.

But how do you get work experience when studying?

Part time and voluntary work

Part time work and voluntary work are both a great way to gain work experience, and are a good addition to your CV alongside your education. This work experience doesn’t have to be directly relevant to your chosen profession – any amount of time spent in a working environment is both beneficial to your personal development and your CV. Learning and improving your soft skills can be done through education, but a degree will not always prepare you for a working environment.

Work experience can help develop your soft skills which are incredibly important to employers but aren’t easily taught in the classroom. A soft skill is a skill which isn’t directly related to a specific role and is a general attribute that an employer would always value. For example, communication skills, team working, organisation, diary management and working well under pressure are all vital soft skills to have and develop whilst gaining an education. 

Although some of these skills are developed during the course of your studies, one of the best ways to develop them even further is to work part time and/or commit to a voluntary position. Interacting with colleagues and customers will help you to prepare better for when the time comes to enter the working environment after you’ve achieved your degree or qualification – and will look great on your CV!

Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships

An apprenticeship scheme could be a great way for you to not only gain a qualification, but to also work at the same time – the best of both worlds! There is an abundance of information online offering help and advice on how to join an apprenticeship, and with such a huge amount of apprenticeships available to choose from, you could focus your career very quickly by getting the skills you need whilst gaining the right qualifications.

Here are a couple of websites to get you started:

Working for family or friends

If you have a family member in business who is willing to give you a role, this can be a great way to earn some money, learn a skill and get that all important work experience; but whilst this sounds great you need to be careful how this will look on your CV. Listing your Mum or Dad under your work experience or reference section carries less credibility, even if the job you’ve done is genuine paid work.

The hiring manager would always want to see an unbiased opinion when it comes to your past performance, and being handed a job by a family member could mean you took the easy route. However, this doesn’t mean to say you should avoid this type of work experience altogether. If you work for a company that is owned by a family member, list a reference who is not related to you and therefore more neutral.

If you’re lacking in work experience and thinking about listing casual work done for friends or family, consider the value it adds to your CV. Doing chores like sweeping the yard, mowing the lawn and trimming the hedge may not be of interest to an employer (unless, perhaps, you’re applying to a garden services company!) However, tasks you’ve done regularly which demonstrate valuable soft skills, such as the ability to lead a team, handle responsibility or stay organised, could be worth including as they demonstrate qualities that are directly transferable to the workplace.

Avoid wasting time and money

Student debt

The sting in the tail of a degree is student debt – make sure yours will really help you along your career path.

Having a qualification is not always necessary, and it’s important to do lots of research into the careers you are considering to find out what you need. You should always look to take a college or University degree that directly relates to your chosen career path, but also consider alternative routes into your profession. For example, a law degree is only one route to becoming a qualified lawyer – CILEX, STEP and the CLC all offer alternative routes which are also considerably cheaper, and with CILEX you can earn/gain experience as you learn.

There are so many students out there that are unsure of what to do after they leave secondary school, and in some cases just jump onto the first interesting course they come across or something their friend has chosen. This means leaving university after a few years with little to no work experience, a degree that has little use and a giant student loan to boot!

Whatever path you choose to take, make sure you don’t waste those precious few years right after you leave school. If you’re studying, part time work and voluntary work will get you ready for a working environment.  If you don’t want or need a degree, then get working as soon as possible and start climbing that career ladder!

Applying for your first job

Some of our CV templates that work particularly well for school leavers include:

You can view our full collection of free professional CV templates here – all are in Microsoft Word format making them easy to edit and no sign up is required for download.

About Martin Carline

Martin has been a senior manager of a large customer service team within the education services industry, dealing with all aspects of staff recruitment and management. He now authors and manages content for CV Template Master and a number of other leading websites. In his spare time, Martin is an accomplished pianist and teaches all styles with a particular focus on boogie woogie and blues.

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