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You have two candidates – one with five years’ experience but no accreditation, the other a recent graduate with stellar academics but no real-world experience – who would you choose? 

As recruiters we’re often presented with this kind of conundrum. Assessing who will be the most successful person in the role we’re hiring for depends on a number of factors, including the industry, company, role and personality of the candidate. There have been plenty of times that we have picked the more experienced (but underqualified) candidate only to be rebuffed by the company because they can’t get past the candidate’s lack of accreditation.

Deciding between candidates when neither of them fit the full brief is difficult. Below are some things to consider when candidates have experience but little or no education in a sector. It really comes down to what your priorities as a business are.

Things to consider

  • In rapidly evolving sectors such as IT, the benefits of hiring someone who has worked within the field and adapted and learned as they go can outweigh a person with certification but no professional experience.
  • Often candidates are working in their industry alongside studying for accreditation. The company then benefits from hiring someone with many of the skills required for the job who will soon have the requisite certification too.
  • People who don’t have certificates proving their knowledge and skills know they have to work extra hard to impress you. 
  • Recent graduates without real-world experience will often require additional training when compared to those who have professional industry experience to draw from.
  • Experienced candidates can sometimes be overlooked because they lack degrees or certificates. Sometimes organisations will select a candidate with an unrelated degree to their sector and no experience over a person with industry experience. Your company can avoid this mistake and benefit from the candidate with proven expertise.
  • If your company has great training programs in place, then hiring an experienced but underqualified person may be advantageous.

Potential Concerns

  • Given the time, effort and cost of education, achieving certification can be a strong indicator that a person is serious about their profession. 
  • The discipline of study and the commitment to learning are skills that can be directly transferable to the workplace.
  • Given that many certificates take years of study to complete, there could easily be significant knowledge gaps if, for example, the candidate has only got real-world experience in one a particular sector.