Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Work experience - Lies your high school may not know they told you

Experience is the new black.

College graduates generally earn more than people with only a high school diploma. A 2014 study puts the gap at an average $17,500 per year. High school dropouts have it even worse, making 60% less than college grads. There are a lot of good reasons to get a college degree, and its effect on your earning potential is one of the most important.

But for many industries, the economic value tapers off once you have a bachelor's degree. A recent article in Business Insider listed the 10 most "useless" graduate degrees, where "useless" means that a master's really doesn't improve salaries or unemployment rates. Computer Science and IT graduate degrees made this top 10 list.

I can easily believe those findings. I'm a software professional who has hired (or helped to hire) dozens of software developers and testers in my career. All candidates had undergraduate degrees, and some had graduate. However, not all had work experience. For many hire decisions, relevant work experience can be the main differentiator.

The company that employs me is well-known for being a great place to work. When we open a technical position in Research & Development, hundreds of applications pour in. I do look at a candidate's education, but what I'm truly interested in is their employment history. If the applicant doesn't have one, I'm likely to move that resume to the "Maybe" stack.

Why do I do this? It's because I want new colleagues who know how to tackle business projects, meet deadlines, collaborate with other people, and follow directions. You do not get those skills in college. Unless you have "blow-me-away" education, I'll choose an experienced candidate. Every time.

There are a lot of ways to get experience. Work-study, internships, and volunteer jobs look amazing on resumes. If you can't find any of those opportunities, being self-employed can look good, too.

Start the research now, while you're making the transition from high school to college to career. If you know what you want to major in1, find out if post-graduate education is required. If it's not, discover how much (or little) your education impacts your career and salary goals. And then organize your 5-year plan around that information.

Bottom line: In a competitive job market, work experience might be as critical to your job search as education. So do your research. Know what is expected for your field, and then make a plan that is right for you and your goals.

1 - If you don't know what you want to major in yet, that's fine. You don't have to be in a hurry. Postpone research and plans until you've figured out what you want to do in your first career. 

Other posts in this series:
Online school 


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