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  >  Lifestyle   >  Career/Blogging   >  The Eternal Battle: Qualifications vs. Experience

battleThis is a subject that comes up time and time again, and after receiving an email from friend a few weeks ago asking for some advice on how to get into journalism – I thought it might be about time I tackled this subject in a post. Everyone has a different opinion on whether qualifications or experience have the greater input into where you end up in life, and I know there are great examples for both sides – but I know so many students are left confused by which one they should be focusing on. When you’re at university, you’re constantly told you need to gain more experience but when you try to get some you are told you’re not qualified for the role. It’s an eternal battle and a vicious cycle – one that many students struggle to break. So which one should you be concentrating on?

Experience

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I will always be a champion for the experience route, I may be an English Language and Communication and English Literature graduate, but I’ll be honest when I say that my degree has not really had much influence over where I have ended up. I loved studying for my degree because I was passionate about both subjects, and I would always argue that if you are passionate about something it is worth studying. But it is easy to think a degree will get you where you want to be when in actual fact they really won’t in many cases. While studying at university, I applied for work experience at national publication, More Magazine, where I spent two weeks working on the fashion desk, helping on photoshoots and so on… It wasn’t for me, but it gave me my first piece of worthwhile experience to add to my CV. Work experience at my local newspaper turned out to be the most valuable – after five days I had the front page and had been asked to write a weekly column. I also worked full time for a month with them (paid) before returning to university and was given a job upon graduating. Since graduating, I have also started writing for a festival news and reviews site, of which I was made the editor. It has not only given me great experience, but it looks fantastic on my CV and will help me in the future. Despite not being a fully-qualified journalist, I have worked in two journalistic roles since graduating three-four years ago all because of the experience I have gained. I know other fully qualified journalists who have put a lot of time into becoming qualified, but have been stuck with unpaid writing work or copy writing roles instead of journalism.

Of course, not everyone is trying to be a journalist. But this is something that will work in most professions – I have friends who work in retail, in marketing and advertising, in engineering and several who have become teachers. All of them have had to gain experience in their chosen fields before they were able to progress in their careers – it has just come in different forms. For one engineer, he was given experience and training as part of the course to become qualified for his role. For the retail worker, she started as a shop assistant and gained experience while working on the job, which allowed her to work her way up and become qualified as an office manager. All of the teachers had to gain experience of working in schools, mostly unpaid, alongside their PGSE studies so that they could finish their qualification. And those in marketing and advertising found their experience vital to gaining employment in bigger and better companies upon graduating – completing a placement year or few months while studying was a necessity. Of course, all of them also needed qualifications in one form or another, but their experience played a much larger part in their overall career path.

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Qualifications

In many fields, experience can be impossible to gain without having some kind of qualification beforehand. Journalism can be a tricky one, particularly if you are applying for work experience before studying for an NCTJ, because there is so much competition. I was lucky that I was given the opportunity to do work experience at the newspaper because I was the first in over five years to do so, and I wasn’t even studying journalism! But I know of many student journalists who have struggled to get experience without already being enrolled on a journalism course. If you know that you want to study journalism, it is a good idea to just go for it and study for your NCTJ because some papers are unwilling to take on work experience students when they do not have skills like shorthand, or a knowledge of media law. Don’t do a journalism degree! I can’t stress this enough – I know so many journalists who have done a degree and then have had to pay to study for a NCTJ afterwards because they haven’t fulfilled all of the criteria. If you want to study a degree as well, why not do like I did and study English or another humanities subject you have an interest in? Just bear in mind it is important, particularly if you want to work for a newspaper or news site, to be qualified. But also bear in mind, that there are lost of people out there who are working as journalists and freelance writers who are unqualified. It is not necessary to have a NCTJ, but it is a helpful addition to your CV and skills.

Don’t feel like I am down on qualifications and how useful or important they are. I have always taken them very seriously, whether they were GCSE’s or final exams at university, and I always think it is worth working towards having an official document saying you can do something – even if you have known you can do it for ages before. It is an achievement for yourself, and it also proves to the world that you can do something. Being officially qualified puts you ahead of the pack, if two people go for an office manager job and one has completed a managing course and the other hasn’t – the employer will probably favour the one who has. When a potential employer is just looking at your CV, having an extra qualification on there can mean the difference between a new job and the dole. It can also mean a huge difference between the rate of pay – having an extra qualification can mean you are entitled to thousands more a year overall. It can also mean being paid significantly less than someone who is doing exactly the same job as you – soul destroying. I would always recommend trying to get a well-rounded CV packed with experience and qualifications – both will play a part in getting you where you want to be.

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But which one is more important to you? For me it has to be experience – as much as I love and am proud of my degree, I have found my working experiences invaluable. My time spent working at the newspaper and the festivals site has changed what I want to do with my life and has given me the confidence, knowledge and skills to achieve that with or without the qualifications. I see them as an added bonus to my life, but not something that will hold me back or prevent me from achieving my career dreams. I know that it will be different for those working in different fields – but I would love to know about your experiences of different industries.

Do qualifications or experience mean more to you? Which has played a larger part in bringing you closer to your dream?

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Comments:

  • mel

    November 19, 2014

    i agree, experience is so important. i’ve found my degree to be something that makes me stand out on my cv but experience is what employers look for the most

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  • xleptodactylous

    November 19, 2014

    I agree with you: as much as I love academic study and learning, nothing will ever beat experience and, to be fair, I think the world (or at least, this country) sees it the same way even though University and degrees are highly sought after. I think there needs to be a balance made when it comes to University: do your learning but also a temporary job/work experience should be part and parcel of the degree, in whichever chosen field you’re studying or as close to as possible.
    Although, my dream is to be a writer so I don’t think either really contribute to bringing me closer more than the other; it’s a good medium for both experience and education. I think the foremost qualifications (GCSEs and A-levels) are more important in some areas of work than University degrees are. And there’s the whole “over-qualified” malarky that pops up every now and then during a job search. That’s /so/ much fun.

    Sterling, http://xleptodactylous.blogspot.co.ukXLeptodactylous

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      • xleptodactylous

        November 20, 2014

        I’ve finished my degree and now I can’t find a job because I’m so wonderfully qualified. I had this exact same conversation with a woman at a job centre place who was trying to get me some volunteering work in libraries. She had a rant similar to yours and mine about Universities needing to at least offer some kind of work placement to get some experience. It should be part and parcel of the course, I think: a whole module just where you do a job? Doesn’t sound hard and I’m sure there are enough companies and businesses in the local area around Universities who’d love under-graduates for a summer, or even just four weeks.

        The government offer traineeships or apprenticeships for those who don’t go to University: I feel like I’m being punished a little bit for, I don’t know, being so educated and knowledgeable, but nobody told me University wouldn’t be such a good idea. Although, weirdly enough, I didn’t even want to go to Uni in the first place. I just think Unis should do just a little bit more, with government backing (leaving out the sheer debt I am now in). But I can’t grumble because what’s done is done.

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  • November 20, 2014

    I’ve definitely got more qualifications than experience in my related field- something i need to change really, but i find it difficult to get myself ‘out there’. I’ve had plenty of part time jobs and volunteered but none of it is specifically tailored to my degree or where I want to go (into academic research). I’ve been looking at publishing some of my work recently though so hopefully some of those efforts will pay off!

    Lizzy from Nomad Notebook

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  • November 20, 2014

    An excellent read! 🙂 I studied MA Print Journalism (with NCTJ alongside) at Sheffield and definitely think a journalism degree is worth it when combined like that. That way, you have a recognised Masters plus all the media law, shorthand you may need too.

    I now work as an online creative copywriter – unexpected but it actually turned out to be my dream job. I was always more interested in feature writing than the court reporting and council meetings. Although I definitely miss the print side of things – a dying art I think.

    Overall though, experience is crucial. The amount of writing I did for free at local papers, online magazines and on my own blog was ridiculous.

    Emily xx

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  • November 20, 2014

    Really good advice here. I opt for experience. I specifically chose my degree because it had a placement year in my 3rd year. This meant when I went back in 4th year, I actually knew what I was writing about in my essays as I had done it myself. And then if course, it helped hugely when getting a graduate job. I’m considering extra qualifications at the moment though to stand out more and become more specialised. Perhaps at different stages of our careers, a hybrid is most effective? X

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      • November 23, 2014

        I always use the motto ‘everything happens for a reason’, so you will have achieved something else by not going abroad 🙂 My degree was in Management (business) and now work in marketing & communications. Just to expand on my point of the hybrid: I think it’s good to gain the experience & qualifications at different times & keep building on that. So degree, experience, extra qualifications, experience etc xx

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  • November 20, 2014

    This was a really interesting and helpful post, journalism is definitely a career path I want to look into. So I will really keep what you said in mind for the future.

    vvnightingale.blogspot.co.uk

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  • marteenlane

    November 20, 2014

    I’m a tour guide with a degree in Heritage Studies and it’s extremely difficult to get work as a tour guide without experience. I never planned on becoming a tour guide but I remember some of my college friends after graduation trying to get work as tour guides and being unsuccessful due to lack of experience. On a whim I did a tour guiding course last year and within three months of graduating I was employed as a tour guide. They didn’t care about my degree.

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      • marteenlane

        November 21, 2014

        Well if I had gone for a museum curator position my degree would matter greatly. But you don’t need a degree as such to be tour guide, once you have a FETAC level 5 qualification in heritage and cultural studies and have the experience in tour guiding or you can get the national badge from Failte Ireland.

        With cut backs here in Ireland, anyone in the Heritage sector have had to make their own work, which is exactly what two of my college friends did. One is a Seanchai or a storyteller, he is hired for local festivals to tell stories of Irish myths and legends, he has a slot on a local radio station and he has just published his first book! Another friend has set up tour company along the west coast of Ireland. Groups can book tours with him and they’ll get to see wonderful scenery and find out about the geography and history of the area.

        I love my job so much, and I think I’ve found my niche. You meet so many different people from day to day and you can have a laugh with them. I show people the film locations that were used in The Quiet Man film, which starred John Wayne and Maureen O’ Hara. I’m still glad I did the degree because I have wealth of information about Ireland’s heritage that you can’t get from just the FETAC level 5 qualification. Even though you get people wanting to know about the film, they’re very interested in Ireland in general and you will be asked about history, politics, culture.

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  • December 1, 2014

    This is a really interesting post and I think it hugely depends on what you want to do, when you want to do it etc. etc. There’s obviously no right or wrong answer, if you’re chasing your dream, it doesn’t matter how you got there! I think some professions rely a lot on one or the other but I think experience is not just important but essential in helping you realise what’s for you and what’s not. You can have all the qualifications in the world for a particular job, study everything you could possibly get your hands on to be the best at the job but you still might find it’s not for you once you start. Experience has definitely helped me – I started a teaching assistant course a few years back and had to volunteer in a primary school at the same time and I spent roughly 2 or 3 months there and realised it was NOT for me at all! I’ve also had a couple of retail jobs which I’ve also found are definitely not my forte xxx

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