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February 2007
The Role of Degrees in Job Search & Careers

by Susan Reynolds

It may seem obvious that education is a necessary asset to career advancement. I am, however, frequently asked to assess a candidate’s degree, or lack thereof, as it pertains to worthiness and preparedness for a particular position or promotion. Here’s the surprise… Experience almost always REALLY outranks a degree. When a decision-maker is asked… (that’s a decision-maker, not a screener!)…to determines an individual’s ability to do a job, it’s not a degree that springs to the top of their list. Most would say that a degree does not necessarily create leadership capability, product knowledge, customer relations savvy…

Before I get an inbox full of hate mail from the Academic Community, I’ll make more of a direct point. Job seekers and company decision makers both need to factor education and training into their carefully thought out employment criteria. The candidate with the most advanced degree is not necessarily the best qualified, yet well chosen degree programs are incredible proving grounds for honing skills and getting exposure to managerial concepts. For example, an excellent MBA program often exposes students to a breadth of business problems and study groups from a wide range of industries. The potential translation to day to day business applications is wide-sweeping. Specific skill sets that are taught within technical academic programs can be excellent. The risk therein, however, is that highly technical degree programs can be out of date and no longer state of the art before the ink is dry on the certificate!

What’s this mean to employment and career advancement? Job seekers: make sure you market ALL of your qualifications and experience, not just your degree. Students: select educational programs which prepare you not just for a specific skill, but how to perform well in the world of business. And employers: inventory the skills, characteristics, and experience necessary for a candidate to perform a role in your company, and be ready to assess more than simply their degree! You’ll get the best if you widen your view!

Susan Reynolds is a senior partner at Newmarket Careers in Santa Clarita, a job search and career strategy firm geared toward managerial, executive, and senior level professional careers. She can be reached at or 661-755-3308.

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