What’s most important? IT Certifications, Degrees or Experience? 

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In most industries, a four-year degree is a great way to stand out amongst tons of applicants and a shortage of jobs. However, in other areas such as IT, there is an abundance of jobs and a shortage of labor. This unique situation raises the question -what level of education is best for IT professionals? Does experience outweigh a traditional four-year degree, or are certifications the new gold standard? In order to figure out what is right for a particular job, we must understand the differences between each form of education.

IT certifications

IT certifications are less expensive alternatives to a four year college degree. In many instances Information Technology certifications, due to their very specific and specialized courses, offer employees opportunities they wouldn’t have with just a college degree. Students can learn a wide variety of skill sets and gain experience while pursuing these certifications. Professional certifications also add prestige to resumes for skill sets that are in high demand.

In the information technology field, HR professionals often look for employees that have:

  • Soft skills such as communication and analytical skills
  • Ability to think “on-their-feet” and problem solve
  • Ability to learn new technologies quickly and implement them
  • Work well as part of a team

Information Technology certifications are proof that the person has successfully completed the requirements for learning the new technology. These certifications provide professionals with the means to keep up with an ever changing industry. Certifications can usually be completed concurrently with a full time job, unlike being a full time student while also working full time.

College or University Degrees

It is important to note that a college education provides the foundation that most employers look for today. Many older employees that have been in the field for a long time realize that having a college degree makes a difference in many jobs. But is this prerequisite outdated?

Some employers realize that having a college education doesn’t guarantee that the person knows how to do the work, and are now shifting away from this ideology. College degrees give the employee the opportunity to:

  • Explore options and gain information on a variety of topics
  • Gain insights in the field and understand foundational principles
  •  Gain transferable skill sets that can be utilized in many fields.

On-the-Job Experience

All the education in the world won’t matter if you don’t get the experience you need. Job seekers that have little or no experience do have a hard time finding work. Many colleges offer work study programs to offer students that on-the-job training.

There are also plenty of IT professionals that now have many years of experience under their belt without a formal degree. Similarly, there are many experienced IT professionals that have degrees completely irrelevant to information technology. Although the path might be slower or non-traditional, many IT professionals may find themselves in the IT field unintentionally. For example, someone in sales might move into marketing and then move into a role more technology oriented and then continue to grow in the IT space.

What Does This Mean?

Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. However, it ultimately comes down to what do they need to know for the job. If the same knowledge can be attained by having a degree through a more formal and traditional education as someone who might have picked up through a series of jobs, there is no reason to dismiss one over the other. Certifications can be a great way to edge out the competition because college graduates with limited experience and non-graduates with many years of experience, can both seek them.

When hiring for a particular job, utilize tests to gage an applicant’s knowledge level. Additionally, allow some flexibility of education/experience in the job description. For example, some jobs may require a college degree plus four years’ experience OR eight years’ experience to make up for the lack of degree.

 

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