September 7, 2016

Fall is undoubtedly my favorite time of the year. Football season is back, pumpkin candles are burning in every room of my house, and students are packing their bags to head back to school. Many are off to college for their first semester and experiencing their first glimpse of life on their own. Or so they think.

I remember the excitement of my early years at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Decorating my dorm room with as many hot pink accessories as I could find, adding everyone I came in contact with on Facebook, tailgating at sunrise each Saturday for game day, designing costumes for every sorority social theme in the book— you get the idea. Life was simple. Have fun, go to class, get good grades, graduate and land your dream job. Isn’t that what your parents, teachers, and coaches told you?

A degree may not always be the answer

There was quite possibly a time when life was that linear—a college degree was something special and it was the foundation for starting a lifelong career after graduation. Today, more people are degreed than ever before. And many are questioning if they need a college degree at all.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the degree attainment levels among 25-29 year olds has increased significantly since 1995, when only 33 percent completed an associate’s degree or higher. In 2015 the rate was up to 46 percent. While Millennials now make up the largest population of the workforce and are undoubtedly more educated than their predecessors, that common diploma might not be the answer to jumpstart their careers.

Don’t get me wrong. If you have your mind set on becoming a doctor, nurse, or lawyer then you are most definitely going to need a good bit of schooling to get you there. But in many fields, there is more to landing a job than just a glorified and overpriced piece of paper that took you years to obtain.

The experience wake-up call

If you are already drowning in student loans (I am, too, I understand), you are probably wondering what the answer is to finding the job you want. I’d say it’s as clear as a standardized test oval: Employers want it all. And they definitely look for qualified applicants with real on-the-job experience.

(Good news: the workforce is still full of old-school managers where your best shot at the job is going to include a freshly dry-cleaned suit and a brutal formal interview process. And don’t forget to snail mail a handwritten thank-you note afterward. If this is the potential work setting you are going for, then education is most likely going to be vital.)

A shocking amount of college graduates struggle to find a ‘real job’ after walking across the stage on graduation day. I have many friends who are suffering from underemployment. Sadly, a short-term internship isn’t cutting it for most minimum job qualifications.

It is abundantly clear that more and more companies are overlooking the ‘education’ section on a resume and jumping straight to the ‘experience’ details. Perhaps it’s more prevalent in the tech field, but it seems that several industries are following suit. So, If you are motivated, possess on-the-job skills and are a perfect fit with that company’s culture then you might just find yourself getting ready to celebrate a new job offer.

It is abundantly clear that more and more companies are overlooking the ‘education’ section on a resume and jumping straight to the ‘experience’ details.

A recent study from Georgetown University takes a close look at the "degree versus experience debate" by using U.S. Census Bureau data. There are many fields where a high-level degree is a guarantee for a better salary, but in others, your tenure—your years of valuable experience can pay off and be worth more in the long-run.

The (non) formula for success

Degree or no degree is a heated topic amongst my peers. While there may not be a perfect formula for the path to your future in the workforce, having an education background undoubtedly looks good on paper. The diploma might help you get your foot in the door to an interview. But at the end of the day, you are the one who has to sit face-to-face with your future boss and make the case as to why you are most fit for that position—with or without a degree.

And what if you are gainfully employed in your field but are ready for something new? You have a big decision to make: do you go back to school and get a degree in the new field or do you find a way to get some experience that will actually qualify you for the position? Perhaps the answer is somewhere in between. Online classes are a viable option that can allow you to work full-time, gaining experience, while going to school.

So is the diploma six feet under? I don’t think it is quite there yet. However, it is becoming pretty obvious that education isn’t the prevailing factor when choosing a hire these days.

Our Millennial view series is not just for Millennials. Everyone can gain insight on these important workplace issues. Topics such as Finding a friend in feedback, Moving up, while dressing down, and When giving two week's notice is complicated impact us all, regardless of generation.

Haley McKinney is a Software Support Manager in Jacksonville, Florida. She spends her workdays focusing on customer experiences and persuading her employees that teamwork really does makes the dream work. She is a reality TV junkie, doughnut connoisseur and diehard Jacksonville Jaguars fan (W or L). Find her on LinkedIn.