I’m working a story for Monster.com on the credentials v. experience conundrum in hiring.

Let me say that I totally get there are some positions that really do require a certain set of credentials. Like health care. Or engineering. But even in these cases, I know darn well there are people who could shine at curing me or building a bridge who never got a degree in the field. Our legal environment being what it is, though, nobody in their right mind would hire these people. And I guess I can’t blame them.

But for most jobs, commensurate experience is just as good – and in my mind a lot of times better – than a degree or certification. And I say this as someone who was director of marketing for a the then-top 10 MBA program at the University of North Carolina. I’m not saying degrees and credentials are worthless. On the contrary, I think they can help you be an effective professional. But I don’t think it’s a must-have.

I’ve come to this view from my experience as both a job-seeker and an employer. I started this business 16 years ago because I couldn’t find a job. After 10 years in public relations/public affairs, I had a ton of rock-solid, quantifiable experience. But the jobs I wanted – mostly director level and hirer – required an MA or MBA. I can’t tell you the number of times I managed to score an interview only to be told that although my experience was perfect, the lack of a degree would keep me out of the running. *Sigh*

I’ve thought about going back to school a few times during my 26-year career. But I got some great counsel when I was at that MBA program. I mentioned the dean that I might like to get my MBA in the evening program.

“Do you want to work in finance or something after you leave here?” he asked.

“Nossir,” I said.

“So you plan to stay on the marketing and production side?”


He – the dean of a top 10 MBA program – looked me dead in the eyeand said, “Then don’t waste your time. You’ve got the experience.”

Perhaps that informs my view as an employer. I’ve hired for many positions, both in PR/marketing and in other functional areas, and -- all things being equal -- I find myself coming down in favor of practical experience over book-learnin’ and case studies. If you've got a fancy degree or certification and plenty of time in the working world, you might just be the most valuable candidate. But if I've got a candidate who was solving big problems for the two years you were in school, I'm pretty sure I'm going to choose him or her. That's because I want to know not only that you know what to do and why to do, but that you can determine when and how. Those last two generally come down to experience in the field and under dicey conditions. That’s gold to me.