Saturday, April 23, 2011

Balance Game for New Grads: Degree vs Experience vs Interest. What Matters?

A friend recently connected me to a contact of hers as we had similar degrees (Master in Arts) and her friend wanted to work in the marketing & social media fields (which I work in) and wanted career advice. The conversation centered on how much does your degree vs experience vs interest matter in the job hunt & in being selected for a role. The conversation inspired me to jot down the following thoughts:

Degree – there are absolutely varying opinions on this one and I think the company you are applying for and the hiring manager or recruiter you are working with will dictate this one. What a new grad’s degree is in absolutely plays a part in their fit for a role. With many careers like nursing, engineering, accounting … having the right degree absolutely matters. When we are talking about roles in marketing and social media the lines are more blurry. I am actually an Arts grad myself and did a Masters degree in history but work in talent acquisition and experiential marketing. Does my degree relate to what I do on a daily basis? Not directly; however, I use the SKILLS I learned in my degree all of the time as I do a lot of international marketing & student hiring. My skills in researching, asking the right questions & understanding how culture shapes the present have all come into play when I start working in a new country and understand how to tweak and tailor an existing program based on a culture’s needs. I learned to do my research and ask the right questions. The key for new grads is relating your degree to the job you are applying for. If the connection isn’t obvious, make sure you clearly state it in your cover letter & interview.

Experience – experience is huge! I worked in marketing the entire 6 years of my 2 degrees and thus it was very easy for me to parlay my part time work into a full time career no matter what the focus of my degree was. If you don’t have experience in the field you want to work in, get some! Volunteer, connect with friends, read, research and become well versed in the field. Companies are always looking for volunteers so this is an easy way to get experience in a new field.

Interest – from my point of view, interest is the driving force. If you have interest in a field, then you have passion for it. According to many authors, passion is THE driving force in being successful. If you have passion for a field, you will push yourself further and harder to learn more, do more and be better. Your interest will keep you persevering when the learning curve is steep and you don’t have the basic lingo others with a relevant degree have. You will stay up at night researching and reading, taking courses and getting up to speed. Interest and passion are what keep you going.

The key is in selling others on why you are a fit for a role if your degree isn’t a perfect match for the position. Know that you may not get passed the resume screen if a company has targets based on degree. Positioning yourself in a cover letter is a key part of getting that first interview. Work hard in your resume and cover letter to sell your skills. If you are applying for a social media position and have an arts degree, showcase that you are active in the social media space by putting your blog or twitter handle right in the title. The key to this is actually BEING active in these spaces! Remember, experience matters! Cover letters are also a fantastic place where you can sell yourself and create connections between your degree, experience, & interest to the position.

Good luck in the job hunt new grads!

(By authors talking about passion, I am referring to authors like Richard St John who wrote The 8 Traits Successful People Have in Common – see blog post November 2010 called Finding Inspiration - on this topic)


  1. I totally agree that interest and passion are the driving forces - they are what lead a person to a degree, to a job, to certain life experiences!

    Your article speaks to the heart of the matter: finding balance between academic, professional and personal aspects so that you can present yourself as a well-rounded individual in any work situation.

    Of course, as you end with, remember the power of a cover letter!

    Thanks for the chat Chelsea!

  2. I know that this is a topic I personally struggle with - having recently left the workforce and gone back to school. I love the learning environment, surrounding myself with peers who challenge my way of thinking and continuing to develop my skills in an educational environment.

    I completely agree that it is important to find the balance between a degree-experience-interest. A large reason I chose to go back to school was to gain a stronger educational background in the field that I was interested in (Marketing Management) but this came from my experience and interest with the job I received right after graduating.

    Thanks for the great post Chelsea!

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