Skills and Attitude Trump Qualifications for Employers

20th May 2015

Posted In: WMB Careers
Career ladder

For years, our young people have followed a well-worn path from school, to college, to post-graduate study and on to long-term employment. Careers and studies went hand in hand – you start with one and then move on to the other. As recession hit, we continued to follow the steps but with unemployment soaring to a high of 14.7%, the career was no longer waiting at the end.

Words: Eoin Keenan, Cpl

Now that Ireland is firmly in recovery mode, with unemployment threatening to break back into single figures, you would think this trend had been reversed but there’s a new challenge. While the employment market suffered, people focused on education – 24% more people enrolled in post-graduate study this year than in 2009. This continues to draw foreign investment to Ireland but it does mean there are now more qualified people in Ireland than there are appropriate high-level roles. At least that’s the situation according to ESRI research that found that Ireland has the highest percentage of overqualified workers in the European Union.

At Cpl, we have encountered another challenge for qualified people. It’s not a lack of jobs – it’s an experience issue. All that time in college has left many with little or no real world experience. Businesses need to make sure that they are getting someone who is not only qualified but can hit the ground running. As Cpl’s South East Manager, Pamela Pim highlights, “Having a qualification at the moment is often coming second to having good, hands- on experience particularly in the business and commercial sectors.”

“I have seen a high standard of education on a job specification as sometimes being a barrier to entry, purely as part of a screening process to avoid hundreds of applicants applying for a role. For specific roles there is a lot of competition and recruiters want the best talent and that often means somebody who is constantly challenging themselves through learning.”

People who have no experience but a lot of qualifications aren’t as employable as you might think, leading them to take on supposed ‘lesser’ roles. That rarely works as a long-term solution. As Careers Register Managing Director, Lisa Holt, points out, “if someone is hired into a job that requires lesser skills and qualifications, the candidate tires easily and tends to want to move on.”

All of which makes for one of two unpalatable situations as a qualified person. You can either choose a boring job that you will want to leave almost immediately or you can stay out of work not gaining the experience you need to actually get a job. At least, that’s how most people in this situation seem to feel. However, there is a third option.

That same shift in hiring practices to favour experience and practical skills over qualifications can work in your favour as a jobseeker. While qualifications can be a barrier to entry, skills and attitude can be the key to roles that seemed off limits before. As Lisa Holt outlines “I think clients are more open to a lesser qualified person, they are looking for personality, attitude, adaptability, tenacity and patience. Of course a specific qualification can add significant weight to a potential new hire but I do think it’s more about character and work ethic and going the extra mile than it ever was. The recession has taken the emphasis somewhat off education and has turned it to ‘what can this person bring to our company?’”

This is not to suggest that qualifications should be ignored, Lisa continues, “it does tend to stand to an employee if they have had the college experience, it can be maturing and can instil a discipline that is a huge benefit in work today.” However, at the moment – particularly in the startup and tech sectors – key skills and personality are most important.

If you have a specific role in mind – excluding high-compliance areas like healthcare – you don’t necessarily need to have a specific level of education if you can demonstrate the hands-on skills required to do the job. If you are in this position and want to make use of your qualification – identify those skills and find ways to learn them or try them out. Take courses, volunteer and – most of all – demonstrate the attitude businesses are looking for in everything you do. When it comes to applying for roles, highlight the skills and hands-on experience you do have and, as Lisa Holt outlines: “Show your passion and enthusiasm for the role, sell your personality and capability, tenacity and delivery as much as your degree.”

Cpl is an Irish recruitment company with 36 offices in 9 countries. CEO Anne Heraty is the current recipient of the WMB Businesswoman Award (2014).