Do employers seek an experienced hand?

KMPG’s quarterly survey of mid-sized employers (turnover £5m-£500m) found
that most (56%) prefer ‘entry level’ candidates (those who have just left
school, college or higher education) to have experience rather than a degree.
Only 9% felt a relevant degree level qualification was important.

What explains this reaction by employers? The answer, I suspect, lies in the
increasing demands that employers are now placing on future employees. The
rising expectation is that those who come straight from school, college or
university, need to demonstrate they are ‘fully rounded’ in the range of
learning, skills, qualifications and experience they can offer future employers.

No longer is it enough for candidates to rest on their academic laurels
alone. Of course qualifications, such as a degree, remain vitally important, but
experience has moved higher up employers’ agenda in a competitive marketplace.
For those who are committed to developing their chosen career, experience gives
candidates that vital edge.

Recognising this and deciding how best to exploit it should form part of any
candidate’s career planning. In this respect, career advisers remain a good
starting point to give advice and discuss the options available to potential

So what practical tips should candidates consider to gain this vital
experience? Make contact with a possible future employer and establish the type
of experience they are looking for. Establish a personal point of contact within
a company, as this might lead to an opening or placement opportunity. Seek work
experience opportunities in a related business.

Taking a few months off to do voluntary work might be more relevant to some
employers than stacking shelves in a supermarket, or travelling round Asia. Be
creative in your approach.

Of course, all of the above assumes you know which way your career is
heading; but if you remain unsure, all the experience you will have gained in
finding out should stand in you good stead for when you finally decide.

Ian Hopkinson is a people services partner at KPMG

A degree of security

In recent times, skills shortages in accountancy have encouraged employers to
screen candidates more holistically than ever before, taking into account
academic qualifications, as well as life experience.

Despite this, employers still cannot afford to take risks. The level of
corporate investment required to create one high-billing accountant is
considerable and when the cost of developing an individual is balanced (in a
tight labour market) against the potential expense of letting a more talented
individual slip the net, the need for some form of insurance policy can be
clearly understood.

Life experience should not be underplayed but for entry-level positions, a
good accountancy degree is still the preferred way to achieve this level of

So why, therefore, is a degree such good value when seemingly everyone has
one? For starters, there’s the age-old adage that this provides a good
grounding, introduction to relevant terminology and proven ability to work under

However, closer examination of the situation reveals that there’s more to it
than that.

Many believe that degrees are getting easier. Employers now consider the
quality of the institution where the degree was obtained as much as the grades
obtained. You’d expect the highest passes to be the most desirable, but this
does not explain the recent trend for top players in the sector to favour
second-class degrees over first-class honours.

A commonly expressed view from within the Forum of Professional Recruiters is
that it is important not to over-commoditise a labour force and increasingly
recruiters are encouraging clients to look at candidates in more than one

In the case of more senior positions, a critical aspect of identifying future
captains of industry has a lot more to do with recent experience than a school,
college or university they once attended. However, at least for now, and as long
as the ‘milk round’ and the need for insurance exists, the degree is still an
important form of currency.

Uzair Bawany is on the executive committee of the Forum of Professional

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