UK: Weighing Up Experience And Qualifications

Last Updated: 6 August 2018
Article by Nick Ivory

Sponsored: Employers should consider the value of experience against academic credentials

No matter what sector you are in, it has been a long-debated conundrum. What is more valuable to an employer – your experience or your academics credentials and qualifications?

Naturally, there are a range of nuances in various sectors that impact the answer to this question. However, generally, in the professional world – given it has become increasingly competitive to secure a training contract with the highest-ranked firms – it is important for students to have top class academic credentials to be considered for these scarce openings.

So does the company secretarial profession differ? The ICSA qualification is there and the majority of individuals entering the profession are undertaking CSQS or have been able to secure full qualification through the MSc programmes at a range of universities. Increasingly, we are seeing employers listing completion of the ICSA qualification as a prerequisite on job specifications, but this often comes with the caveat that standout candidates who are on their way to finishing these exams will be considered.

As part of DMJ’s recent salary survey, we asked employers about qualifications versus experience, and where more value was placed. Interestingly, 85% of respondents placed more value on experience.

I believe there to be three core reasons why employers place more value on experience over other credentials: the nature of the profession, the growing profile of the profession, and the qualification itself.

Looking at the present nature of the profession, the role of the secretariat within an organisation has become so valuable and integral it is imperative any personnel changes are smooth.

The average size of a company secretarial team in a PLC organisation is four. Culture is key within these teams and to allow for a smoothprocess, hiring managers are typically looking for someone who can ‘hit the ground running’.

There is an element of risk in any hire as to how much you can uncover through a two or three-stage interview process. There is, then, a key difference between a top university graduate with full ICSA qualification and one years’ experience and an individual with six years’ experience who might be part qualified. There will be the valid question as to why they are not qualified, but there is a belief they are ‘tried and tested’ and will be experienced in key areas.

“Increasingly, we are seeing employers listing completion of the ICSA qualification as a prerequisite on job specifications”

In the modern work environment, employers are able to look at the absolute ‘cost’ of a hire. HR functions will have various metrics looking at the cost of someone handing in their notice and the subsequent process to replace or succeed them. These metrics ultimately focus around time and productivity. Having to bring someone on who lacks experience is naturally going to eat up individuals’ time and potentially lower productivity.

A qualification or strong educational background does give you a strong grounding to build from, but there may be concerns over someone unqualified managing fully-qualified individuals. This is also because businesses increasingly like to see a commitment to gaining professional qualifications. Not only does it professionalise the individual, it can help professionalise the department, especially in the eyes of the wider business.

It will be interesting to see how the upcoming changes to the ICSA qualification affect this. There have been fantastic amendments made to truly modernise the qualification and bring it up alongside the day-to-day role of the company secretary. Could this have an effect on where the importance lies?

Experience is important to employers in the current market. Regulatory requirements are constantly changing and with the pace of business in the secretariat, it is increasingly difficult to train individuals up to a level where they are adding value rather than taking time away from their manager’s busy work schedule, although this can depend on what level of the market you are looking at.

DMJ’s Insight Days have encouraged a number of organisations to widen their trainee pool, effectively swapping time away from an experienced individual’s workload in training up a graduate in exchange for the trainee lightening the administrative burden of the function. In addition, if you can bring on individuals who are lighter on experience, chances are they will stay longer as they have more to learn before being qualified for the more senior roles.

I can fully understand why the market sits at 85% for placing the importance on experience. Yet in a market becoming increasingly competitive when hiring, why not take a risk?

Alongside this, other key softer skills, which are often overlooked, should be considered more. Experience and qualifications are fantastic, but someone who is driven, hardworking and committed to getting the job done can add real value to an organisation and, over time, have the most impact.

Nick Ivory is senior consultant at DMJ

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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