There is constant debate in the professional world about whether experience or a university degree is more important in a job search. Some people argue that experience is more important than a degree; others say a degree provides something that experience can’t. Is one more valuable than the other when it comes to a career in human resources? We’ve asked a few of our human resources recruitment experts to give us their views on the issue.
Jess Whitehead, head of HR practice at Page Executive says, “In our experience, a degree is not particularly important when building a successful career in HR. Experience is much more important and is clearly demonstrated by a significant number of very good HR directors who don’t have degrees.”
She does however acknowledge that it is common for employers to ask for a minimum of a degree qualification for senior HR roles in some sectors more than others. For example, professional and financial services generally require a degree. This is even more prominent in US owned businesses. CIPD is not recognised in the US or Australia – they look at the degree qualification and for most US owned businesses, an MBA is very desirable.
Sophie Dilworth, business director at Page Executive agrees; “Experience rather than a degree tends to be the main criteria when selecting talent for human resources roles. In my experience, this is usually the case at all levels within the HR profession. Only with certain clients, typically larger PLCs and US owned corporations, is a degree considered a prerequisite.”

Interim roles

For interim roles, a degree (or lack thereof) is rarely a deciding factor. Sheraz Anwar, associate director at Michael Page Human Resources says that for interim roles, clients are more open to candidates without a degree and even CIPD as long as there is enough depth of experience.
Rossana Dawson, business director at Page Executive, says that in her experience, the candidate’s ability to demonstrate a track record of being able to offer tangible benefits to the business and the bottom line is the focus at HR director level. In the current market, relevant sector experience is still preferred because it means the candidate is able to hit the ground running. She finds that overall, within generalist HR roles, candidates are rarely rejected or preferred purely based on their academic background.
Kate Chapman, group HR director at PageGroup, takes a slightly different stance. She says, “Nowadays, with so much completion for jobs, a degree plays a part in any profession to show a potential employer what you can achieve – you need to stand out from everyone else and along with a strong CV, a degree will be what gets you in the door. However, for a career in HR, it's more important to become CIPD qualified. This gives every HR professional the foundation HR knowledge they will need to be successful early on and gain credibility fast.”

So do you need a degree to get ahead in HR?

It seems that as far as the HR recruitment experts are concerned, the most important qualification for your HR career is the CIPD and equally important is solid work experience. Still, a university degree can provide more than just an academic qualification; the overall experience is also valuable.
The extra maturity you will have on entering the workplace after three more years of study is a positive factor when starting a career.
Whether or not you have a degree, Michael Page Human Resources can help find the right job for you. Contact your local office or submit your CV on our website.