THE BLOG

Results Day: Qualifications vs Life Experience

12/08/2015 22:45 BST | Updated 12/08/2016 10:59 BST

"Do you really need a degree?", "What's more important; qualifications or life experience?" these are questions I'm asked all of the time. In the light of results day, these questions will be flying around all over the place and everyone will have their own opinion about which route is better and which route young people should be following. With so many different outlooks to consider, it's not surprising that many students are feeling a little perplexed and unnerved by what the future holds.

I left school at 16 with no qualifications and a sense of naivety which was both endearing and juvenile - although I had the gift of the gab and the drive to make it alone, my inexperience was apparent.

One of the best things about going straight in to work is that you experience everything first hand and you learn from your mistakes earlier than those who decide to carry on with their studies. Luckily, my lack of qualifications didn't prevent me from pursuing my dream of becoming a successful entrepreneur. I'm often asked how despite my lack of tangible educational success, I've managed to start and grow thousands of businesses and achieve the success I have for myself. I believe there are lots of different paths you can take towards building a successful career, none of which are right or wrong. The decision boils down to the kind of person you are and what will aid you best.

Traditional methods aren't for everybody. Not everybody will thrive at university because they'd rather be getting their hands dirty by working and building themselves in that sense. I was never an academic and when I was in school, all I wanted to do was get out and work.

However, not everyone has this urge. For example, both of my children went to university and both used this experience to improve intellectually and gain attributes such as communication and research skills which are essential in any career. I made a lot of silly logistical mistakes when I was starting my first business, perhaps mistakes that could've been avoided if I had continued my studies and developed these skills myself.

Everyone excels in different ways and for me, education wasn't the accelerator. However, dedicating time and effort towards furthering your education demonstrates a sense of perseverance, resilience and a determination to achieve goals - so I encourage everyone facing this to think very carefully about their choices before making any decisions.

Lots of people I meet automatically assume that employers would veto any candidate who has no degree or generally doesn't perform well academically. However, this isn't always the case.

I, and most other employees, look for something more than just an impressive CV. We want a candidate to tell us when they have applied learnings to real life experiences. For example, if I were interviewing two people - one had straight As and a great degree but not much experience and the other didn't have the best academic record but had a year's great experience in the industry - I'd employer the latter. The more real life work experience you have, the better equipped you are in business - that's a fact.

Utilising the three to five years you would've spent at university effectively and gaining experience in your chosen sector can often be priceless in an interview and will set you apart from the competition.

A candidate without a degree could be just as competent as the candidate who does - they just chose a different route. For example, I recently recruited a new member of our team who had six years' experience with PWC, three years at Deloitte and yet no degree. Despite this, he is a crucial member of my team. This just shows that if you're determined enough to succeed and get where you want to be, you can. He was driven enough not to let a lack of qualifications evolve into a stagnated career, he worked incredibly hard to get where he needed to be by himself. I love using this example because it illustrates perfectly that conventionality isn't the only route.

A lot of students receiving their results will have no idea what they want to do with their lives and university presents itself as a place to grow and find themselves, as cliché as that may sound. On the other hand, many others will be keen to take the first step on the career ladder and get straight to work.

What we need to remember is neither decision is better or worse. So if you're a student itching to get to work or excited to begin the university, know that your experiences are what you make of them. Every young person should have an equal opportunity to succeed and employers need to recognise people are more than just a grade, they have the ability to transform business; you just need to identify the spark.