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Should A Startup Hire Experienced Or Educated Workers?

Both educated workers and workers with experience have their pros and cons – what’s right for your startup?

Experienced Or Educated Workers: What will work for you?

A recent article on NBC News highlighted an emerging trend: the workplace is progressively getting younger. As more millennials enter into the workplace and baby boomers graciously bow out of it, even startups are now joining in the age-old debate about whether or not employers should look for experience or education when hiring new people.

The question of whether to focus on experience or education when interviewing someone for a job is actually much more complicated than it may appear to be at first blush.

Let’s take a closer look at both sides of the issue.

The Argument for Experience

As high school students come to the end of their education, they have to decide whether or not to go for a college degree or begin earning right away from an entry level job. For some, the idea of going on to college is not a realistic choice because they either they can’t afford to go or they prefer to retire their pursuit of books for the experience of becoming fully-functioning adults with their own apartment, automobile, and independent lifestyle. For others, both options look attractive and they have to make a decision based on personal preference and ambition.

Choosing not to get a college degree does not necessarily mean restricted career options. There have been innumerable professionals who rose to the top of their field starting from positions in the mail room, customer service, or retail sales floor. All too often, pursuing a college degree program does create proficiency in core skills like reading, writing, and thinking but does not prepare students for the personal, social, and professional skills that they will need in a typical workplace.

In many cases, too, many students are simply not interested in academics, find school boring, and find real satisfaction in the workplace, relishing it as a place where they can engage more fully in life. Freed of the tedium of passive learning in classrooms, they enjoy environments that test their energy and enthusiasm with challenging tasks that lead to financial rewards.

Famous People Who Never Went To College

Although there is often a high prevalence of people with IT qualifications and MBA degrees in startups, there have also been many legendary entrepreneurs who thought a college education was a waste of time.

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in his freshman year. Together with Paul Allen, another college dropout, he created Microsoft.

Steve Jobs only lasted one semester at Reed College and never went back to college for another day in his life. His business partner, Steve Wozniak, another college dropout, helped him build Apple.

Michael Dell who founded Dell Computer and Larry Ellison who is Chief Executive of Oracle didn’t make it through college either. Ted Turner was thrown out of college and Al Gore didn’t last at Vanderbilt University.
Finally, at age 15, Ray Kroc, the man behind the McDonald told his mother that he considered high school a complete waste of time.

The Argument for Education

While it may appear that college may be overrated and even high school completely unnecessary as a predictor of success in the world, it has to be remembered that the world has changed radically in this new century due to the influx of technology.

For most of the twentieth century, all an American employer asked of a job applicant was that they could do basic entry level work. Large corporations that required knowledgeable workers often simply put high school graduates through an inhouse training and developmental program.

Before the twenty-first century, many people enjoyed successful careers and stayed with the same company throughout their working lives. However, we are now living in a world that the early pioneers of Internet technology could never have imagined.

A Possible Solution

Since the world is becoming increasingly complex, it is better for a startup to hire someone with an education and give them an opportunity to gain experience. However, those with experience but no education should also be encouraged to go back to college, as it will be difficult to contribute in a world that is leaning toward increasing specialization. Fortunately, there are many schools that offer online education programs. These schools can offer associate, bachelor’s or master’s degrees for full-time or part-time students. Some of these schools are established universities that have expanded their curriculum to include online learning. The U.S. News & World Report’s 2015 edition of Best Colleges mentioned a Catholic University at Gwynedd Mercy that started as far back as 1948 but today offers 40 degrees to 3,000 students on their campus in Philadelphia and through their accelerated online programs.

The Post-Internet Era

Bill Gates has publicly announced his contention that college is so important for the future of the United States that insufficient education could undermine its global competitiveness. Although Gates has been criticized for hypocrisy, advocating the importance of college when he himself dropped out, he was speaking from the perspective of someone with many decades in the world of advanced technology. He has merely pointed out how sophisticated the world had become since he first started his quest to put a PC on every desktop.


While a college degree is not necessary for success in a startup, it certainly makes it easier to be successful at one. Startups should not only hire educated workers but even encourage experienced workers to spend time getting an advanced education.

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