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Qualified By Experience

5th September 2018

QBE. It is an acronym that you could be forgiven for assuming is one of the prestigious awards from the Queen's Birthday Honours - CBE, MBE, OBE. It isn't but, like these honours, it does represent the contributions and achievements of people from all walks of life, and it stands for Qualified By Experience.

Recruiters use it to describe job seekers who have not attained a qualification in an accredited course or learning process which is universally recognised by their profession. These individuals are not qualified by study but are qualified by the work they have undertaken, the experiences they have been exposed to and on-the-job learning.

Qualified By Experience

There are many reasons someone may decide not to pursue the qualified by study approach:

  • Course and exam fees can be expensive – perhaps higher than you can afford.
  • Whether it is distance learning, class-room study or day release at college completing qualifications takes a lot of dedicated time. Our lives are busy and our time is often monopolised outside work by family and other important commitments.
  • Sitting exams can be nerve-racking. Someone can be a high performer and be fantastic at their job, but when they're sitting in front of an exam paper nerves make their minds go blank. Exams are particularly punishing if they don't support your learning style. A common criticism of exams is that they really test your ability to memorise rather than your ability to solve problems.
  • Sometimes it can be as simple as working in a role where qualifications are not a legal requirement and your employer does not specify qualifications as a pre-requisite for the job.

QBE candidates are a valuable skills resource for employers. It is certainly true that qualifications are an important benchmark of accomplishment and attaining them usually requires a great deal of work and determination. But perhaps we can all agree that until you actually undertake a task or job no-one really has a comprehensive understanding of what is actually involved?

Obviously, for some vocations and careers a certain level of further education is required to progress, but employers could broaden their range of prospective candidates by looking beyond qualifications, to experience, aptitude and potential.

If you are a QBE jobseeker here's some simple advice for showcasing your abilities:

  • QBE means you've been learning on the job, so provide detail in your CV and applications about the experience you've gained and the problems you've solved. Quantify the impact you have made and choose examples that show the hiring manager that your abilities are a good match for the job you are applying for – make your experience relevant to the application.
  • With wide ranging practical experience QBE candidates can often "hit the ground running", this is particularly true for candidates working in niche roles or with systems and software experience. Demonstrate to employers how quickly you'll be able to pick up the job and start adding value. For example, we recently placed a candidate in a niche finance role who had a blend of accounts and IT experience. From working in IT customer support she had gathered great systems experience which gave the client confidence that she had the aptitude to learn their in-house system quickly, enabling her to then apply her finance skills.
  • Evidence your soft skills. A qualification doesn't guarantee a high standard of work nor the right attitude to go out and perform at your best, commit to a job, integrate within a team, cope well under pressure or take an alternative view to solve problems.
  • Where relevant offer to provide examples of previous work to showcase your abilities.
  • Mentors, coaches and trainers play a vital role in our learning. Just because you don't have a formal qualification doesn't mean you are not continually learning. Being able to explain what you've learned from others can prove really insightful.
  • Conversely, your extensive experience can make you a great manager or coach to others. For instance, another recent QBE placement was for a finance generalist. Entering the profession 20 years earlier he was recognised for his breadth of experience but also, having worked his way up the profession, he had personal experience of every role within the team enabling him to be a credible coach and support.

Qualifications are important (you want your bus driver to have a driving licence and your GP to have passed her medical exams – right?) and are often one of the first criteria in selection processes. But by considering job type, job content, level of responsibility and context in addition to the need for specific qualifications, employers remove potentially unnecessary restrictions in their recruitment processes, creating a way to improve their hiring success.

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