Graduate vs Experience – What Employers Want

You’ve just finished varsity, but employers are looking for experience. What now?

So you’ve just finished varsity and are trawling the career portals for a job, but then notice that every employer is looking for someone with at least three years’ experience.

It seems your quest for your first job has reached a dead end – except bear one thing in mind: many employers actually like graduates because they are open to anything.

Related: 20 Things Every Girl Learns at University

Whether to hire graduates over someone with more experience is a question often asked by employers, so let’s have a look at what each group offers.


The saying “bright eyed and bushy tailed” is one you hear often, but these are attributes that strike a chord with employers. Business owners notice when their staff seem jaded, so they love nothing more than seeing a fresh face that is full of enthusiasm to learn and grow.

Graduates also have the added advantage of having a firm grasp of the latest technology, so particularly in jobs where there is a lot of web-based work, they are of great value.

Yet these aren’t the only factors that employers look for.

As university professor Peter Cappelli notes, “Work experience is the crucial attribute that employers want, even for students who have yet to work full-time.”

Basically, that means that even when you are getting your tertiary qualifications, you should be taking advantage of any internship opportunities that come your way, even if it’s only assisting your professor with their lectures.

Another factor that will be in your favour as a graduate is that as it is your first job, you will more than likely be prepared to work longer hours as you want to make a good impression and there are no dependents waiting for you at home.

There is also no denying, of course, that someone fresh out of university comes at a cheaper salary than a more experienced worker. This is a bit of a double edged sword then, because on the one hand your “cheaper” price tag gives you are good chance for employment, but on the other you start at the bottom of the pay scale.

Related: Pros and Cons of a Postgraduate Degree


Here, too, a well-known cliché can be applied – “there’s no substitute for experience” – and in many respects that is right.

If you have a few years’ work under your belt, your potential employer will understand that you bring strong networks, leadership and loyalty to the table. Younger workers will of course develop these attributes in time, but you can offer them now if you have experience.

blogpost, Top 10 reasons to hire older people, says: “In a world where traditional retirement makes less and less sense, the need and desire of older people to retain or find meaningful jobs depends in part on overcoming bogus attitudes about older employees. Smart and progressive employers get this.”

Related: Don’t Let Your Internship Be a Waste of Time

Getting the mix right

So what is the answer for an employer?

The internet and the development of other technologies have greatly changed the way we do business, and that is reflected by the number of very successful young people who now top the millionaire lists.

You need only think of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg or South Africa’s own Elon Musk to appreciate that.

As a result, your chances for employment as a young go-getter are greatly increased, as opposed to 15 years ago.

That said, you also need to “veterans” to not only guide the newcomers, but be trusted to keep the business on track, especially during the tough times.

It’s all about getting the mix right, so don’t lose hope if a few job applications are rejected – the time will come where an employer will recognise that you can offer his business something new and fresh.

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