How can you find a job with an online degree? Will an online degree help you get a job? What do employers think of online degrees?
These questions and others like them are familiar headlines, and if future employment is part of your motivation to pursue higher education, they are questions you should be asking, too.
Overall acceptance of online education may be improving among employers, but many still want to hire graduates from on-campus programs. Non-profit research group Public Agenda released new study results just last week showing that while “a majority of employers (56%) prefer a job applicant with a traditional degree … 80% of employers say that online-only degrees and certificates provide opportunities for older students to get valuable college credentials.” The authors anticipate that “just as online education itself is rapidly changing” the perceptions and expectations of employers are likely to change as well.
So, how can online students and alumni address employers’ concerns and be competitive in the job market? Preparation is critical – gain an awareness of employer needs in your field, anticipate common questions related to online learning, and demonstrate the value you bring to a new company as a result of your education achievements and prior experience.
Know Your Industry and Academic Program
As a job seeker you need to demonstrate that you are a “good fit” for an employer. Hiring a new employee is costly in terms of time other resources. Do what you can to help them make the decision to hire you by researching the specific needs of the companies currently hiring in your area of interest, and have an idea of how online education is generally perceived in the field.
Accreditation is one of the most important components of an academic program, no matter the format of the course work. As described by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, the process “is a review of the quality of higher education institutions and programs.” Chances are that you considered accreditation when you enrolled in your online program, just as many employers consider accreditation when evaluating applicants’ education and training qualifications.
Do you know what kind of accreditation your school has? Are you aware of which accrediting agencies are well regarded or required by employers in your field? Check with your school’s academic advisors and career counselors, as well professional associations in your industry to find out more about the specifics of accreditation and how it may impact your job search.
Online alumni who have been hired before you helped to set the tone. If they were successful in their jobs the organization may be willing to hire additional online graduates. If they did not meet the needs of the company, however, the employer may be more critical of how you earned your degree. But this is just one way an employer can learn about online education and set his or her expectations.
As more hiring managers complete online courses for themselves, through certificates, degrees, and professional development opportunities, the more aware they will become of the benefits and challenges associated with completing an online academic program, and form their expectations from personal experience.
Articulate Your Value
Will you be able to find a job with an online degree? My initial inclination is to say, “yes, but like everyone else, you will need to network and show evidence of related experience.” These pieces are important, but of course there’s more to it than that. How will you convey the quality level of your program and the value it brings to you in terms of work-related knowledge and skills?
Reputation and Branding
It can be easy to be labeled, or label yourself, as an “online student,” but your degree, whether it is earned online or on campus, is just one part of the picture. Your reputation is built on a combination of factors that include education and experience. It’s also affected by the relationships you foster with co-workers and colleagues along the way. I recommend you take the following items into consideration as you prepare for your job search through professional networking, resume writing, portfolio development, and more:
- Practical Experience in Your Industry: If you’ve already worked in similar positions, be sure to mention where and when, as well as why you decided to pursue related higher education online. If you are planning to enter a new field after graduating from your online program, focus on relevant activities from your courses and any internship or practicum experiences you completed.
- Examples of Your Work: Share descriptions of specific accomplishments from both work and school environments. Class projects and presentations can be meaningful to an employer if you relate them directly to skills they need in their new hires. Make the connections between past successes and how you’ll be able to apply what you learned in a future workplace.
- Information about Your Network: How do you stay up-to-date on industry trends? Where do you meet with others to discuss current projects? Whether your networking activities take place online, in person, or both, communicate what you are doing to proactively be a part of the community. USA Today College recently posted a helpful list of ways membership in a professional association can provide beneficial resources, including networking, conferences, current news, and job and internship boards.
Questions about Online Learning
Prepare to address common concerns you may encounter in informal conversations with members of your network and in formal job interview settings.
- Why did you choose an online program? Did this format allow you to continue working in your current field? Or perhaps it gave you the flexibility you needed to complete course work while also raising a family. Maybe you wanted to study a specific subject that wasn’t offered by any of the colleges or universities in your local area. Share something about how you made the decision to become an online learner.
- How did the online learning experience prepare you for your next job? Select specific examples from your course work and related activities and tell the story of how they led to new skills and knowledge related to the career you are working toward. Also consider the role of time management, new technologies you used, and communication skills in your student experience. The skills that made you a successful online student are also valuable to employers.
- What was unique about your online program? Did your program allow you to work with a faculty member you respected, participate in an interesting research project, or open doors you didn’t expect? Be ready to talk about how the format was a good choice for you, and how what you gained complements all of the other attributes you bring to the job.
Watch Your Language
What is an “online degree”, anyway? A lot of people, including many reputable sources in the higher education industry, use this term to describe a degree that is earned through online courses. But I encourage you to consider your choice of words carefully and reframe your approach to describing your education.
A degree is a degree, especially when granted from an accredited institution. The diploma, and more importantly the transcript, received after degree completion should look the same whether you took online classes or not. It’s the experience of earning the degree in one format or another that differs. There’s nothing to hide about being an online student or graduate, and if you’ve selected a high quality program and done well, you’ve likely gained a great deal in the process. Be open and share the best of what you’ve accomplished.
Work with Your School’s Virtual Career Center
The professionals who staff these online offices have training and expertise in a wide range of career development and job search tasks. Whether you want to explore employment options in a new field, prepare for a job search (i.e., resumes, cover letters, portfolios, interview practice), or meet with employers that are hiring now, make contact to ask questions and find out more about all of the services and assistance available. You may even find that there are companies recruiting graduates from your online program.
Traditional institutions are developing and offering more online programs, on campus students are adding online courses to their schedules, and blended courses and programs are emerging to combine the best of online and in person interaction for learning. As these trends continue, the line between what is online and what is on campus becomes harder to draw, and potentially less of a factor when employers are comparing the qualifications of multiple candidates.
What are your concerns about online education and the job search? Share your questions with us here!
Source: Inside Online Learning Blog