The debate over education vs. experience has been around as long as education itself. In a tough economy, what matters most is what will land you a career with a decent wage.

The reality is that there is no clear answer that will cover all potential situations for job seekers. No matter what your MOS is, you have been trained and educated in a particular skill set that potential employers are looking for. Your ability to correctly apply and present these skills in the application process could be the key to getting a job.

If you have an undergraduate or graduate degree from a four-year college and plan on using your education to land a job once out of the military, there a few things to consider before you apply. Does your education directly relate to the job that you are applying for?

If, for instance, you have a degree in psychology and apply for a job as a dispatcher with a trucking company, it implies that you are just looking for any job – which is better than having no job at all. No employer will waste time and resources training a new employee who is just waiting for something better to come along. If your job market does not have opportunities in your particular educational background, you should consider relocating to one that does.

If relocation is not an option, you may have to settle for a job at the local restaurant or convenience store while you wait for the right job to open up. As a former restaurant manager, I had many food servers who were either finishing an advanced degree or had one and were just waiting for the right opportunity to present itself.

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When looking through the job postings, read them carefully – paying particular attention to the job description, educational and experience requirements. Most employers realize that the perfect combination of education and experience within their applicant pool does not exist, so they may offer to substitute experience for education.

If you have some of the skills or education that they are asking for or a combination of both but not the required amount according to the posting, you should still consider applying for the job. Sending a letter of intent along with your resume is a great way to let an employer know that although you do not meet the exact requirements listed, you do meet some of them and that you would greatly appreciate the opportunity to interview with their company.

You could be granted an interview based solely off of your ability to correctly grasp and understand what they were asking for. This also shows that you have desire, which no amount of education or on-the-job experience can illustrate.

For jobs such as photography or journalism where the individual must adapt to the situation by using the skills they have learned, experience is more likely to land you the job. If you have gained these skills in the military, this gives you a great advantage over someone straight out of college.

Some jobs require a balance of education and experience, such as corporate trainers, but a minimum degree level must be met before applying. Any military instructor with an undergraduate degree would qualify for this type of job. Technical jobs such as an engineer would definitely require a high degree of education before applying.

Before you apply, take stock of your experience and education – then match them to the job requirements within the posting. Any job will pay the bills, but you will be better off looking for one that more closely matches your skills and education. If you are lacking in education, hit the books. If experience is your need, consider looking at an internship or doing volunteer work to get it.

Don’t rule out any job, but be realistic and ask yourself if you meet the requirements, and if not, what you are willing to do to get them.

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