If you were a recruiter given a choice between two candidates-one with a few years of industry experience and the other with excellent qualifications but no “real world” training-who would you choose?

There’s no easy answer to this question, as there is no clear winner in the age-old debate on the importance of education vs. the value of experience. With one random search on the Internet, you’ll find tons of people sitting on both sides of the fence. Pages and pages have been dedicated to the debate, but it seems far from being settled.

Those who think education has little bearing on success never tire of throwing out the names of famous university dropouts like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs to win their argument, while the proponents of a college education quote statistic after statistic to prove its impact on a person’s employability and earnings.

Education or Experience

So what’s more important-education or experience? The truth is that both have a place in a person’s career trajectory.

While someone with experience but no formal degree may be favored for certain jobs, he or she may find himself or herself reaching a saturation point in his or her career earlier and may struggle to advance professionally because the person is not considered adequately qualified. On the other hand, a college grad with the best education and book smarts may be completely at sea when it comes to dealing with real-world work situations if the graduate has no prior industry experience.

The truth of the matter is that it’s not so much about education vs. experience, but education and experience. They’re not mutually exclusive, but actually go hand-in-hand in charting out a person’s career growth.

The corporate landscape is getting more and more competitive with each passing day. Employers neither have the money nor the willingness to make huge investments in developing raw talent. They are more interested in acquiring talented candidates with demonstrated ability, and they look for a complete package at the time of hiring. That’s why someone who has solid educational credentials as well as real-world experience stands a better chance of making the cut.

Why is Education Important?

Companies are not just hiring with the aim to fill the current position, but have an eye on the future. If you have not already demonstrated that you have the potential to grow with a job, they may very well pass you up for another candidate who has shown that promise.

Having completed undergraduate degree program can demonstrate to them certain qualities in you. A college grad, for an employer, is often a person who has a proven academic record, has mastered complex subject matter, has the ability to think analytically and logically, and has been exposed to an intellectually stimulating environment.

In short, they see a person who has demonstrated that he or she can rise up the ranks and can be trusted with more responsible roles, rather than someone who can only perform tasks the person’s familiar with.

Make no mistake-just having a resume embellished with fancy undergraduate or graduate degree programs will not do the trick. Your employers expect you to bring to the table everything you have learned as part of your education and apply your skills and knowledge to solving real-world work problems.

How Do I Gain Experience?

As already mentioned, employers are looking for a perfect blend of experience and education in their employees. But the process of gaining experience has to start somewhere.

As a fresh graduate playing the field, you can wait for someone to give you that first break-or you can work toward getting your hands dirty with some real-world experience before you ever finish your formal education.

There are several ways of doing it: internships, co-operative work placements, industrial trainings, apprenticeships, freelancing, and more. Some academic programs have a mandatory practical training requirement, while others may need you to take the initiative.

With the right combination of a successful academic career and relevant experience in your field, you could be giving yourself a leg up against the competition.