A college degree provides access to broader job opportunities, higher earnings, and better chances for career advancement. Research shows that degree earners have a clear advantage in the job market.
But why do employers rate the value of degrees so highly? To find the answer, we turned to some hiring experts. Here are three key qualities they say a college degree signals to them when they're considering candidates.
That a job candidate has a college degree is impressive enough, says Chris Farnsworth, vice president of human relations at online essential oils retailer dōTERRA.
"It says something of their work ethic, their commitment, and their tenacity," Farnsworth says. "Getting a degree is not an easy thing. For someone to see that through to the end tells me they're a goal-oriented person."
Brianne Thomas, head of recruiting at recruitment software company Jobvite, agrees that persistence factors greatly into the value of degrees to employers. And when the degree earner is a nontraditional student who juggled work and family while attending school, the achievement is even more impressive. It signals that the candidate could balance several goals and responsibilities while on the job.
"Their ability to prioritize, achieve big goals, and work through something challenging is demonstrated through finishing those programs and leaving with a degree," Thomas says.
2. Readiness to Learn
Employers don't expect the people they hire to walk in knowing everything they need to know to do that job, let alone start climbing the career ladder. What they do expect when a new hire has a degree is an ongoing interest in learning—and that attitude adds to the value of degrees.
"When they come into my company, we're going to be teaching them a lot of the knowledge that we want them to know and apply on the job," says Farnsworth, who hires people for science and technology roles, managerial and executive roles, and the call center. "We don't necessarily expect them to come prepackaged with that knowledge. What we do expect is that they come prepackaged with the ability to learn those things quickly and capably."
Though they expect every employee to gain skills on the job, employers also appreciate the wealth of knowledge that college graduates have.
"One thing that credential tells employers is that you've spent time learning from experts," Thomas says. "Academia is full of people who are 20- and 30-year experts in what they do. They have a huge amount of knowledge, and their focus is teaching the next generation and passing that knowledge on."
3. Solid Soft Skills
As much as employers appreciate the subject-matter expertise that college students develop in their degree programs, they place an even higher premium on soft skills like critical and analytical thinking, creativity, communication, leadership, problem-solving, and collaboration.
"When someone goes through any type of higher education degree-seeking program, they can build a lot of those skills," Thomas says.
College students don't learn those soft skills through coursework. They develop them by completing assignments in a wide range of classes and interacting with professors, advisers, mentors, and fellow students.
Polishing your communication skills, in particular, will help you capitalize on the value of your degree when you enter the job market. Farnsworth notes that job candidates who excel in explaining their accomplishments stand out during interviews.
"If they get really good at sharing the experiences they've had and giving concrete examples of things they've done that show skill sets, that's going to set them apart," he says.
An online degree program can set you down the path toward a promising career with an employer who recognizes your potential because you've earned that diploma.