By Bob Werber
Most online learners are adults who are hoping a degree will help them reach very specific career goals. But will employers want to hire you when they find you got your degree online?
Online degrees used to be a novelty. But with over 300,000 students now taking pure online bachelor’s and master’s degree programs each year, it’s pretty unlikely that you’ll ever walk into a job interview and find that the company has never spoken to an online student before. In fact, it’s getting more and more common to find that the person interviewing you has done some online study in their career.
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Think About Your Career Before You Pick An Online School
You should give some thought about how you’ll talk about your online degree before you start job-hunting. In fact, it’s best to start thinking about this before you even choosing your degree program. Here are some keys on picking a degree program that will be a plus rather than a minus for your job hunt:
The School’s Brand-Name Recognition
Interviews and surveys with hiring specialists at big companies tend to turn up a bad news/good news type result for online learners. The bad news: when employers are asked directly whether they think an online degree is as good as a traditional degree, a significant number of them will say they favor traditional degrees (about 40% said they had some degree of skepticism toward online degrees in a survey by Eduventures a few years ago).
But the good news is that when employers are asked more in-depth questions about hiring online degree holders, a more positive picture emerges. In fact, in one important way, hiring managers view online degrees in exactly the same light as traditional degrees. Most say it’s more important which school you get your degree from than whether you went to classes or studied online.
That’s good information to know when you’re choosing an online degree program. If you choose a school that has “online” in its name, it’s going to stand out on your resume that you didn’t attend a traditional school. Likewise, attending one of the major for-profit schools like University of Phoenix or Capella, or any other online school that advertises heavily, can make it instantly obvious that you went the online degree route. If you’re able to get your online degree from a school that does classroom teaching – a well-known state university for example – employers are less likely to focus on whether you studied online or not.
You also want to make sure you attend a school that is properly accredited. Schools with poor quality accreditation lack credibility with employers. If you take a very career-specific degree in an area like nursing, make sure the school is approved by the most important accreditors in that specialty. Online nursing master’s degrees and BSNs tend to be well accepted by healthcare employers. But they need to be from properly accredited schools.
Life Experience Degrees and Other Fakes
A few caveats to keep in mind to avoid getting a worthless degree:
– Call the online school you want to enroll in. If there isn’t someone there to answer the phone during normal business hours, you should consider it suspicious.
– Ask for a sample of the kind of transcript your school will send to an employer after you’ve graduated. If it doesn’t look like it came from a real school, this will be a big problem for you in your job hunt after graduation.
– Avoid “life experience” degrees, from schools that sell you a degree with no real academic study. They’re a waste of money.
The Communication Factor It’s ironic that some employers express a fear that online degree students haven’t had to communicate with other students, and have therefore missed some essential part of the education process. The president of a sales and training company recently told The Chronicle of Higher Education that he things communication skills can only be picked up through everyday interaction with other students on campus.
But that overlooks a basic fact: most online learners are adults who’ve already spent several years in the work force, and have more real world experience communicating in a business environment than the typical college grad.
The Age Factor
Acceptance of online degrees also varies by the age of the hiring manager, and by their familiarity with the internet. Fields like technology, where young, web-savvy people dominate, are likely to feel completely comfortable with hiring someone who went to school online. More traditional fields like law, or companies where you’re working with an older hiring manager, may feel a little less comfortable with your online degree. In a study done by job board Vault, Inc, researchers found that the employers who are the most skeptical of online degrees are the ones who don’t seem to know much about it.
Presenting yourself as a candidate who has the right training for the job that’s open is the most important thing. Vault’s survey also noted that when employers were asked if they met a job candidate who had all the right attributes for a job but had only a degree from an online school, 91 per cent said they would go right ahead and hire the person.