Date: 16/11/2015

From the sales floor to the classroom and back again

By Jonathan Finglas, enterprise account manager,  MJ Flood Technology

As of January 2016, Ernst and Young (EY) have announced that a university degree will no longer be an essential requirement for successful application to their workforce.

In addition, one of the UK’s top law firms, Clifford Chance have introduced ‘’CV blind interviews’’ giving the assessors no insight into the background of the applicant. This gives every young, ambitious and driven applicant an equal opportunity regardless of background, education or experience.

Why are such industry giants defying convention and radically changing their recruitment policies?

It’s simple. EY have found that this approach provides a more robust and reliable indicator of an applicant’s ability to succeed and flourish within the profession and company. And it’s backed by solid evidence through an 18-month study in which they evaluated their own internal continuous assessments and numeracy tests over previous gained qualifications.

So how is this all relevant to me (and you perhaps)?

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to University. However, like so many school- leavers at the tender age of 17, I was unsure of my desired profession for the rest of my life. I based my choice of third level accounting on what I enjoyed in school. The stark realisation soon hit me (as it did many of my friends and colleagues) that just because you like a subject in an academic environment, does not mean you will enjoy it long term or as a profession.

So I abandoned the degree and moved to business development in 2011. I was lucky enough to get a job with cloud specialist, MJ Flood Technology at the backend of a bleak recession for the technology sector. And over the past four years I have worked in numerous positions both in the UK and Ireland benefiting from the tech boom we have all seen in that time.

My hard work and commitment was acknowledged with selection (as one of only two staff members) to attend the Cisco Sales Associate Programme this summer in Amsterdam. I had a valuable if not daunting three-month opportunity to escape the sales floor that had become so familiar and enter the unfamiliar realms of the classroom, which seemed like another world to me at that stage.

Together with some a diverse mix of people, spanning 30 different nationalities with backgrounds in every university course I can think of, I experienced targeted sales and technology education directly relating to my profession.

Much like working professionals that complete evening courses and evening degrees relating to their industry that I have spoken to, I found this approach so worthwhile and rewarding. It allowed me to absorb both technical and sales training in an academic atmosphere while being continuously assessed in topics that I would be living on a day-to-day basis.

It opened my mind to thinking like a university student, to absorb information, study it and apply it, not only with a view to passing a graded exam at the end of an academic year, but to using my knowledge in a profession where I would be evaluated on tangible results for the company that had invested in me.

Very few organisations will take their staff out of the field and send them on training for a three-month period. It incurs a significant opportunity cost and a heavy financial investment. But MJ Flood Technology also see beyond the limitations of a CV and are willing to invest in me and their staff, providing them with the motivation and tools to take their careers to the next level.

It’s easy perhaps for people like me without a third level degree, to welcome this approach from my own employer. But I would encourage non-degree holders to look beyond the obvious career paths and explore other opportunities. Bright, enthusiastic, street smart individuals can flourish in many walks of life. With some encouragement and foresight from the right employer, you too can reach your career milestones, even if that early university degree has eluded you.

Where do you stand on the education versus experience debate? Are you recently graduated and feel that a shift to an experience-based application model is undervaluing your academic achievements? Are you similar to me where you feel it’s beneficial to have past experience and on the job assessment when climbing the workplace ladder?


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