Throughout my career I’ve recruited and interviewed for many positions. There are a few fundamental candidate traits I have always looked for and believed in:
- Good attitude (attitude trumps skill in a duel).
- Tenacity (proven ability to push through obstacles).
- Ability to continually improve (usually through education or volunteerism).
So, why do I always pause when I receive resumes with online degrees, specifically “mystery online programs”? A mystery online program would be from, like, American Intercontinental University. This could be a great place, but still– such a mystery. Let me start by saying I have not eliminated someone’s candidacy because they received an online degree. That is just dumb. But, although hard to admit, when I see someone received an online degree, I question it so much more than a traditional degree. Here is the kicker…. I sometimes question it more than if someone had no degree at all. And I don’t think I am alone; here is a good CNN/Careerbuilder article on this very thing.
The “pause” likely comes from a lot of unanswered questions an unfamiliar degree program brings. What is this school? Is it accredited? How long did the degree take to receive? Did you choose the “mystery” online program because you couldn’t meet the requirements of a traditional school? Are you lazy? Are you looking for a quick “credential”?
And to cap it all off, HR pros do know that mystery online programs usually cost the same if not more than their “traditional-school” counterparts. Leaving a perception (likely false) that the candidate chose the program for questionable reasons. Average costs for online programs at both traditional schools and “mystery” schools is between $700-900 per 3 credit hours.
So, as a good practitioner, I needed to explore this more. Here is what I discovered.
- I worry less about online master’s degrees than an online bachelors. Especially if the candidate received their bachelors at a traditional school.
- I don’t question the intent behind getting the degree. Any attempts to further ones education is a plus. A BIG plus.
- I don’t question the degree if it comes from a brick-and-mortar school with an online learning program. Why? I know those programs are accredited and do give access to professor face-time if needed.
- I do question a candidate’s judgment and decision making skills by their choice of online degree institution. This doesn’t mean I’ll eliminate you, but I am going to ask a lot of questions about how and why you chose to spend your valuable time at a school that no one’s heard of.
If an online degree program works for you—by all means go for it! But please know that any item on your resume that causes a recruiter to “pause” is not good. HR recruiters, bombarded with thousands of resumes, are likely to move on to a resume with less guesswork in it. If you chose a program that is not well known, be prepared to prove to your interviewers why you chose this route and how this education benefits you and your potential employer.
And if that truth doesn’t sound appealing to you… then you may just want to ditch the mystery online program and spend your time building practical experience, networking, or volunteering.
Dawn Burke, VP of Talent Consulting at Kinetix and founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker, and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/recruiting/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, with past gigs including a foundational role as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.
Most importantly: She is addicted to TV, knows most of the lyrics to Hamilton and West Side Story, loves to cry at movies (check out Cinema Paradiso for a cry fest!), thinks wine, a wheel of Brie and Milk Duds make a well-balanced dinner, and sings in her car daily. Her husband and cat are the Yin to her Yang.