A few months ago I asked the Practically Perfect PA readers if they could complete a survey for me. The survey asked if assistants feel that having or not having a university degree has made a difference to their career path. I received so many thought provoking comments that I thought I would share them with you over two posts (the second post will be published on Friday). Here are the results!

Do you have a degree?

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Do you think that having a university degree helped you get your PA role?

  • Yes – but only partially
  • No, my degree is in Elementary Education and Communication Disorders
  • Only so my resume would get past hiring managers.
  • Yes as it was a degree in journalism, therefore my grammar skills come in handy as does the investigative side!
  • Yes, but not directly, as my degree is not related to business.
  • I’m an EA, but it certainly helps
  • Not in the traditional sense but I felt that my time at University taught me many skills that I now utilise such as being independent and having to relay on yourself to get things done.
  • Yes. At university we studied a bit of everything so that we could work in any company: law, economics, accountability, communication… Knowledge also helps you to have an open mind, culture, the education you receive also helps with behaviour, manners.
  • No, I did my degree after I had the job.
  • Yes both in getting me in the door of the company and within my day to day tasks although, I don’t know any other way of life than going to Uni. I have a friend who is a secretary (her company don’t use PA/EA) and she started her career at 16 – she seems to have done well for a 27 year old female. I do however feel that I am more career orientated, she is happy to settle.
  • Yes and no – it was a minimum qualification requirement when I applied but my degree does not relate to my role or tasks.
  • Yes, helps put me on another level to those without degrees, shows commitment and intelligence, and quite frankly, I’ve earned more because of it. Also, it makes life easier with recruiters. I’ve literally walked into jobs because of it. People who witter on about ‘the University of Life’ just sound like idiots- actually having a degree is the equivalent of putting your money where your mouth is- I can prove I have a successful track record, When I interview, I look for candidates with degrees, as I know from experience that they bring more to the role; intellect, ability, and commitment to projects and discipline.
  • Yes but only because it was a prerequisite not because of what I learned by getting a degree.
  • No but I believe that the managers I have worked for appreciated the insight my degree experience gave.
  • For me, yes, because I work in a law firm and my degree was in Economics & Law.
  • Yes. The job market was very competitive when I began my career and my degree was mentioned each time I interviewed.
  • I think my current employer prefers people with degrees but understands that experience without degree can also be valuable.

What do you think has helped your career more – your experience or your degree?

  • Experience – I met my boss through an event I was coordinating. The degree merely backed me up as a preferred and ideal candidate for the position
  • My experience and my natural skills. That sounds bad, but most of the skill I have are ones that come to me naturally in anything I do, these skills are very effective in the admin roll.
  • The training I did alongside my A-levels – RSA qualifications and working my way up through admin jobs
  • This is hard to answer as the degree wouldn’t have helped me in my first job as much had I not had it but the PA experience (and bosses I’ve worked for) is immeasurable.
  • Experience in my case. However, without the discipline I learned in college, I wouldn’t have been as good as I became.
  • Definitely my experience, my drive and ambition and my additional secretarial qualifications.
  • Both, my education has helped immensely and let me get more involved in teh business
  • Experience – however I only have the experience because of my degree gap/intern/placement year.
  • I think both, experience and degree, have helped me get me where I am now. Also, the passion I have for this job, being a PA, also helps. The degree gives you the knowledge and the experience puts all you have learned into practice, and we also learn from our mistakes.
  • My degree got me in the door, my experience and skills kept me there.
  • Both. A degree put me above other candidates who didn’t attend University as many employers have degrees themselves and it is an instant item on a cv for them to relate to. In experience it also allowed me to manage tasks better, set deadlines, know what is expected within a work environment. Albeit I’m sure college prepares individuals in the same way, I am only relating to my experience.
  • My experience without a doubt
  • Experience – but I couldn’t have gotten the job without the degree
  • Both. Couldn’t have got the experience if I didn’t have the degree (I have a undergrad BA and two post grads (Masters)
  • If you cannot get the job without the degree then the answer has to be a degree even though the real answer is experience.
  • The degree has been a foot in the door minimum, with half of my roles specifically looking for someone educated to degree-level
  • Both, but experience would be first.
  • Experience. Although as time has gone on my current manager has stretched and challenged me more. After nearly ten years of working together he now thinks all PAs come with degrees!
  • Definitely experience – my current boss doesn’t even know I have a degree as I inherited him!
  • Initially my degree, but as I’ve gained more experience, then my direct PA experience.
  • Actually, both – my degree helped me train and work as a lawyers and thus I gathered enough experience to set myself apart when I did apply to a law firm to work as a PA.
  • My degree got my foot in the door, but overall the experience I’ve gained is more helpful.
  • My experience definitely has helped more

Do you think not having a degree has made a difference to your career?

  • No, I have been hired on my skills and experience. Although i have noticed in the last couple of years that more senior level EA positions ask for tertiary qualifications.
  • No, although I have worked at a University in a PA role until recently and was told that I would not be considered for EA roles with senior University staff if I did not have a degree.
  • Both are equally important, but I think it has made a difference since being laid off after 24 years and trying to obtain a new job opportunity with degreed candidates looking for jobs as well.
  • Not at all. I think being an EA is more about experience and being able to adapt rather than learnt skills.
  • Not yet
  • Before I had a degree, I was rejected for some positions out of had because I didn’t have a degree.
  • Yes -when getting to interview stage
  • Not too big of a difference. I’ve been in supervisory roles, and most recently supported our Managing Partner.
  • Yes. While I have some college background, but no degree, I was overlooked during a promotional process for not having a degree – of any kind. The person who received the job had a degree in journalism.
  • Not really….I have similar if not higher skills than most PAs
  • No not really. Mostly progressed by experience.
  • Probably not. I am over 50 and have done admin on and off all my adult life. Classes have helped a lot. I don’t have skills in problem solving, critical thinking, etc. That would make a difference in my career.
  • No as my employer is very keen to offer full support to anyone looking to progress in their chosen career.
  • No, I don’t believe having a degree would have helped because real-world experience taught me more than in a class room.
  • Kind of…… Im not sure my current employer thoroughly checked my CV because comments have lead me to believe he- and other staff members think I have one. I have applied for jobs in the past and not even been interviewed and I think this is because I dont have a degree.
  • No – I have a variety of skills to offer. I am assessed on performance/ability.
  • Yes, due to a lack of respect occasionally from academics.. You learn the hard way without a degree!
  • It certainly has
  • No, although I may have been able to fast track rather than working as Admin Assistant first.
  • I think that it hasn’t really hindered my career. But I would think that for someone just getting started in this field a University Degree may give them an advantage.
  • No – although I may have had a very different career path and ended up doing something completely different
  • No, I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Experience, flexability, an eagerness to learn and hard graft has made a difference to my career
  • Not to date, but I have noticed that more and more employers require this.
  • Not at all – I did do A-Levels & completed a HND, which is two years of a degree but wasn’t in an academic submit, it was music technology/sound engineering.
  • No because I have been in this industry for over 20 years. Work experience has proven to be more valuable to my employers than a degree.
  • No but a similar EA post was advertised requesting a degree and the candidate that got the job couldn’t do the job very well!
  • Only in recent years
  • I think If you are applying for jobs in London and you are just starting out then I think it is definitely worth having. I was lucky as my first manager took a chance with me, those days are long gone!
  • Yes and no. Many London EA jobs require a degree, the job I have now had noted ‘degree preferred’ in the job description. However not having a degree gave me 4 years work experience on many others. I started out working in a bank in Australia and moved to the UK 5 years ago. Now I am EA to the Chairman of a hugely successful company and just got approval to start moving into Marketing.
  • No, I don’t believe it made any difference. By the time some of my college friends had completed their degrees, I had two years experience under my belt and lots of hands-on experience required for this type of role.
  • Yes, unfortunately this has set me back monetarily in comparison to my peers who do have degrees.
  • No, I think that the experience I have gained within the role has helped me to get where I am today
  • Perhaps being over looked for other positions, but not for the assistant path. I find this job more practical than theoretical anyway.
  • Yes, more and more job descriptions require a degree
  • I think my Masters degree was more of a hindrance in actually getting a job. I used to be told when applying that employers thought someone with my education actually had the goal of being in a management position, and was either using the job as a stop gap until another company offered something better, or as a stepping stone to another role in the company.
  • I don’t think it has made any difference to this particular job, however, having a degree might have opened more doors when trying to gain promotion to a more executive PA role.
  • Absolutely none whatsoever. I am years ahead of my peers in terms of experience and savings, and miles behind them in terms of debt.
  • Not having a degree does limit your job choices when you are looking to get further up the ladder as more companies seem to be specifying they want someone with a degree for certain high level roles
  • Most definitely not! Experience gained over the years can never be taken away from you!
  • No not at all, on the job experience and common sense!
  • I think not having a degree meant I ended up being a PA

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