U.S. News University Directory Reveals the Hiring Manager’s Perception of Online Degrees and the Job Search

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Leveraging an online degree for job search success.

more and more known universities also offer online programs

Whether on a resume or in a job interview, stating the name and location of a degree-granting school seems like a no-brainer, but when online education was the format of choice, just how to state that (or whether to state it at all) is worth careful consideration. U.S. News University Directory shares a job seeker's experience and expert opinions on this topic.

As online education programs have become more widespread, the stigma of online degrees appears to be lessening. In a recent Excelsior College/Zogby International online survey of 1,500-plus U.S. CEOs and small business owners, more than four in five of those familiar with online or distance learning programs said they strongly believe a degree earned online is as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program.

One factor that has helped improve the reputation of online programs is that today “more and more known universities also offer online programs,” says Bill Driscoll, the New England district president for staffing firm Robert Half International. “Increasingly it’s becoming more common, and as that happens that will add to the credibility of these programs.”

Some experts believe it’s really only online programs offered by traditional brick-and-mortar institutions that truly have gained acceptance. Twenty years of surveys conducted by GetEducated.com, which reviews and ranked online degree programs, have found “a heavy stigma exists in the minds of employers if the school on your resume is seen as an online only school,” says Vicky Phillips, founder and chief education analyst. “If this is the case, then the applicant should be prepared to counter this stigma with the known and respected positive work traits correlated with success in online education students.”

When to Make the Case

That’s how Jennie Dugan – who earned a bachelor’s degree from Regents College (now Excelsior College) in 2000 after earning an associate’s degree through traditional classes – has approached her job searches. She has her spiel down pat.

“When I decided to move into sales, I found the single thing holding me back was not having a bachelor’s degree,” she will explain. She had enough credits after her associates in respiratory therapy to be a second-semester junior. The route she chose to continue her education meant being “able to knock out 24 credits in less than six months by testing out of courses,” she’ll add. And then she will share how she got up at 6 a.m. to study, even on weekends, and how she drove to distant locations to work in the required tests – “a demonstration of my autonomy.”

Dugan will sum up her skills like this: “I can see what needs to be done, develop a plan, implement it, and get results in a short time frame. … It really does take discipline and the ability to self-structure, which is a natural quality in most independent sales representatives.”

How well has that explanation worked? The six or so interviews she’s had since graduation resulted in four offers, including the one for her current job in sales and marketing at a hospital laboratory.

Some experts say these explanations are best left off a resume or cover letter and for the interview, and even then only when asked.

“I’m of the ‘if they don’t ask, don’t tell’ side of the camp,” says Roberta Chinsky Matuson, president of Human Resource Solutions, who provides employee recruitment and other HR services to businesses and nonprofits. “Why should a job candidate send up a potential red flag?”

“My advice for the resume, as well as for the cover letter, is to simply list the name of the institution as well as the city and state,” explains Cheryl Palmer, a certified professional resume writer, executive career coach, and founder of the coaching firm Call to Career. “There really is no need to mention that it was an online program since the real issue is that you have a degree. … For most professionals, the delivery format of the instruction is irrelevant.” (Where it does matter to employers: fields such as nursing or engineering where hands-on experience is critical to the candidate’s knowledge base.)

But might waiting to reveal detailed educational information in an interview be a mistake? “Job seekers run a serious risk of giving the impression that they’re trying to hide something – because you are trying to hide something,” says Phil Rosenberg, president of reCareered, a coaching service.

Driscoll also recommends being upfront. In particular, if the name of the online institution or program identifies the delivery method, use that name.

The only time career coach Miriam Salpeter of Keppie Careers advises revealing an online degree on a resume is when there’s a geographical conflict to explain – such as a degree from a school in Maryland earned while working in Florida. And in that case, “simply stating ‘accredited online degree program’ should suffice,” she says.

Keep this in mind, she adds: “Unless directly asked, job candidates are not obligated to give details about their degree or how it was earned.”

Prime Positioning

Whether it’s a direct question or a vibe that an interviewer is wondering, job candidates should be prepared to position their online degree in the best way during an interview.

The goal: stress the positive work traits admired by employers that are required to be successful in learning remotely. In Phillips experience, those traits include: time management, self-motivation, forward thinking, online social networking, team building/collaboration, and the ability to learn independently.

And, notes Palmer, distance learning is popular for not only degrees but also for continuing education and company training. “Nearly everything we do in the 21st century is computer-driven,” she explains.

For Jennie Dugan, there have been moments when she knew the interviewer valued her ability to earn a degree online perhaps even more than one earned traditionally. During one interview, she shares, a pharmaceutical company manager “told me that he tried [an online degree program], but didn’t have the time to study and couldn’t pass the tests, so he opted for the traditional classes.”

About U.S. News University Directory
U.S. News University Directory – Providing comprehensive and unbiased information on more than 2,000 academic institutions directly from U.S. News & World Report, the most trusted source for college and university rankings since 1983. Search America's Best Colleges and America's Best Graduate Schools offering associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s and MBA degrees, doctoral and PhD degrees, and certificate programs. And because U.S. News is the leading ranking resource for anyone seeking an on-campus or online degree, students who use the directory are getting the best education advice and information available.

Matthew Speer, Director, Sales and Marketing
U.S. News University Connection


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