Can You Get a Job with an Online Degree? Experts Weigh In
By Anjali Stenquist on 08/31/2020
Online learning has become a popular option for people pursuing higher education. With flexible class times, the ability to study from home, and increasingly intuitive technology platforms to communicate with classmates and professors, completing an online degree can have significant advantages for many prospective students. But what about life after you complete the degree? What are the real options for people who have chosen to complete their education online? Will employers take issue with an online education?
To help put some of those concerns to rest, we spoke with hiring managers and other online learning experts to find out what realities face online students when they enter the job market.
Can you get job with an online degree?
Let’s get to the heart of the matter—yes, you can get a job with a degree earned online. There are thousands of graduates from online degree programs across the country who’ve been successful in landing meaningful work. So, where does this apprehension about online learning come from? For one, online learning is relatively new, and anything new often leads to skepticism as people are naturally resistant to change. Another major factor is that some less reputable institutions were early adapters of online education—and in turn managed to hurt the perception of what is really just a technology-powered shift in how students learn.
Bottom line, a quality online education program from a reputable institution will still develop the same fundamental knowledge and key professional competencies as you’d find in a traditional program.
The perception of online graduates is more complicated than a simple “They’re hirable!” Like a job candidate from a campus-based degree program, individuals with online degrees have unique strengths and potential areas to grow. As you explore the possibility of an online degree program, take a moment to look through how your degree will inform the narrative of your resume after graduation.
5 Strengths an online degree can communicate to potential employers
Earning a degree is a challenge in any format, but there are some clear positives to online learning an employer can pick up on.
“Given the choice of two equally qualified candidates, I always recommend the online learner,” says Anthony Babbitt, president of the Babbitt Family Foundation.
Individuals who have completed their education online come away with a valuable set of skills that can make for an attractive employee. Here are five strengths employers see in a candidate with an online degree.
1. You are self-disciplined
Completing an online degree requires self-discipline. Online students hold themselves accountable for deadlines, study time, and communication with professors.
“Online students can intrinsically motivate themselves and accomplish a goal with a minimum of supervision,” says Babbitt.
“There is something to be said about someone who is able to get their degree through online education due to the incredible amount of self-discipline that it takes,” says Robyn Flint of Effortless Insurance. “Both on-campus and online learning have the same requirements for degree completion, but the manner in which the requirements are met differ.”
That difference can demonstrate an ability to consistently follow through and be a self-starter when needed—something many employers appreciate.
2. You know how to manage your schedule
“Online students must have strong reading comprehension skills and develop study habits and consistent time working on assignments each day,” says Flint. “These skills are all great to have in the workplace. Time management skills, comprehension, self-starter mentality, and working towards goals are all developed through learning online.”
Many online students choose this format because it helps them fit school into an already busy schedule. By successfully completing an online degree, students will demonstrate their ability to manage competing priorities. Becoming more planful and efficient with your time is a valuable ability that can stick with you long after graduation.
3. You might bring valuable life experience
All sorts of people enroll in online degree programs, and while sometimes the motivations for pursuing an online degree over an on-campus degree can feel like setbacks, overcoming them to complete your education can demonstrate strength and bring important perspectives into a workplace.
“I’ve found that people who have pursued online degrees over a traditional campus-based education tend to have more diverse backgrounds,” says Scott Swedberg, founder of The Job Sauce. “They tend to have more experience because of this.”
4. You are committed to self-improvement
“One positive trait I see in my online students is that they have a lot of drive and dedication to self-improvement,” says Matt Erhard, managing partner with Summit Search Group. “There tends to be a higher percentage of adult or non-traditional students in online education, from my experience. They’re more likely to know exactly what career they want, as opposed to younger graduates who may still be figuring out their career path.”
Employers naturally want dedicated employees who are driven to succeed, and often those who’ve taken a non-traditional path are intensely focused on making a change in their life for the better.
5. You have technological fluency
Online coursework is completed, well, online. It is a foundational requirement that online students have technological fluency in order to complete assignments, tune into lectures, and communicate with students and professors. In the era of fast changing technology, employing an individual with demonstrated ability to learn new software programs is a big advantage to an organization.
What can online students emphasize to ease employer concerns?
Fair or not, employers are likely to have some assumptions about your experience in an online classroom and what that means about your abilities. While you can’t please everybody all of the time, our experts suggested emphasizing a few areas and abilities to help bolster your case to employers.
1. Communication skills
The majority of communication between professors and students in an online program is done through writing. While this builds strong writing and critical reading skills, it does not always strengthen verbal communication or public speaking.
“Public speaking opportunities are less common with online courses,” says Bryan Zawikowski, vice president and general manager of Lucas Group. “Online students should seek them out whenever possible.”
You don’t have to be perfect, but a polished and professional speaking style in an interview can go a long way toward easing any hang-ups an employer may have.
2. Ability to work with others
Though many online courses require collaboration with other students, hiring managers do not always understand this when they are reviewing an online graduate’s resume.
“Look for ways you can develop and demonstrate interpersonal skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, and so on,” advises Erhard. “These are just as important as job knowledge in the workplace.”
3. Professional experience
On campus degree programs often involve internship matching or other work study programs that can show a potential employer that you function well in the workplace. Increasingly, online degree programs are exploring ways to provide these same services.
“I have met amazing experts who took all their classes online. However, most of them used the flexibility with online studies to do internships and acquire practical knowledge,” says Jovan Milenkovic, co-founder of Kommando Tech. “If I come across a candidate with an online degree, I am looking for additional experience with proven results. It doesn’t have to be anything extraordinary, but I want to find people who have used the benefits of online programs and went beyond the course material.”
Interested in exploring online learning?
Online education is here to stay. The flexibility it provides has made the prospect of earning a degree much more manageable for millions of people around the world—and with those numbers comes a growing comfort level from employers who’ve seen firsthand how effective the learning format can be.
Don’t let assumptions skew how you think about online learning. We've debunked some other common misconceptions people have in our article, “8 Myths About Online Learning: The Truth Behind the Screen."