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High School Diplomas vs. GEDs: Do Employers Care?

Anthony Balderrama, CareerBuilder.com writer

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For most Americans, school is a large part of your life. From the time you turn five until the time you're 18, you've probably spent thousands of hours in a classroom. Although the common path is to move from elementary school to high school and then decide what to do next, many students take a different route.

As anyone knows, life often has its own idea about how your plans should go. Some students leave school because they need to help with the bills, they start a family or school doesn't seem like the right option for them at the time. Whatever the case, they can always return to high school or they can earn their GED®, which stands for General Educational Development.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.8 million people over 15 have a GED, which proves that a significant amount of people are opting to take a different path. This large number of people with GEDs also means that more employers are faced with job seekers with backgrounds that don't fit the traditional model. Still, plenty of people are left wondering whether or not their decision to opt for a GED will come back to haunt them.

How can a GED impact your career?
Brett Yardley, a marketing and communications specialist for MAU Workforce Solutions, has helped recruit many job seekers, including many who have GEDs. In his experience, many employers focus on whether or not you made the effort to complete your education at all.

"The biggest difference is degree -- GED or high school diploma -- versus no degree," Yardley explains. Employers want to know they're hiring someone who can complete a goal they've set for themselves. "In our experience with trade skills and labor positions, GEDs are typically considered an equivalent of a high school diploma and rarely have any impact on job seekers. Years of relevant experience or technical skills usually become the deciding factor. Proof of the degree is all that's required. It's when a job seeker doesn't have a GED or a high school diploma that employers move on to the next applicant."

The case isn't quite the same when you move from the labor positions into specialty areas.

"Job seekers for professional [or] specialty positions rarely, if ever, show GEDs," Yardley says. "A GED may raise questions in the mind of hiring managers for this type of work due to the perceived stigma that GEDs are somehow less than high school diplomas," Yardley explains. "In our experience, if individuals with GEDs are applying for professional type work, they leave any references to their GED off their résumé. At this level, bachelor degrees and above are typically the deciding factors, with high school diplomas and GEDs as more of an afterthought."

The good and bad of a GED
A GED can mean two different things to employers, depending on the context, says Maya Frost, author of "The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education."

"What matters most is not whether you earn a GED or high school diploma but whether you use the GED as a way to advance or to catch up," Frost says. "The GED can be a very powerful tool as part of a strategy to begin college early. For those who want to blast forward, veering off the SAT/AP/GPA path and taking the GED at 16 may be the smartest move they can make."

That doesn't necessarily bode poorly for anyone who earns a GED for any reason other than to jump start college. It does mean, however, that employers are always looking for job candidates with ambition and commitment.

"[Workers] who earn a GED after the age of 18 are viewed far less favorably by employers. Unless you have a few college courses or exceptionally relevant experience under your belt, a GED may be seen as an indication of a lack of ability or follow-through," Frost warns.

Therein lies the trick for anyone with a GED. If you can continue your education in any capacity, you'll have the ability to frame your educational narrative and not let employers make their own assumptions.

Career adviser Megan Pittsley decided to forgo the usual four years of high school in order to start her college career early. Now, she not only has an associate degree, but she also has a successful career and has nearly completed her bachelor's degree.

"In my experience as a job seeker, recruiter and career adviser, I would say that as long as you continue to further your education beyond high school, it doesn't matter whether you formally graduated or received a GED," she says.

You don't have to earn a bachelor's or even an associate degree to show that you're serious about your education. You can take relevant courses that will help your work or get an appropriate certification. Whether it's a foreign language course or a public speaking seminar, you can show that you possess a serious commitment to education, and therefore a future employer.

GED® and the GED Testing Service® are registered trademarks of the American Council on Education® and may not be used or reproduced without the express written permission of the American Council on Education.

Anthony Balderrama is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. He researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 23/03/2009 - 11:33 PM


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