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Qualifications vs. Experience in Today's Digital World

Josselyn McDonald, Red Executive Services - Virtual Assistant based in Edmonton, Alberta

Two questions I run into a lot in my work as a VA, both directly and indirectly, are “How do I know that I’m outsourcing the best?” and “Which is more important: qualifications, or experience?"

Because of the internet, being a home-based business or having a digital side hustle is easier than ever. Almost anyone can do it. And that’s both incredible and problematic.

Over a decade ago now, when I was in high school, I was (briefly) hired as a receptionist at a skin care clinic. It was new, and it was beautiful inside. A day into my training, I put two and two together and realized that something wasn’t right: The physician who hired me wasn’t a physician. This person was not registered or licensed with the College of Physicians and Surgeons. And this person was opening the doors to the public to perform medical procedures. This was unsettling and highly unethical.

How things unfolded is a story in itself. But what I can say about it is that before operations were shut down, successful and intelligent people had walked through the doors of that clinic. They paid money for medical procedures by someone who was not qualified or experienced, really, for that matter. And at the time, they wouldn't have known unless they had dug deeper into this "doctor's" qualifications.

In the medical field, qualifications matter. But in all of today’s digital industries, sometimes they matter, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the experienced outshine the qualified. Other times, finding someone who is qualified in a standardized, accredited way is fundamental. But how do we weed through everyone out there? How do we know who will do great work and produce great results for us?

In the field of education, digital literacy is something that is pushed through from elementary well into the Master’s level of post-secondary. We are taught how to determine if research is credible, and how to distinguish the mumbo-jumbo from the evidence-based real stuff. Maybe you’ve been in a situation where you’ve had to gently explain to your mother once or twice that the article she found on facebook outlining THE most magical weight loss method isn’t one worth following.

For some, determining whether information is sound is hard enough in itself. But what about when it comes to hiring or trusting someone’s advisement?

A person doesn't need to have gone to film school to be a renowned photographer or filmmaker. Their work will speak for itself. But just about anyone can label themselves a “life coach” or a “business coach.” What makes this person qualified to be directing you in your life and/or business? And what about social media marketers? Anyone on instagram or facebook can say they do social media, but do they know how the back-end analytics and algorithms work? Do they know how to run successful ad campaigns? Do they understand engagement?

What about web designers? If your web designer was born in the 1990’s, a lifetime of growing up learning html online might grant them the experience to design beautiful webpages. But do they understand Search Engine Optimization (SEO)? Are they worth paying upwards of $5000 for web design?

I’m one course and an Applied Research Project away from completing my MBA. The other day, I saw an ad for an “entire MBA in one course,” which, from experience, I can say is NOT the real deal. But then, I’ve come across freelancers and consultants who are among the best of the best in their industry, who don’t hold an MBA, but rather a “street MBA,” which comes from years of experience, drive, continuous professional development, and personal talent.

If you’re a new business starting out, you will be faced with critical decisions regarding who to bring on board to guide you, represent you, brand you, market you, and develop marketing materials for you. If you’re looking to outsource anything from business development to administration, you’re going to need to evaluate every single person you consider. Having some well-connected “connectors,” if you will, in your back pocket is invaluable. Especially if you don’t know where to begin.

Three things I firmly believe are:

1) Referrals are still the BEST way to do business;

2) Knowing who the connectors in your community are is important and;

3) Anybody who claims to be excellent at everything is probably excellent at nothing.

If you’re considering a VA (and I might be biased, but I’d hope that you’re considering me), take a look at what services are being offering to you. Tons of VAs offer primarily social media services. Look at their social media. Look at their branding. If they’re offering these things as a service, does theirs impress you? Is it what you would want for your own business? A good VA will help you get the job done, but an excellent VA will only do what they excel at, and will refer you to the best of the best for the rest. They’ll be conscious of your dollar and they’ll want you to be spending it where it will go the furthest and produce the best possible result. A good VA should remove the need for any business to exercise literacy in determining when to go with someone who is qualified, and when to go with someone who has built their career on experience alone.

If you’re shopping around for any kind of service, ask yourself, “What makes this person qualified or trustworthy to perform x/y/z for me?” If you’ve asked around for referrals, whose name pops up multiple times? Don’t be afraid to interview someone or to ask for examples of their work, if applicable. Someone who is excellent at what they do will welcome the sincere interest. And in some situations, your favorite candidate might be the person who says, “I’m willing to learn, and I would love to gain experience in working for you.”

If you have any thoughts on the topic of qualifications and experience in our increasingly digital world, I’d love to hear them!

Josselyn McDonald, Red Executive Services - Virtual Assistant based in Edmonton, Alberta

Photos by Darion Balfour

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