This blog is brought to us by MRA Global Sourcing 

You've definitely seen the commercials.  Online degree programs have reached the mainstream. In fact, they've become more popular than ever.  Thanks to virtual learning experts, they've also grown more sophisticated, immersive, and dynamic.   As a result, recruiters and hiring managers have begun to reconsider their evaluation of a candidate's education and experience.  While an online degree may have looked inferior in years past, this sentiment has generally disappeared.

MRINetwork's Recruiter Sentiment Study for 2017 found that more than half of recruiters and nearly as many (43%) employers have no preference for applicants based on their type of degree.  The study even found that 13% of employers actually prefer alternative degrees to their traditional counterparts.
Sherry Engel, MRINetwork's VP of Learning and Talent Development recommends the following best practices for employers considering candidates with online degrees:

1. Check for Accreditation

Today's online degrees are often just as prestigious as those earned from traditional universities.  Whether the degree comes from a physical institution or an online-only entity, it's important to check for accreditation.  Look to see if the program is accredited by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education.  Recognition from smaller state or regional organizations can also attest to the program's quality.  As with any interview, you should further evaluate the applicant's education by asking them to speak to their experience.

2. Evaluate Experience and Expertise

Now more than ever, the degree itself isn't everything.  An applicant's other experiences can provide a far better idea of the skills and perspectives they'll bring to the job.  According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, internships and professional experience trump academic achievement across a variety of industries.   It's also important to remember that earning a college degree online is hard work.  Many chose this form of education because of family obligations or commitments to other jobs. Use the interview process to determine how exactly online learning fit into the applicant's life. It's likely they've developed discipline, time management, and technological skills that could benefit any organization.

3. Consider Company Culture

When evaluating a candidate, it's also become increasingly important to think about cultural fit.  Discuss your company's mission, values, and social climate during the interview to determine how the applicant will adjust to your workplace environment.  A candidate who insists upon working independently, for example, might function poorly within a highly collaborative office.  Ask a series of behavior-based questions to gain a sense for whether they'll fit in or clash with their potential co-workers.

"While the negative perception of alternative degrees has not been completely eradicated," Engel writes, "online degrees no longer have the stigma they once had among employers and recruiters." This encouraging trend, she suggests, "means companies are rethinking how they hire."
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