If you’re an IT pro who went to a college that isn’t a household name, and your GPA at that obscure institution was nothing to write home about, take heart. According to the results of a recent survey of hiring managers, as long as you can demonstrate that you have the work experience and skills companies need, your mediocre academic credentials need not come back to haunt you.
The survey was conducted by Addison Group, a Chicago-based staffing and recruitment firm that specializes in IT, and it shed quite a bit of light on what hiring managers are looking for. In a recent email interview, Jason Reagan, regional vice president at Addison Group, discussed the results of the survey, and in the process explained how IT hiring managers’ preferences have changed in recent years:
The most important factors hiring managers evaluate are relevant work experience, skills, and proven work results. Those have always been important, and likely always will be. What has changed recently has more to do with education. Relevant work experience, skills, and results have trumped things like schools attended and GPA.
From an IT perspective, this may be a result of companies on-boarding employees faster than ever before. They want candidates who can get into the company and begin producing quickly. While an impressive pedigree is great, the ability to communicate a track record of proven results is most valuable in today’s market.
Reagan went on to point out that many jobseekers focus too heavily on the beginning stages of the job search. He said placing a greater emphasis on preparing for the latter stages, when the face-to-face meetings take place, will serve a job candidate well:
Jobseekers are inundated with information regarding job search tools, resume writing, cover letters, and so on. It can be difficult for jobseekers to sift through the vast amount of information surrounding the job application process in order to determine what is most important: the interview. While a lot of preparation goes into the steps that led up to the interview (application, resume, references, etc.), some jobseekers think that the majority of the work is done in the beginning stages of the job search. That is a myth. While it’s important to dedicate time and resources to things like crafting a strong resume and list of references, the most important preparation should happen after all of that is complete, prior to the interview. It is one thing to have a well-crafted story of your career on paper, but being able to meet face-to-face with an employer and communicate how your skill set makes you the right person for the job is the difference between getting the job and getting passed over.
The survey found that hiring managers’ preferences tend to differ on the basis of what generation they belong to. Reagan offered some advice on how to prepare accordingly:
There are certainly nuances associated with interviews amongst the various generations. If you are interviewing with a baby boomer, for instance, be prepared to address gaps and shorter lengths of time in a particular role. While it is typical for a millennial to change jobs often, boomers are much more accustomed to longer lengths of service. On the flip side, millennials are more concerned with education and GPA than both boomers and generation X, so an ability to discuss your educational background with a millennial interviewer will be important. All three generations will want concrete examples of how your work history and job experience prepared you for the role, and while it is certainly helpful to keep generational preferences of hiring managers in mind, the overarching themes will remain the same.
OK, but what if a job candidate doesn’t know what generation the hiring manager belongs to? What’s the best way for him to craft his resume? Reagan advises candidates to focus on the things that will be important to just about any hiring manager:
Although today’s job landscape is made up of hiring managers from three different generations and with varying preferences, there are several factors that almost all hiring manages can agree on. One of them is the importance of tailoring the resume to the desired position. Taking the time to highlight exactly how your skills and background have prepared you to take on the desired role, and avoiding things like typos and overly used buzzwords, will result in a resume that will be favored by hiring managers of all ages.
According to the survey, only 18 percent of hiring managers think cover letters are important. That being the case, I asked Reagan what he advises job candidates to do with respect to cover letters. He said that while cover letters can be important for specific types of positions, they are not typically used for IT-specific roles:
There may be exceptions or instances in which a [hiring manager for a] higher-level position will request a cover letter, but most often a resume is all that is needed. That being said, the resume should be the vehicle through which candidates tell their stories. While candidates shouldn’t include more than 10 years of work history, it is important not to leave anything out. Include any and all relevant work history, job skills and certifications.
Reagan wrapped up the discussion by stressing that although some areas of the job application process are weighed more heavily than others, it is really the entire body of work that counts:
Just because one part of the process is considered less important than another doesn’t mean that it should be excluded altogether. As I mentioned before, the interview is the most vital step in securing a position, but the steps prior and the post-interview follow-up should not be ignored. Each part of the job application process, though varying in size and significance, should come together to form a well-rounded whole, leaving hiring managers with a positive impression of a candidate’s ability to perform the job.
A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.