Many of my students ask what employers are looking for when they hire IT staff. I offer them what I look for when hiring and will share that with you. The focus here is education, not personality and other “soft skills”. I believe this would apply to most any professional career path, not just IT.
I look for the “triple threat” for education and experience. I rarely get all three. Someone with all three is usually too expensive for a smaller company like mine… or they have started their own company. Hint, hint, those that have all three are very successful in my experience. But two out of three ain’t bad.
Here are the three things I look for, and why.
- HIGHER EDUCATION
Holding a college degree is the first thing I look for. And earning the actual degree is very important. I don’t think it helps you to say “I was only 10 credits short…” No matter the reason you didn’t cross the finish line, it shows you didn’t complete something very important. What important things will you *almost* finish working in my company?
The thing that a college degree gives a prospective employee is a wide vision. A degree from a university shows you the world, a mile wide and an inch deep. When you graduate you know what you don’t know… and you know how to do research and find answers. Too many employers think someone graduating with a degree from a university is a professional and should graduate knowing how to do their specific job. But that is not what a university does. If you want someone who knows how to do a specific task, hire someone from a tech or trade school. But if you want someone with a more well-rounded education, grab a university graduate. All degrees are valuable, it just depends on the type of position you are trying to fill.
- INDUSTRY CERTIFICATIONS
The next thing I look for is industry certifications. Most every professional career track has certifications and the IT field is ripe with them. And actually take the proctored exam(s) and get the certification. I’ve seen too many resumes with something like “took Microsoft Certified Professional class” but they didn’t get the cert. Once again, finish what you start.
Industry certifications offer a more focused education, perhaps 100 yards wide and a couple feet deep. You learn about specific technologies, skills and/or products. And then you must prove what you learned with proctored certification exams. It also shows you are willing to go above and beyond. Certifications will set you apart from the other people applying for the same job.
- WORK EXPERIENCE
Finally, I look at work experience. Working 40+ hours a week on a particular project gives you a deep understanding. An inch wide but a mile deep. And even if your work experience is in a different field, if you were successful and lasted years at a job, it at least shows you have a solid work ethic. Don’t job hop, when I see someone with a bunch of jobs that didn’t last much more than a year I start to worry. Most employers will put up with a bad hire for about a year (I’m guilty of this). On the other hand, when I see someone lasted for years at a particular organization, I know they must have done a good job and isn’t unbearable to work with.
So, are you a single, double or triple threat? If you are a single threat, you might need to add one more. Getting ready to graduate but don’t have much work experience? Go get a certification or two. Have great work experience but no certifications or degrees? Well, you can figure it out. Once again, two out of three ain’t bad… but one out of three might not compete well in today’s job market.