What Counts More, Education Or Experience? [Tech Jobs]

Posted December 12, 2008 7:00 am by with 5 comments

You’ve heard the old Catch-22 phrase, “You need experience to get a job, you need a job to get experience.”

But if you were to pit education vs. experience, which counts more on a résumé? Which is the one more likely to get you an interview?

In the world of Information Technologies what counts more (at least in the United States) is experience – but only when you actually get to the interview.

I’ll explain:

Your #1 enemy concerning “breaking the barrier” so to speak is Human Resources, better known by the abbreviated HR. They are the ones who receive job applications first, know absolutely nothing about computers or how to support them and strictly go by figures. These figures I speak of are your education credentials.

Basically put, if your education credentials match the job specifications they wrote up, you can breeze right past HR. But if what’s on your résumé doesn’t conform you’ll get a “thanks but no thanks” letter.

Assuming you get past HR, after that it all boils down to experience and what type of tech job you’re applying for.

Some examples:

Help Desk / Support

Does your résumé answer the following questions:

  • Are you a “people person”?
  • Can you handle stress and lots of it?
  • Do you show up on time to work every day?
  • Are you a “team player”?
  • Can you work quickly and effectively with little supervision?
  • Can you follow directions easily?
  • Do you know how to use a call ticket system at all?

As you can see from above, those questions have nothing to do with computers at all but rather how you conduct yourself in a support environment.

PC Technician

Does your résumé answer the following question:

  • Have you ever deployed 25 or more PCs – ever?
  • Are you familiar with how to answer support tickets properly?
  • Do you have a pleasant demeanor?
  • Are you willing to travel between offices – even if out-of-state?
  • Are you willing to be strapped with a pager/cell phone and be “on call”?
  • Have you ever been on the phone for desktop/laptop issues as a corporate customer with a major OEM (Dell, IBM, etc.)?
  • Have you ever repaired a laptop – ever?
  • Can you work well with others?
  • Can you follow directions quickly, effectively and with minimal supervision?

Being an in-house PC Technician is not about sitting in an office all day putting brand new computers together – not by a long shot.

You’re going to be running around all day and dealing with OLD computers that are most likely slow and obsolete. You have to know how to answer, field and close support tickets properly. You have to know how to escalate support tickets properly.

Most of all, you have to know how to do your job making absolute minimal contact with your boss all day long. If you can do that without him or her receiving one single phone call asking where you are – you’re doing your job.

Programmer

Does your résumé answer the following questions:

  • What have you programmed?
  • Can you adapt?

Those are the only two questions that need answering. What have you programmed and where can it be seen? And more importantly, can you deal with the absolute MESS the last programmer left behind easily?

Companies want programmers (in standard corporate environments) that are NOT creative people. Your job is to simply make sure the database doesn’t crash and that people in the office-place can keep working. That’s what you do. And yes you will be paid handsomely for it.

But don’t get any pipe dream ideas that it’s going to be a wonderful happy-fun place where you can do whatever you want. No, sir. You just make sure the back-end keeps working, the front-end is something people can use and you’ll get paid.

It’s not as glamorous as some would think – but it does pay well.

To note: The best kind of demeanor you can have as a programmer is if you’re a silent type of person. If you’re loud and rambunctious, you won’t last long.

Final notes:

Pray an audit team doesn’t visit. This video explains it best:

Then again it’s probably true your manager, supervisor or team lead who would deal with audit teams and not you.

That’s a perk of not being a manager. :-)

Remember, the job description is only what HR wrote up. Once you cross that hurdle, your experience and demeanor will count after that once on the interview.

Facts and figures on paper mean nothing if you don’t have the “street smart” skills to back it up.

5 responses to What Counts More, Education Or Experience? [Tech Jobs]

  1. Derek Iannelli-Smith December 12th, 2008 at 9:49 am

    David, this was a slap fired up GREAT article on assisting us who are in the work force. I agree, I would rather hire an experienced guy versus a million certifications after his name guy. Why… because certifications mean you take tests well (which I don’t) but experience shows that you handle people well. Taking tests does not get clients or pay raises, people skills AND customer service does. Keep up the great work!

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    • Drew December 12th, 2008 at 2:41 pm

      Derek, Rich actually wrote this article :) But I totally agree with your comment. I’ve got crap loads of work experience up my sleeve but didn’t go to college. I’ve even been turned down for jobs b/c I was “over qualified” which is kind of ego boosting and depressing both at the same time.

      Certificates don’t always mean much in the real world, in my opinion. I’ve worked with college educated people with no real world/real work experience and to say that their personal and professional skills leave a lot to be desired would be a gross understatement. On the flip side, I’ve worked with non-college grads (like myself) and they can sometimes have the same mentality as college grads.

      A big difference I’ve noticed in the US compared to back home in Australia is that almost every advertised job has the requirement of a college degree or similar. In Aussieland, for the same job, you most likely wouldn’t find that requirement listed – employers and recruiters are more interested in what you’ve accomplished vs certificates you’ve achieved. I guess the US is still a bit backward in the thinking that having a college education shows dedication towards something, b/c we all know that Gen Y’s are not the same as Gen X – their mentality towards work is very different in many aspects.

      All in all, the first line of this article sums it up best: “You need experience to get a job, you need a job to get experience.”

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  2. Floyd Bufkin December 12th, 2008 at 11:00 pm

    OK, I was an Employment Counselor for 19 years. What the article says is dead on. But the question is, how do you deal with it. You have the experience, but not the education. How do you get past getting screened out by HR? Here’s how.

    Do your homework. Find out who heads up the department where the job is actually located. Sometimes this can be done with a simple Google search. Sometimes it’s a little harder. When you get that information, send them a copy of your resume. Include a cover letter, that begins, ‘Please find a copy of my resume which I recently submitted to your HR Department in application for the position of….”

    You must not completely bypass HR, you must follow the application procedures they posted in the job announcement. You do not want them angry at you.

    When the head of the department where the job is located gets the list of screened applicants from HR, he will look to see if your name is on it if he liked your resume. If he doesn’t see it, he will query HR as to why your name is not on the list.

    The next most important thing is followup. Send a letter or an email to that same person a few days after you sent the resume to inquire about the status of the hiring procedure for the job. Send one to HR also. Don’t leave them out of the loop. Every time they get correspondence from you, in a normal office situation, it means they would have to pull the file and attach your inquiry to it. Every time they take the file out of the drawer or pull it up on the computer, it makes it stick more in their mind.

    If you get an interview, be sure and ask at the interview what the next step is in the interviewing procedure. In some companies, the final candidate may go through as many as four or five screening interviews before he gets to the person who can actually make the hiring decision. Always send a fresh copy of your resume to the next person in the chain with a cover letter that begins “I recently had the pleasure of interviewing with (insert name) for the position of (position). I am looking forward to meeting you soon to further discuss this opportunity”. Same principle as before applies. He’ll look for your name on the list that comes up. Do this for every step in the process. After the final interview, you MUST send a thank you letter to the final interviewer. This also gives you a chance to elaborate on any point you feel you may not have covered as well as you should have in the interview. If you don’t hear anything in the following week, write another letter. Always be nice, and be sure they know that if you are not selected, you would like to be considered for any similar openings in the future.

    THIS WORKS!

    80% of the jobs in the USA are filled by word of mouth. “Who do you know”?

    The reason HR types don’t consider experience as important as education and certifications is, they have a CYA mentality. If some one is hired who meets all of the education and certification requirements of the job description, and that person turns out to be a dud, it’s not their fault. On the other hand, if they decide to hire a person based on experience that does not have the education and certifications, and that person is a dud, they get the blame.

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  3. Steve Stone December 13th, 2008 at 9:45 am

    I worked as a field tech in a corporate environment for 12 years, network specialist for 3 years, help desk team leader for 2 years, and management number cruncher. You are right on with all these topics but you missed a couple. In any of these positions you need to be able to play nice no matter how dysfunctional, back stabbing, or whatever your coworkers might be. Managers have self appointed missions and agendas. I once worked for a guy who treated you like garbage if you did not attended his prayer breakfasts. Another lady fired everyone on her team whose last name did not end with a vowel. And then you have “teachers pets” kissing up to the boss to get what they want. Stir in the mix of empty corporate promises for low cost health insurance and retirement plans that seem to fade away when you need them the most. Bottom line. Whatever you take on make sure it is right for you, do your best, and prepare for the worst no matter how many smiling faces greet you in the morning.

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  4. Jason Faulkner December 14th, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    This kind of BS only applies in the corporate world. My suggestion is to try to find a small business and start out there.
    In general, your ability and creativity will not be curbed by ‘policies’ in a small business environment because your productivity and efficiency is all that really matters.

        Reply

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