Degree Pedigree Matters Less to Today’s Employers

Grads

As they struggle to find experienced technology professionals, managers aren’t as focused on hiring from top-flight schools as they have been in the past. Just two years ago, we reported that employers were growing ever-more picky about hiring candidates with the “right” college degree. But while they’d still love to attract candidates from Stanford, MIT or Carnegie Mellon, today’s low tech unemployment rate means many companies don’t have that luxury.

“If you say, ‘I only want a college graduate and I only want a college graduate from my school,’ you’re really making hiring difficult for yourself,” says John Reed, senior executive director for recruiter Robert Half Technology. On top of that, he says, more aspiring tech professionals are open to forgoing a college degree altogether and jumping into the job market where they can make money now.

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“What most companies are looking for are really smart people, who have great problem-solving skills, great insight, great creativity,” Reed observes. “If they went to a prestigious school, great. If not, they’ll say, ‘I’m not going to allow that to keep me from hiring the people I need.’”

The Experience Factor

Where you went to school tends to be more of an issue for IT professionals who are just starting out. “When engineers first graduate, they don’t have any industry experience, so what companies are banking on are more the computer science fundamentals,” says Aaron Ho, technical recruiter at Riviera Partners, a San Francisco staffing agency focused on startups. “Top schools are very good at teaching that—practical problem-solving, algorithms, data structures. And new grads, that’s really all they have.”

In a recently released profile of the engineers it places, Riviera Partners found the most common schools for undergraduate degrees were UC-Berkeley, UCLA and the University of Waterloo. For graduate degrees, they were UC-Berkeley, Stanford and Georgia Tech.

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However, while the firm’s salary statistics show that students from top schools fare better when they’re first starting out, the difference narrows as they reach mid-level jobs. Starting salaries averaged about $104,000 for top-school graduates compared to $96,000 for others. For mid-level jobs, the salary levels differed by just $4,000—$115,000 versus $111,000. The difference widened again at the senior level—$138,000 compared to $128,000. Among lead/manager-level jobs, there was no difference: Salaries averaged $154,000.

“By the time you’re 10 years out of college, I don’t think your alma mater matters much at all,” says Ho.

Getting Ahead

The advantage enjoyed by new graduates from better-known schools isn’t a blanket one, Ho notes. Alumni of other colleges can still effectively sell themselves to employers.

“When you’re a young engineer, what’s really important is your drive and your ambition to learn,” he says. “Over time, if you’re constantly learning and constantly improving yourself, by five or 10 years out of college you’ll be a much stronger engineer overall.”

His recommendation: Work on practical, real-world projects. “If you’ve been building things—maybe you have a website or portfolio of things you’ve been working on—that shows the kind of drive companies are looking for.”

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Comments

  1. BY emilov says:

    I’m just curious how “hiring IT people from top schools” goes hand in hand with the thousand of off-shored IT jobs to lower skilled, even entry level folks.

    On the other hand, despite massive off-shoring and layoffs, IT’s still a key industry so negative news about it cannot be dominant all the time. This is my explanation for near hyper-inflationary salaries while many recruiters don’t bother to look-up in their databases yet.

    • BY Bill says:

      There are alot of diploma mills. Everywhere and not every is vetted properly especially for non US schools.

  2. BY Abel Y. says:

    Where do they get these salaries from? In my job searching, I still see many a $12/hr to $27,000 to $32,000/yr job here in Massachusetts that are requiring certifications that would cost me $45,000-$60,000

  3. BY Mick Marrs says:

    In IT, storage and networking, degrees don’t matter and the school you got it mean even less.
    Most people I’ve met in these areas have liberal arts, business, history or social sciences or collegue diplomas, many haven’t even completed their courses. Oddly enough I’ve never met anyone in theses fields with science degrees.

    Software dev is somewhat different as there is a demarcation between run of the mill enterprisey developers and the high end people working at the Googles, Microsofts and facebooks. The high end people seem to have more advanced degrees.

    Anyways, where are those salaries coming from, just today a recruiter posted for a network engineer for $30/hr incorporated!

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