In IT, experience counts. Hiring managers want candidates who have real track records in developing solutions, meeting deadlines and sticking to project budgets. Though certifications and college degrees count, in the end managers want the comfort level that only a solid work history can provide.
This means tech professionals must position themselves so managers see them, first and foremost, as a solution to whatever challenge the new hire is supposed to address. Graduate degrees can help candidates stand out by combining their knowledge of advanced theories or bleeding-edge technology with experience gained through early jobs, internships or contracting work. In fact, about 10% of the searches for talent on Dice seek candidates with a master's degree or higher.
Because tech employers focus so keenly on experience, it's important for graduates to position themselves as both experienced and smart. They need to make the most of their graduate work with networking, an up-to-date resume, and the ability to explain clearly and concisely what they bring to the table. Here's what you can do to ensure that you're able to take full advantage of your advanced degree in the job market.
1. Network. By networking, you'll meet hiring managers, or you'll make contacts who can introduce you to those hiring managers. You'll find out who's hiring, what they're paying and which firms have the best work environments. Try to meet people both inside and outside of your current employer or school. Choose networking activities that ensure you're meeting people who can help you attain your goals, whether you're trying to find a job quickly or establish relationships that can lead to an offer sometime in the future.
2. Target your approach. When applying for a job, many candidates ignore the most vital information they have: the data in the job posting. Before submitting your resume, tweak it to add information that highlights your fit with the job and remove information that's off-topic. Do the same with your cover letter. You don't have to rewrite them every time, but you want to refine them to show you have the skills required for this job, not just any job. So if an ad seeks Ruby on Rails or J2EE expertise, be sure to showcase your skills in those areas.
3. Polish your resume. Besides introducing you with an air of professionalism, a well-formatted, well-organized resume directs an employer to key information about you, such as your expertise in C++ or project management, your stable work history, or the awards and promotions you've earned. Take the time to make sure your resume is polished and professional: Format it consistently, use appropriate type styles, title each section, and list your achievements.
4. Interview effectively. Research the company, and review your own work history with an eye toward anticipating questions you might be asked. Emphasize your prowess with as many specific skills as possible, but don't forget to tout your soft skills, like communication, teamwork and leadership. Look for ways to demonstrate your understanding of the prospective employer's business and the technology it uses.
Graduate work helps you master tools and techniques. Your degree shows that you're self-disciplined, pragmatic and unafraid of new challenges. Combine those qualities and skills to demonstrate an understanding of technology and the solutions it offers, and businesses will take notice.
Silver is senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Dice Holdings Inc. He previously served the company and its predecessor, Dice Inc., as senior vice president of marketing and customer support.