Career Fair: What Employers Want

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Recently the University of Utah had a career fair for the students, with a number of employers from various industries around the country. Of such, several were looking for Information Technology and Programming students. Just for fun, I thought I would run a quick and impromptu survey with the employers to see what kind of candidate they were looking for. Before I discuss my findings, I want to first address the basics of the survey. Ultimately I was asking about certifications on top of degrees, and then asking the certifications that would be most helpful to those employers.

The Survey
This survey is only limited in it's relevance, as I only had a total of 10 employers that were hiring IT and programming staff. The questions were not standard questions, but were posed slightly differently to each of the employers. Many were aware of the basis of the survey, but were unaware of what the specific departments were looking for in regard to certifications. And finally, I had no control group from which to base the question on (i.e., I didn't ask how many applicants they talked with, and of such how many had certifications and would most likely be interviewed again). But I still think the responses were of use, because the employers were so ready with their replies.

The Results
Most of the employers I talked to were on a one-on-one basis. Each said they were looking for people that were IT professionals, or Computer Science students that had a good grasp on the conceptual as well as the practical. The biggest lament from these employers were that most students had a strong conceptual base, but because they had little practical experience in the regular grunt work, any new hire would need to go through additional training to get up to speed. This took money out of their pocket, and made them more likely to pass by a newly graduated student in favor of a more experienced professional.

So I posed the question: Would certifications help? The first answer I got was Yes!! It would cut down on the training time, and show some practical experience along with the conceptual. Then they started rattling off some certifications that would be of benefit. I won't cover the certifications here, since we are most likely going to offer them in future, but I will say that many were certifications that the Education Technology and Professional Education divisions of Continuing Education offer. But that was just one employer, so I checked with others.

Most came back with a yes, because it shows more dedication to the industry to receive a certification on top of a degree. Others said that they would be fairly open to a degree, and certifications would just be the icing on the cake. But ultimately, all of them were very positive toward the idea of a portfolio from a newly graduated student that included certifications.

The Conclusion
So, based on these discussions, it appears that having a certification program included as an option for graduating students would be of benefit to the employers, and therefore make the student body going into those fields more desirable as a potential hire. While this is not really news to the business world, it may have some impact on various institutions that are looking to become more competitive with the so-called "diploma mills" that focus on the certifications, rather than the conceptual ideas behind the computer world.