Why your school matters in getting a job

A guy posted a job ad in a mailing list I am a member of. The last requirement reads “Preferably graduates of UP, LaSalle, and Ateneo”. That last requirement pissed-off other members who are obviously graduates of other schools. Some even calling it a racist requirement. Others wondered why there is so much faith on graduates of this triumvirate when they are not as smart as these companies would like to think of.

I am computer science graduate from UP Diliman and I benefited from this “racist” requirement. But the “preferably graduates of …” requirement is not a racist requirement. It makes sense. But please, don’t flame me yet until you’ve read everything.

First, let’s limit the discussion with fresh graduates. If you are a veteran it does not matter unless you intend to migrate to New Zealand. Let’s assume you are fresh graduate looking for a job. You get a list from JobStreet and all these companies prefer graduates of UP, Ateneo, and LaSalle. Damn, these companies are f***ing racists.

Many decision makers in companies are from these 3 schools. They will pick students from these 3 schools not because of some secret agenda to hide the existence of aliens on Earth. They hire graduates of these schools because they know what these students have been into. They know the kind of training these students had, the kind of environment they spent their last 4 years (or 6 in my case). These are smart students and companies want smart students. That’s a fact.

It does not follow that students from others schools are not smart. My former colleague Bal Laroza, one the best programmers I’ve worked with, is from Rizal Technological University. The problem is companies have no idea about other schools and the kind of students they produce. When you go to a mall to buy a pair of running shoes, what brands you pick first? Yes, there is branding involved here. UP, Ateneo, and LaSalle produce smart students. That’s their brand. That brand has been nurtured and cared for decades. Other schools believe in the value of brand but instead of trying to surpass the top 3 schools, they pick a niche and build their own brand. AMA University is the first school that comes to my mind. They don’t claim to be good in English, Mathematics, or Physics but they do know IT. They have been successful in recruiting students to take IT and convincing companies that their graduates are very good in IT. That’s great because it benefits the students.

What if the brand is not true? Unfortunately for skeptics, what the brands says is true. These brands are backed by experience of companies. Companies are not always satisfied but often they are with graduates of these 3 schools.

Does this mean that other students do not stand a chance? If you think that by simply preparing a resume and including where you graduated and what course would be enough, then you don’t stand a chance. Because for every company you send your resume to, there are 100 others doing it and some of them already have the edge because of the school they graduated from. But it does not mean you cannot do something about it. AMA University did it for their students. (Sidenote: I have no objection on AMA profiting from it.) If your school can’t do it for you, then you must do something about it.

Excel in your craft

Most students only care about grades. Their objective is simply to graduate. That’s sad and it’s wrong. I am a programmer so this specific suggestions may not apply to you but I’m sure you get the picture. If you are a computer science student, don’t limit yourself to what your teacher requires you to do. Voraciously learn other programming techniques, languages, and technology. Borrow programming books from the library and write code every day! Exercise your brain. You don’t learn something by attending a boring 1 hour lecture everyday. You learn by interacting and doing enough repetition so that it becomes a part of you. If you are a smart programmer in college, you will forever be a smart programmer. If you are a lousy programmer in college, you will never become a good programmer. Any programmer who will ever be good is good in the first few years. After that, whether a programmer is good or not is cast in concrete.

Market yourself

If you are still not using the Internet to your advantage then start now. There are numerous Filipino mailing lists on programming and technology. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions but be ready to be criticized. Also, answer the questions from other members. If you regularly do that, that makes you visible. Remember, a lot of members in these online groups are also working in software companies . If they found out your only a student but has the skill of a veteran, I have no doubt they would refer you to their managers when you start looking for a job.

In college, around August of ’96 our organization sponsored a quiz show that required a program for shuffling questions stored in an MS Access database. I created our first Windows-based program to shuffle the questions. This program can send the question and answer to another computer through the serial port. One day, an alumnus dropped by and saw my program. We talked about my work and exchanged ideas. A few months later, I got a job offer. No HR asking me what are my strenghts and weaknesses. No psychometric exams where you pick what colors you like best. I just need to say ‘Yes’. Someone else could have written that same program better than I did but nobody knows about him; he probably have sent a thousand resumes, too. I got the job because this one person who decides who gets hired knows me even before they started looking for a new programmer.

Write a blog

Reading resume is boring. They all look the same and contains the same bits and pieces. Having your own blog is cool. It is about you and it is only a click away. If you do a good job with your blog, people will know you better and that will work to your advantage. You can write about your trip to Boracay and your new pet cat but please focus your blog on your software skills. Write your experience with Ruby on Rails or why do you think Java is a Jurassic language, or how did you built a Linux system from source code. Better, write a program and make the source code available in your weblog. Everytime you write an application letter, highlight what you have done. Please, don’t tell us that you are looking for companies that would love and cherish you :).

Writing a blog means you are serious on communicating your ideas. Communication is a vital piece of software development. Programmers don’t work in isolation – we discuss specifications, designs, techniques, among other things. Programmers that can explain to other people what they are working on is rare. If you have that skill, that’s a big plus-plus.

Next time you see a job ad that prefers graduates of UP, Ateneo, and LaSalle, don’t despair and don’t call these companies racist. Be creative and resourceful in proving that you are better suited for the job. If you got more tips that worked for you, I would love to hear them.

9 thoughts on “Why your school matters in getting a job

  1. The ‘racism’ is also beneficial in my case. I guess that this is a generalization that grads from the three schools you mentioned are smart and all that.

    I agree with you on this: Most students only care about grades. Their objective is simply to graduate. That’s sad and it’s wrong.

    I find it really sad when people I know from school think like that. Then again there are cases where I understand that some students simply feel like they need to graduate so they could get out of their respective schools. (Some students are so much better than their teachers. And I mean it. They are already working as programmers or whatever — it depends on the field — and they’re already good at what they do.) It’s still a case to case thing.

    Right now, I see applicants in my workplace. I don’t always know the school they come from but they must have certain traits like the guts, the initiative, the ‘spark’ and all that. Like this morning I saw the portfolio of a web designer. Sure, she had awesome templates for different sites, but her own portfolio wasn’t designed well enough to showcase her own talent. So what was that all about, right? It would get me thinking about her thought patterns, how she views her works, etc. That is why I also agree with you on the point that there is a need to market one’s self.

  2. I guess it depends on the company looking for people to employ or engage services.

    We’re not “racist” — we look for people who can do well in terms of output, regardless of their background. (Hey, my latest “job ad” is here.

    Sometimes, though I think school is overrated–particularly because the focus these days seems to be to for students get good grades, graduate, and land stable jobs. Hey, what about entreperneurship and having the guts and the sense to go for what one wants?

    But that’s just me.

  3. I really appreciate the message that you are trying to get across. Very informative and inspiring. Though, I must say, that you don’t have to use AMA as an example of a good school that found its niche. I have been a student of this school and I can attest that this school claims to be good at something it is not. I really regret studying in this school. I did my part as a good student but this school did not do its share of the deal. The reason why I am writing this, is for fear that some aspiring college student and innocent being might, by chance, get to read your blog and be misled that AMA is a good school. I don’t want other people to commit the same mistake I did and I hope that this message will be save someone else’s future. There are a lot of good schools out there that are not in the big 3, and AMA is certainly not one of them.

  4. Fortunately, I had a lot of great experience working with AMA graduates and also bad experiences working with UP graduates, haha.

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