With the economy picking up, computer science graduates from high-profile universities such as Stanford and MIT can find a lot of job offers waiting for them. But what about CS graduates from lesser-known schools?
It turns out, they have a lot to offer, too; just because someone didn’t graduate from a big-name school doesn’t mean he or she can’t level the playing field and land a job at a top company.
Educate Your Audience
Take the example of smaller IT firms, which have always used consumer education to challenge the dominant players in the field. In a similar fashion, you can educate recruiters and prospective employers about your alma mater in your cover letter and social-media profiles, highlighting its rankings, awards, and distinctions.
For example, you can bring up that your small college offers extensive laboratory components, suggested Roger Norton, dean of the school of computer science and mathematics at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y.: “An employer may assume that your classes were based on theory, unless you explain that you actually implemented a game or an operating system or worked with the latest technology.”
More examples abound. Employers striving for workforce diversity or global expansion may be interested in knowing that you studied with international students who speak multiple languages, explained Ryan Tin Loy, career counselor at Honolulu’s Hawaii Pacific University. However, an employer who’s never heard of your school may not bother to learn its best details on their own, he added; it’s up to you to educate them.
Don’t Fail History
Employers want to hire students who can hit the ground running, so every new grad should fit as many relevant student projects, internships, co-op assignments, open-source projects and technical proficiencies as possible into their work history. But mentioning a few random dates and names won’t cut it: An engaging storyline and brand, complemented by a strong online presence and detailed account of your hands-on experience, can give you a competitive advantage over other graduates.
Describe each project or assignment, your tasks and responsibilities, and the tools or programs you used to achieve your outcomes. Provide links to portfolios, code samples, tech communities and groups to which you belong. In other words, seize the opportunity to make your own history.
“It’s important to get your name out in programming and open source communities… and other social circles as early as possible,” Norton said. “Employers will take note of your activity, relationships and endorsements.”
Market Yourself as a Big Fish
Many employers would rather hire a high achiever from a little-known school than an average student from a prestigious university. So highlight your class rank and GPA (if it’s 3.0 or above), along with awards and recognitions you receive to prove that you’re a cut above. This strategy paid off for one Marist College student: After his team won the Morgan Stanley Hackathon, he later became the school’s first graduate to be hired by Google.
Tap Alumni and Resources
Avoid head-to-head recruiting battles with students from big-name universities. Seventy-five percent of Marist College’s graduates find jobs through alumni, internships and the school’s alliances with marquee regional companies.
After computer science graduates encountered headwinds in getting hired during the last recession, many colleges beefed up their job search training, placement assistance and networking opportunities. Leverage on-campus resources, sign up for your school’s alumni network and hone your skills by attending interview and resume boot camps.
“Just because your college doesn’t provide networking opportunities or internship placement assistance doesn’t mean there aren’t people out there who are willing to help,” Norton said. “It’s up to you to initiate and maintain relationships with mentors and alumni who can open the door to a career opportunity.”