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    Your background won't get you the job

    In a slack group a friend was asking for advice to share with his nephew considering what college to go to. The nephew is worried that going to the wrong schools will close the door for BigTech jobs.

    It doesn't matter. Focus on the education you get, not the name. If you're way past college, focus on the experience.

    Your resumé can get you the interview, this is true. But it can't get you the job. You have to do that part. At the interview.

    What a resumé can do for you

    Your resumé – school, employers, side-projects – can get you the interview.

    A former tech hiring manager said he used to train recruiters what to look for when screening candidates. What struck him is that when looking at hundreds of resumes every week they all look the same. It all becomes a blur.

    He was looking for anything that made the candidate stand out. A top-tier name-brand school could do that – think MIT, Stanford, etc – or it could be a name-brand employer like Microsoft or Google. But he put "a history of writing in public, giving talks, or contributing to opensource" in the same category.

    That's right – a history of publicly caring about tech carries as much weight as Stanford.

    The candidates who stood out got invited to an interview. Then it was up to them to shine.

    What a resumé can't do for you

    Even the best resumé can't get you the job.

    Any half decent company has diversity-and-bias'd the hiring process to the point that your performance on the interview is the only thing that matters. This is good.

    The process isn't perfect, but it is fair.

    You may think the rubric is wrong and you may be right, but would you prefer that an ex-Googler with an upper middle class background gets an easier interview than a poor kid with a no-name background? 🤨

    The industry tries to hire based on "can you do the job" not on "who you are as a person". That's why tech is one of the few industries where you can make 6+ figures without a college degree.

    Again: This is good.

    The network effect

    A top-tier school like an MIT or a Stanford comes with a huge high power network baked in. The people you meet bias towards people who aim to do big things.

    You'll get opportunities you otherwise wouldn't even know about. And you learn how to leverage those opportunities through osmosis.

    Same is true for having worked at "the right" companies. You get a network, which opens doors, and you also learn what to look for, how to talk, what's a good opportunity, how to use it.

    Even that network can't do more than get you the interview. When I refer someone at work, they get a chat with a recruiter and that's it. A referral carries no more weight than skipping the resumé pile.

    This is good. Fairness.

    The hidden curriculum effect

    Now, there is an elephant in this room: The hidden curriculum.

    What if candidates with stronger resumés are actually stronger candidates? It depends.

    A better school may give you a better education, which then impacts your performance on those interviews. Access to world-class professors and researchers, if you use it, can open your mind to all sorts of insights you wouldn't get elsewhere.

    Same is true for past employers. Working at a company where world-class experts in your field are just a Slack away can make a big difference.

    You'll learn deeper insights from the person at your company who sits on the W3C committee and shapes future web standards than from Joe Schmoe who learned Javascript 3 years ago, for example. This impacts your slope.

    Plus working at the right company means you gain experience that simply isn't available elsewhere.

    Do I know how to handle a fair interview question like "How do you scale a hash table data structure to a bazillion data centers with sub 10ms latency?" ... heck no. I could guess, I could think it through, but I have zero hands-on experience.

    If a company is looking for someone who can do that 👆 job, they'd be right to reject me. Regardless of the cool things I've done.

    So, does your background matter?

    Your background can get you the interview, but not the job.

    But the experience you've gained can make that interview a piece of cake.


    Published on April 18th, 2023 in Career, Interviewing, Resume

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