Why I don't care where you went to school


I really don’t care where most candidates went to school, nor overly much what they studied, nor the results they got at school. I judge candidates on what they write, say and produce. Sadly, many younger candidates lead their applications with their education rather than themselves. In my view, this does them a disservice when applying for roles.

This is not to say that I don’t think getting into a good school and getting good grades isn’t a potential indicator of a promising employee. Some schools produce extremely smart people. I work with a bunch of Reed graduates who are smart, driven and well-rounded.1 I also don’t know many MIT graduates that I don’t find reasonably bright. But I’ve often employed awesome people who didn’t finish high school, who are entirely self-taught in IT skills, or who come from backgrounds seemingly unrelated to the field.

It’s also not to say that it’s easy to put a one page CV in front of an employer when you don’t have a track record. Every candidate is scared of not making the mark, especially not making it past a recruiter screen. I’ve seen some painfully extended CVs and cover letters detailing every aspects of the candidate’s life since gestation.2

So what should you focus on instead of your education and your Junior High Bronze Swimming Certificate?

  • Write a good cover letter. Write something engaging. Tell me about why this is the job for you and why you’re the person we should hire. Tell me about your experience in the space, however little, provide an example of a problem you’ve solved in the domain or an achievement you’ve made. Don’t try to be funny! Humour is highly subjective. Seriously, don’t try to be funny.

  • Cut some code and publish it. Even if it’s just an IRC bot you wrote in a class or a simple Puppet module it gives me an idea of your style and your level of skill.

  • If you’re going to tell me about your school tell me something about clubs, societies or groups you belonged to. Especially if you organised events, worked with people and collaborated on projects. All of those things are signs of someone who can interact well with others.3

I am much more interested in all of these things rather than whether you studied Database Design or got 79% for Applied Physics.4 Sell me on you as an employee not on where you went to school and what you studied.

  1. Albeit somewhat eccentric. ↩︎

  2. This might be slightly hyperbolic. ↩︎

  3. If it includes rockets and/or robots I am double-plus interested. ↩︎

  4. Unless it involved rockets. Or possibly robots. ↩︎