I recently spoke with someone who is concerned that her son, who wants to pursue a career in computer science, doesn’t have the credentials he’ll need to land a job with a good company. His GPA is just under a 3.0 and he doesn’t attend one of the “elite” schools that she is afraid candidates he will be competing with attend.
I wondered what people in the industry would tell this soon-to-graduate student — or anyone considering a STEM career — who doesn’t feel they stand a chance when vying for positions with “super” candidates. Several experts I reached out to have a lot of positive things to say.
The good news, across the board, is that there are a lot of jobs out there for people interested in STEM careers — and that means there are openings for candidates with a variety of academic and practical experience.
“Computer science backgrounds are in high demand right now,” says Beth Hendler-Grunt, president of Next Great Step, a career counseling company for college students and recent graduates. “It’s becoming less important about the school you attended or your GPA to get a job.”
And while Mark Coster, founder of STEM Toy Expert, acknowledges that “elite universities are still a thing,” he questions if they’ll ultimately be able to keep up with global workforce trends. And even if they can, Coster wonders how long they’ll be able to maintain their status “…especially in the post-COVID world, where more and more top companies will be hiring remotely.”
As Coster adds, “When all the world’s a stage, even Ivy League credentials will have to bow before the proven track record of an 18-year-old who has developed, say, a revolutionary app from scratch in India.”
Experience is the key, these industry pros stress.
“Having looked at lots of resumes, both hardware and software, [I find] real world experience with projects and internships is extremely important,” says Cassie Moreira, a senior robotics technician at Boston Dynamics who graduated from a technical high school in Cape Cod, where she focused on pre-engineering and Information Technologies and received certifications in the IT field.
“If you can work on projects on your own time that push your capabilities and show well on a resume, that is very desirable, especially for someone new in the industry. This shows that you can hit the ground running and all your experience is not from school or class projects. It also shows that you have enough passion in your field to work on learning and projects on your own time.”
For someone who feels they lack some skills to compete for positions at what they consider a “good company,” Hendler-Grunt recommends attending a short-term boot-camp that teaches coding to gain experience. “And I think we need to define ‘good company,’” she adds. “The goal for a recent grad is to get experience expanding their skills or gaining new ones. There are many companies we may not have heard of that provide great opportunities to learn and prepare young adults for the next role.”
As in any job search, networking and referrals are the best ways to land a job — whether it’s the first one out of college or something more advanced down the road.
But before the networking starts, identifying the kind of job and industry you want to pursue is key — especially since, as Hendler-Grunt notes, “Computer science can cover a wide area.” Is your interest coding? Cybersecurity? App development?” Once you’re clear about your goal, it’s time for networking to begin.
Your alumni network is a good place to start. “Contact 10 alumni who are in the job or field that you want — you can find them on LinkedIn,” Hendler-Grunt says. “They tend to be very willing to speak with recent grads. Ask them how they got started, lessons learned, and about the challenges they face in the job. Share your skills and why you want to go into that field. And ask if they can connect you with other colleagues or a hiring manager for learn about opportunities.
“Remember, people hire people,” Hendler-Grunt adds. “The key to getting a job is not a perfect resume, high GPA or applying to the most online jobs. It is based on focusing on the job or industry you want to pursue and forge relationships with people who have the job that you want.”
Will academic elitism prevail? “That isn’t set in stone…and even if it does, it shouldn’t discourage anyone from joining the STEM workforce,” Coster says.
“Just grab the opportunity — any opportunity, especially if it’s in the field of computer science,” he concludes. “Robotics and AI (artificial intelligence) are threatening many industries, but they will never threaten the one that breathes life into them.”