How to Get Ahead in IT - It Takes More Than Just a Degree!

At some point, you are going to start planning a path to advancement. Maybe you’ve been to college, maybe not. Maybe you have certifications, maybe not. It turns out that employers seem to want it all: degree + certification + experience. Look at the data below and the answer to the question, "How to get ahead in IT?" becomes incredibly clear. 

Ranstad Technologies 2014 Workplace Trends and Salary Guide Technologies states that 57% of hiring managers in the IT sector ranked industry certifications as somewhat or very important during the candidate screening process. The third annual TECNA National Survey of Technology, Policy and Strategic Issues polled over 1,500 executives targeting national, regional views on business conditions, investment plans and policy concerns. Their results show a negative shift in the perception of tech talent quality and quantity. This is compounded by 74% of technology executives declaring a shortage in talent; with nearly a third of those respondents classifying the shortage as “significant”.

So what does this mean? 

Certainly, certifications are a good way to build your skills and keep them current. Certifications are a also positive indicator to potential employers of the time, effort, energy and dedication you have invested in your career. Current certifications are proof that you have taken the time to master the skills required for a specific position and are committed to continuing education in your field—a key and desired quality for IT professionals. Hiring managers weigh these factors carefully when screening resumes. For mid-career professionals, certifications are a an particularly valuable tool for maintaining your relevance to the market.

What about a degree?

An undergraduate or graduate degree is a universally accepted badge of accomplishment and dedication. Formal education exposes you to a wide range of disciplines and perspectives, allowing you to develop analytical skills and business sense. That being said, a degree isn’t necessarily a must-have; current certifications and work experience can fill that gap and may prove more valuable to employers. A 2015 study conducted by the American Association of Colleges and Universities concluded that fewer than three in 10 employers think recent college graduates are well prepared—particularly when it comes to “applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings, critical thinking skills, and written and oral communication skills”. The further you progress in your career, the less relevant the courses you studied in college become. In some cases, your undergraduate degree may have no bearing on your career. However, some employers want to see the degree on your resume anyway.

Ultimately, the decision to attend and the selection of a college and course of study is best aligned with where you want to go in your career. If your interests are mixed, like IT and business management, higher education could well be worth the time and expense. Business degrees provide a different perspective and skill sets, and teach the language and processes that are critical to business management roles. But the skyrocketing cost of education and the time it will take to clear the debt are serious factors for consideration.

How important is my experience?

Here’s the thing, your credentials plus any degrees you hold may not count for enough. A Foote Partners survey shows that non-certified, but experienced IT professionals receive more bonuses than their less experienced but more certified peers. As for most industries, experience is the most important indicator of your ability to execute and be successful on the job.

While certifications and degrees are an important factor, hiring managers look to your actual experience to grasp how well you are able to perform in a work setting. It’s easy to list the number of certifications and degrees you’ve earned, but what is more important is how you have put those skills into practice. Did you help your previous employer transition to the cloud or implement a new system? Have you managed a team? Were you part of a team that transitioned systems after a merger? Highlight these real-world scenarios to demonstrate how you’ve applied your technical knowledge and the solutions you’ve helped develop as part of your team.

When it comes down to it, there is no magic bullet or formula for success. You can’t put your career data into a table and generate a pie chart with the right balance of education and experience to suit every potential employer. All three components have value on your resume and are your leverage in the job search. How you position them will help you get to the next step in your career. A well rounded resume that shows accomplishments is a good goal to set, as long as you emphasize your strengths and your actual hands-on experience.

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