On Education and Employability

Andrew Bolster

Senior R&D Manager (Data Science) at Synopsys Software Integrity Group and Treasurer @ Bsides Belfast and NI OpenGovernment Network

Yeah, i know, “What does a guy who hasnt even graduated yet and is in a placement job have to say about education and employability?”, and usually i would agree with the sentiment. But the times they are a-changing.

The world, especially for current or incumbant students, is very uncertain. I was lucky, when i was in first year i already had the connections to secure a job close to my Uni.

And thats the point.

School, College and Uni teach you alot. Maxwell propagation equations, linear algebra,Von-Neumann Architectures, Procedural Syntax, Accounting, Presentation Skills, Video Editing, 3D Design, Employment law, Snell’s Law, Information Theory, Network Analysis, Probability Theory, French, German, Latin, Beawolfe, The Iliad, Shakespeare, The Gas Equations, Punnet Square Genetics, Newtons Laws. This is just what I can remember off the top of my head of what I’ve learnt from these Institutions.

Which is great! Alot of these have very valid (and in the case of probability theory, profitable) applications in the real world. But thats what the employment-university-school agreement has been for about 20 years, Employers keep saying “this is what we want” to universities, universities say “this is what we expect” to schools, and school say “this is your homework”.

But the world has got alot smaller in those 20 years. I am currently working with Englishmen, Frenchmen, Polish, Swedish, Finnish, Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, And a massive number of Indians. That’s alot of competition, wether its for the jobs themselves, or promotions or anything else for that matter.

Intelligence and “Book Smarts” will only get someone so far. There comes a point where you need an “in”. Whether it be a vast knowledge of football statistics (definitely not me) or a vast movie collection (slightly me), these extra attributes (i refuse to call the qualifications) make it easier on a personal level to get along with people, and its an unfortunate fact of human psychology that we favor people we like, and we like people we get along with, and we get along with people we have things in common with.

So Thought one is “Know as much seemingly random bits of information and anecdotes as possible because you never know when it will help you”

But before you get a conversation with someone, you need an introduction.

Sites like myspace, and bebo, and facebook have swamped the student/youth psyche; Employers know this. Google may be your friend when your looking for the best pizza place in Dublin, but its definitely not your friend when you say or do anything atall like a “student”.

Or a human for that matter.

Facts are;  recruiters are busy and have to make snap yes/no decisions, google is fast, google’s page rank is based on relevancy, if your facebook page is the only relevant site to your name, it’ll be the first thing on the list.

So, two options. Stop facebooking (which facebook makes VERY VERY difficult) or, do your best to put your best foot forward, in an online sense.

This leads me to thought two; Personal Brands are the newest and most elusive qualifications now. Blogs, forum posts, et al, all contribute to your online image. I’m not saying be a saint and never do anything bad, I’m just saying do enough good things that the good things come up first on the rankings.

Like this blog for instance! Recruiters don’t need to know about your personal life, so either keep it completely professional, or keep the personal stuff to anecdotes.

Finally, point three. While Facebook took students and young people by storm over the course of a few years, the professionals arnt neanderthals either.

At just over 7 years old, LinkedIn has been around long enough to be comparable to Facebook, and while MySpace and Bebo and Facebook exploded into the media and the public mindset, Linkedin smoldered and bubbled away is the much slower moving, but much more profitable world of professional headhunting and recruiting.

You dont want to friend your Professors on facebook (and if you do, its not for professional reasons), but with LinkedIn, you can have a real professional Internet presence that isn’t going to be haunted by pictures of you with a pumpkin; and as you float (or storm, or whatever verb is preferable) through your career, you can collect contacts, and receive recommendations from past employers.

Think of it as a google-indexed, globally visible, context relevant CV and resume, where you can be part of groups that are relevant to your interests and specialities, and if a recruiter is looking for someone like you, they can find you.

To wrap it all up,with contacts and connections, you can generally hear about vacancies and opportunities as they hit presses, if not before. Giving you, with your massive collection of small talk and (at least) equally massive technical abilities, a leg up over everyone else who’s just as good as you.

Good Luck