Tout skills to beat degree prejudice

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Just because a prospective employer has a reputation for filling the ranks with Ivy League alums doesn't mean graduates of other private or state universities need not apply.

There are some tricks to getting in the door even if you don't belong to the Harvard-Yale-Princeton club, says organizational psychologist and career advancement expert Cassi Fields.

Find out all you can about specific job openings before you submit your resume and application, and tailor your qualifications to make sure you get noticed for your skills rather than the school you attended, she advised.

"I think there's a strategy to overcome that educational degree," said Ms. Fields, who runs a Washington, D.C.-based consulting practice.

For her clients -- some of whom are trying to advance at their current place of employment rather than seek new jobs -- she developed a "missing information analysis" survey. It asks potential applicants whether they have dug deep into the position they're seeking through questions about specific skills and training required for the job, personality types that succeed such at the job, how candidates are selected for the job and whether the applicant is nervous or confident about putting his or her name in the pool.

"Applicants need to know the job's personality traits and knowledge requirements, and they can learn what they are. You can Google the world these days. So go to the firms and talk to people in those jobs. Talk to a recruiter. Talk to a human resources representative from the company."

In other words, research the company and go beyond what you read in the job posting.

"I think if you can understand what the job is that you seek, you can make your resume match that job," Ms. Fields said.

For instance, say you just graduated from the University of Maryland and know you are going up against Ivy League types for a training job.

If you worked as a tutor or a teaching assistant during college, finesse the experience part of your resume to make it clear you have training skills, she said.

"You could easily call your teaching 'training.' Give it the same title as your target job. You can actually describe your experiences in a way that matches the job you seek."

Though a company organization may exhibit a bias toward graduates from premier schools, "If your experiences look more like the job than those of a person who simply has a degree on the resume, most employers would prefer [experience]," Ms. Fields said.

"It means to the employer, 'I have to train you less and you've shown initiative by doing research on my organization and proving to me you're a good match. That's the No. 1 strategy: Do all the homework in advance."

Another tip from Ms. Fields: Make sure your resume or application states that salary is negotiable.

"Harvard, Yale or MIT graduates may garner higher salaries, and that might be a concern to the employer in this day and age."

You may also hold an advantage if you live closer to the job location, she said.

"Even if you're competing against a Harvard grad and you do not have travel costs for the interview, you might get the interview because flying the Harvard grad in from Boston could be high cost."


Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.


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