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A graduate's dilemma

( -- I will graduate with a BS in Computer Science in spring of 2003. Exactly what do companies look for in candidates straight out of college? Is GPA a factor?

In my town, programming jobs are rare, so my experience is mainly in PC repair and Web design. I want to apply for programming jobs, but I'm afraid that a degree and no real-world experience in programming will make it harder for me to get my foot in the door. Should I sacrifice grades to get certified in a programming language, or should I keep my high GPA and hope that it's enough to land a job?

A. In a world of expanding technology, a degree in Computer Science is desirable. Companies seek candidates with a good base of skills, experience, and traits. Skills can be categorized three ways: knowledge-based skills, which are acquired from education and experience; transferable skills, which include talents, gifts, and natural aptitude; and personal traits, meaning the way you manage and discipline yourself. Your resume should show all your skills. You have been working with computers, doing PC repair and Web design, so you have experience with computers. You now want to put together your classroom knowledge and your hands-on experience to make up a unique candidate package. If you had only a degree and no hands-on experience, you wouldn't be unique.

Companies look for the value you can bring. Look on Internet job sites like College Central Network or in newspapers to check out what companies are looking for in your desired field. Are they typically seeking certain programming languages that you lack? If so, it would be a good idea to take whatever courses necessary to round out your experience, making you a more desirable candidate. Sacrificing grades is a personal choice, depending on what grade we are talking about -- A vs. B, B vs. C, or D. You may not need the top GPA, but if you've maintained a high GPA so far, it may not be worth falling too far from the top at this point.

The importance of GPA depends on the company and what it seeks in a candidate. Larger companies tend to look closer at GPAs and schools than do smaller or start-up companies.

(c) 2002

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