Paper is louder than Me

A t the beginning of senior year at UC Berkeley, I was on track to obtain a degree in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research (IEOR) with a minor in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS). I decided that I wanted to be a software engineer instead of a consultant or a business analyst — what many IEOR graduates end up doing.

I tried the traditional recruiting track like my peers in CS and EECS. I went to career fairs on campus: talked to recruiters, dropped off my resume. I applied to countless internships and jobs online from and didn’t hear back from most of them. Once at a career fair during my senior year, I waited for 30 minutes until I was finally able to talk to a recruiter from [Company], a well known software company in the Bay area.

Hi! My name is Philip and I am currently a senior studying IEOR with a minor in EECS. I am very interested in applying for a full time software engineering position at [Company].

The recruiter takes my resume and looks over it for 3 seconds. I notice she only looks at the top of my resume where it lists my major.

Do you have any previous work experience at any large companies?

I was ready for this. I knew that I was at a disadvantage because I did not have a degree in CS. I dished out my prepared “I’m good enough” spiel.

No, not yet but I’ve done several personal projects, TA’d for a web development class and held apart-time position as an Android developer at a startup. I also have a minor in EECS and I’ve taken a lot of CS courses.

She hands the resume back to me.

Sorry, we only hire from EECS and CS, perhaps you would like to apply for a business analyst position?

There it was — the rejection.

Thank you, but I wanted to apply for the software engineering position.

This happened despite the fact that my resume listed a broad range of coding projects I’ve done as well as core computer science classes I’ve taken.

I felt angry, confused and frustrated. I was angry because I had waited 30 minutes in line only to get rejected because of what was written at the top of my resume. I was confused because I was naive. I thought the world was fair and that I would at least be given the opportunity to interview, even if my major wasn’t CS or EECS. I was frustrated because I knew I was qualified for these positions that were rejecting me simply because the top of my resume didn’t state explicitly: Computer Science. It was a tag that companies were looking for, and since I didn’t have it, recruiters weren’t interested. Despite all my qualifications — being the TA for the web development class on campus, working as an Android developer at a startup in Oakland for two years, and taking enough CS courses to minor in EECS, I wasn’t qualified.

So with all these opportunities frustratingly out of reach from me, I felt that I was handicapped without a degree in Computer Science. I decided to apply for a one year Master’s degree in Computer Science. I ended up at Cornell, where I am now, getting a Masters of Engineering in Computer Science. A little less than halfway through my program, I began applying for jobs again and almost every single job I applied to I received an interview for. Funny thing is, I received an offer last month at [Company], the same company that rejected my resume at the career fair earlier this year. Did I become an exponentially better computer scientist from these past 3 months of grad school? Not really. But I did take some more interesting classes that I didn’t get a chance to take during my time as an undergraduate, such as NLP and Machine Learning. So I’ve definitely broadened my knowledge.

Was it the recruiter’s fault that she missed out on a competent applicant? Was it my fault for not choosing the right degree? The answer is none of the above. It’s the system, and sometimes you have to play by the rules of the system. With tens of thousands of applications a day, large companies must use some mechanism to filter out resumes, and the only way they can do that is to filter out by what your resume says.

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