In an ocean of MCSEs, how do you make yourself stand out?

Marketing Your MCSE

In an ocean of MCSEs, how do you make yourself stand out?

I’ve run a part-time computer business from my home for the last three years. I quit to go back to school because of increasing competition, almost non-existent margins, and poor quality control across the board. I’m beginning to feel that finding a job when I’m done with my MCSE+Internet may be harder then I originally thought. Here in Canada, there’s a new MCSE every 1.5463 seconds, or so it seems. At a recent international job fair, I talked to many employers; most seemed to think “Oh no! Not another MCSE!” As a consultant, I often found myself more knowledgeable than the “expert” I was talking to. How can I convince a potential employer that I’m not just a paper MCSE and that I actually know how to do many things and solve problems?
—Tom Bigos, MCP
London, Ontario, Canada 

Tom, my first piece of advice is to steer you away from completing the MCSE+Internet. I’m not convinced that this certification has much value in the marketplace, and at this point in your career I think your time would be far better spent deepening your knowledge of the products you already know.

You’re probably wondering about that comment since I’m an MCSE+I myself. That’s because when the MCSE+I program was announced, I’d already passed eight of the nine exams, so I needed just one more to complete the requirements. To add some spice and get people in my position to earn the title, Microsoft offered another year’s subscription to TechNet if you completed the MCSE+I by a given date (my original MCSE TechNet subscription had expired). So I completed the program and got TechNet for another year, but the MCSE+I itself has provided little benefit since.

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Perhaps Microsoft will announce a useful premium-level certification for Win2K MCSEs, but at this time I’d advise you to complete your MCSE alone. You’re already going to have to take several Win2K exams to retain your MCSE; completing your MCSE+I would mean at least seven more exams in the next couple years—more depending on which electives you originally chose.

As Steve points out—and I certainly agree—you have quite a lot of industry experience; you’d do well to leverage that experience in your job hunt. You’re not a newbie looking for a first job; rather, you have experience running a business and have now completed some formal qualifications. Rather than broadly throwing your resume at everyone, research the firms in your area that are likely to value your skills, and target them as potential employers.

A personnel manager may have a differing view on the hiring process than the actual hiring manager—it’s the hiring manager’s view that should be all-important. If you haven’t read the classic book What Color is Your Parachute?, you should pick up a copy. One of the points made in the book is that the HR people in the hiring process are there simply to screen you out; the book recommends that as you research firms, you approach the hiring managers directly.

You made me laugh a little when you wondered how it could be that you know more than the supposed “expert” from time to time. There are plenty of these “experts” out there; usually they have everyone bluffed for a while. They seem so sure of themselves—they must know their stuff, right? Wrong, unfortunately. I once worked at a consulting firm alongside someone who managed to convince everyone in the hiring process that he knew his stuff (he could talk the leg off a chair, and he was very confident of his abilities). It was only when I worked with him at a client engagement that I realized he had no idea about anything. When something went wrong, he randomly changed things with no rhyme or reason, and thus eventually fixed it. It took a few months before my management realized how bad things were, and then another couple of months to realize that he had to go.

By the way, the company was paying for him to complete his MCSE. In preparing for the TCP/IP exam during some un-assigned bench time, he took the Microsoft class, bought study guides and practice tests, then failed the exam three times—on each attempt scoring less than 500. (I’d say that those results re-affirmed for me that the certification exams do have value and aren’t as easy as we sometimes believe, even with all the study resources out there.) So, while there are more of these “frauds” around than we might like, over time they get found out. Just smile and don’t bother arguing with them.

Good luck with your job hunting!

About the Author

Greg Neilson, MCSE+Internet, MCNE, PCLP, is a Contributing Editor for MCP Magazine and a Professional Development Manager for a large IT services firm in Australia. He’s the author of Lotus Domino Administration in a Nutshell (O’Reilly and Associates, ISBN 1565927176).

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