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I went to a relatively small college for undergrad. I graduated magna cum laude there and was one of the top students in my program.

The problem is that while the school is pretty well known in the Northeast, few people have heard about it elsewhere. I am going to be relocating to the Southwest soon because my longtime girlfriend has an opportunity there. I have been continuously employed since I graduated and I have done well at my current firm. In the past, I had little trouble getting interviews and job offers up here. But my fear is that because I am still relatively young and inexperienced (only 1 job since college) when my resume is weighed against others, they will discount my college experience.

Is there anything I can do during the interview or on my resume to sort of minimize the damage?

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  • The title and the question don't match up. Are you asking when does college attended matter less, or Is there anything I can do during the interview or on my resume to sort of minimize the damage? – Rhys Apr 24 '13 at 9:34
  • Joe Strazzere: Northeastern might be such a university - it's well-known in the northeast for its co-op program. In the reverse situation, Rice is very well known in Texas, but not really in the northeast; many people in the northeast would have to ask where it is. – aem Apr 24 '13 at 17:50
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As a hiring manager in the technology field, for me the answer to when does your college "matter less" is "when your work can speak for itself". Truth be told, your college never matters to me, unless your degree is from a not-accredited or for-profit institution. But that's just me and my own prejudice.

It is absolutely true that many people in many different industries (including my own) will sort applicants for internships and entry-level and junior positions purely by school and GPA. I understand the motivation to do so -- think "thousands of applicants for coveted accounting and finance internships at the Big Four companies" -- but that's not how I run my job searches nor is it how everyone runs theirs.

Looking at your situation, you say you've been employed since college and you've done well. If that's the case, as a hiring manager, I honestly wouldn't care if you went to Hamilton College (I just picked a random small college in New England) or the flagship university of your new state. What would stand out (and matter) to me is that you've already had a job and did well in it.

If you didn't have that experience, and all you had was your degree and experience at your institution, and people looking at you weren't familiar with your institution, then at worse it wouldn't help you (which is what "name" institutions do) but it is unlikely to actively hurt you. But it should stop being a factor for the most part once you have experience, which you do.

It's also something entirely out of your control, and my advice would be not to dwell on it at all. If someone actually asks you about your college experiences, talk about the quality of the projects and the work that you did, and leave it at that. People will judge it however they're going to judge it, and not according to some industry standard that allows us to give you a single correct answer.

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The vast majority of hiring managers did not go to a top 1% university either. The vast majority of candidates you will be compting with did not go to a top school either. Sure those folks might have the edge, but you won't run into many of them out in the Southwest which is not where the majority of these schools are located.

What you do lose out on is the ability to connect to your own alumni to get jobs if there are few of them there. So you build a different professional network than your college alumni one. I attended a university that very few of the people who read this would have heard of. I have never noticed that it has harmed me once I am in competion for a job. Where it hurts is not having the network to get me into the non-advertised postions. So I netwrok professionally instead of through my alumni contacts.

Of course having a good professional network can help, but unless you are nationally known, your professional network will be minimal in your new location. So you have to compete for what is advertised. But in our field, lots of the jobs are advertised anyway as it is hard to find good people. I doubt that you would be at much of a disadvantage due to your college in this case, but more due to not living there yet.

Once you do live there, immediately join some of the local professional associations and start making those network connections. Or see if you can find an open source project to join where a good number of the developers are located where you want to live. Getting to know them through your contribution can help them give you a leg up in getting a job locally.

Also consider asking your current employer if you can work remotely. I know of at least six people who relocated successfully that way.

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THY - I think this depends a lot on the kind of position you are seeking.

For many jobs, the specific school matters very little. For other jobs, it's an important factor.

Assuming you will be seeking a position in the Southwest similar to the one you hold in the Northeast, I doubt there will be much difference in the weighting of this factor. If the school was considered good enough by folks in the Northeast, I think you can expect similar goodness in the Southwest.

Particularly with today's extremely mobile workforce, people usually don't make judgments based on the location of the college you attended. I can't remember any time where I did. People join from all over. I don't see any reason here why interviewers would discount your college experience.

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I would say that once you have established yourself in your career (with a few notable exceptions) where you went to college will not count against you.

On the other side, I was lucky to have attended a college with a good reputation, that have had several alumni in decision-making positions in the town in which it was situated. It would not be completely honest of me to claim that having the name of the university on my resume didn't mean it got a more generous look than it would have otherwise, and that this never meant the difference between me getting past a certain level of screening and not. I have even been told before an interview that a manager likes graduates of my school.

It really shouldn't matter, and I really would like to be able to say that it doesn't matter. But that's not entirely how the world works with human beings. A hiring manager is more likely to trust someone from his alma mater or a similar school than one that he doesn't know.

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Perhaps the issue isn't your educational background. Have you had anyone actually say so?

I think the issue is largely due to the fact that you're applying afar to positions. Now, many hiring managers will assume that you're applying to a job because you're legitimately interested. However, because you're not a local candidate, you may be passed over for someone closer. Companies won't often want to pay to fly a candidate out or relocate them, unless they're good and have experience.

Because you are relatively new in your career and likely applying to more entry-level-ish positions, a company probably has more than enough applicants to choose from that are local and of similar backgrounds and abilities.

If the town that you plan to relocate to is bigger and more metropolitan, that problem is magnified.

I would suggest that you save-up a nest-egg and make plans to relocate without a job if you do intend to join your girlfriend. Try making connections ahead of time through professional societies and LinkedIn and then gently work those connections when you arrive.

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  • A friend suggested I wait till I am down there already then apply so travel expenses don't become an issue. I have made it clear to companies that I am definitely relocating. – tyh Apr 23 '13 at 21:10
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    I've been in a similar boat –– I usually phrase it as such in first paragraph of the cover letter, "I will be living in City X by July 1, 2013 and am looking to secure employment ahead of that move." or something very similar because it gives the HR manager a definite timeframe they can assess you by. Do you have a definite relocation date in mind? – RZT Apr 23 '13 at 21:22
  • A lot of this answer is speculation or 'facts' that have no concrete evidence such as 'If the town that you plan to relocate to is bigger and more metropolitan, that problem is magnified.' – Rhys Apr 24 '13 at 9:31

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