Putting Yourself In An IT Hiring Manager’s Shoes: Who Would You Hire?

Have you asked yourself what it actually takes to get a job offer? After spending months going from interview to interview without any success, I sure did. It wasn’t easy. I had a college degree, some hands-on experience, and a certification. Yet, every time I spoke to an IT hiring manager the result was the same. My mistake? Well, I didn’t understand a couple of key things: too many people had similar skill sets, and IT hiring managers only cared about what I could do for them, not the other way around.

It didn’t matter whether I got 1 or 20 interviews, I wasn’t going to be offered any jobs if I kept doing what I was doing. A few companies had even chosen to hire people with fewer credentials than me, which really frustrated me. But it helped me realize that once in an interview, you can only get an offer as a result of your performance in it. I knew I had to find a way to differentiate myself from the pack and sell myself much better than I had been doing.

I’ve got a question for you but first…

Imagine you just landed a job as an IT hiring manager for a growing tech company in Silicon Valley that’s looking to take over an industry with its brand new technology. The company has aggressive goals and plans to significantly grow its personnel and user base over the next few months.

For your first task, the CTO has tasked you with the onboarding of one entry-level network technician. Since the company believes in filling their junior and senior positions with their existing personnel, this person will be expected to move up to a leadership position as a network engineer soon after joining the company. You’ve been specifically asked to fill the position with someone who would fit well within the company’s culture and who can hit the ground running almost immediately. This way, the company can keep moving and growing fast, just like it has been doing lately.

You start working on a plan to hire a rockstar. Someone with motivation, passion, and an admirable drive to succeed. Someone who you think could be a good teammate, get along with people and have a good work ethic; and who is capable of learning and applying new skills fast. Ideally, this would be a person who has up-to-date knowledge and experience. Perhaps someone who has set up managed, configured and troubleshot real equipment, and that has also carried out his or her own networking projects in the recent past.

You begin by asking existing employees for referrals. But after interviewing a couple of people, you’re unable to find optimal prospects. You then move on to ask your professional network to recommend a candidate. However, no one knows someone with the skills and experience you’re looking for, that is interested in an entry-level role. After a couple of days of trying to find qualified people through your network, you decide to post the opening on an online jobs platform.

You wait a couple of days and receive a handful of applications. After reviewing them, you confirm your previous suspicion: people with the knowledge and experience you want to onboard are not interested in entry-level roles. None of your applicants seem to have the skill set you’re looking for. It has already been a week since you were tasked with onboarding a network technician and you haven’t made much progress. You’re in a tough situation.

After some consideration, you decide to base an important part of your hiring criteria on whether a person has a college degree and/or technical certifications. You know there’s a problem, however: neither of these requires people to do any kind of hands-on work…

How could you make sure that someone is job-ready if they earned their credentials taking written exams? “It isn’t possible,” you think to yourself. You know that there are way too many people who use test dumps to pass these certifications. Obviously, you want to make a great first impression at work, but this seems to be getting out of your hands. So, you update your requirements and post the job opening online once again. Several people apply and you decide to invite one prospect over for an in-person interview.

On your drive home, you wonder if perhaps you’re setting the bar too high. You arrive at your house’s parking spot and decide to look at your phone right before hopping out of the car. There’s a pending LinkedIn notification. Someone had sent you a message 12 minutes ago saying that he is looking to move up in the IT industry and asking if you’d meet up with him for coffee to talk about it.

He says he has been at the helpdesk for about 10 months. But, that he recently went through a training program in which he gained key networking skills and hands-on experience handling real-world equipment. You’re not a fool. You know it’s not a coincidence that he is messaging you. After all, you posted a job online and your name is on the post.

However, tired of looking for candidates everywhere, and knowing that after a few days of work there’s only one candidate coming to meet with you in person, you decide to reply to this guy inviting him to come over for an interview in a couple of days –you have nothing to lose. 

Two days later, both candidates arrive at your company. One of them recently graduated from San Jose State University with a 3.75 GPA. During his last weeks at school, he managed to prepare for his Network+ certification, which he earned just two weeks after receiving his diploma. Then he earned his A+ certification, and now he’s working towards his CCNA in routing and switching.

He is just looking to break into IT, but he has some experience helping fix connectivity issues. You’re impressed and end up talking to him for an hour. He seems very ambitious and motivated. Your only concern is his lack of hands-on experience. Once he leaves, you feel like he could be a good fit and even wonder if you should have invited the other guy over. But, he is already there and you don’t want to be rude.

You call the second candidate into your office. He proceeds to mention once again that he has been at the help desk for a little less than a year and that he is now looking to move up the ranks,  which is the reason he decided to get “X” certified.

‘What is the “X” certification?’, you can’t help but ask.

‘It’s a new cert that teaches you the fundamentals of the full stack of networking technologies through hands-on work and in-person skills validation testing. You basically learn everything from routing and switching to voice over IP and wireless technologies, and then you prove you can actually do stuff on real equipment.’

You nod in agreement. And, before you can say anything, he continues…

‘To earn it, you must first go through an 100+ hour online course, in which you do everything from learning about networking essentials and architectures to carrying out your own full stack networking project from start to finish and working in your own labs.’

‘Once you’re done with the course, you go to a 5-day in-person certification boot camp where you spend about 98% of the time setting up, configuring, securing, and troubleshooting real-world networking equipment –mostly Cisco by the way. I even got some experience setting up failover for disaster recovery! On the fifth day, you get one chance at the certification test.’

‘What does the test entail?’ –you ask.

“When I took it I had to configure a complete branch network from scratch. I set up the branch router, switches, wireless, phones, and internet access, and then connected the branch network back to the HQ network.”

He hands you a couple of papers stacked together and says ‘look, here’s a list of the hands-on tasks I was certified on. I can perform any of them for you right now if you’d like.’

You’re also very impressed by this person and end up talking to him for over an hour as well. He is very confident in his ability and has been in a helpdesk role for almost a year. The list of skills he gave you includes many of the things required for the job and even some more advanced skills such as automated failover. However, he has no industry-recognized certifications or a college degree. All he has is the new “X” certification, about a year of experience, and hands-on skills.

You’re left with a decision to make. Both candidates are very passionate and ambitious. It seems like both would fit in nicely on the team. So, should you go with the college grad who has multiple certs or with the helpdesk guy with hands-on skills?

Who would you hire and why?


  1. CJ

    The MFer that spent over 40,000 to get a degree plus more to get certified.

    • Eurial Turner

      Even though I just have a 2-year degree I can relate more with the second guy because the last thing you want to do is hire college grad thinks he’s a know-it-all the college grad needs to learn how the real world works

  2. Mitieli Bulanauca

    The helpdesk guy with hands on skills. Though he does not have a college degree, one thig i’m sure of is that he has the hands on experrience to counter/troubleshoot any networking isue.

  3. J C

    I would have to hands on test both of them to make my decision, I have met a lot of people that went to school and knew nothing. they passed the course and forgot what they learned, (not all of the people) The applicant that is already in the field, they did self study and multiple hands on labs with projects will be able to act quicker and problem solve earlier to start. there wont be a lag time for getting used to equipment.

    I have worked in places where I learned hands on, then they hired someone that went to school for the same thing. All they wanted to do is rub every ones nose in their degree while they kept messing up making more work and not knowing how to fix things right.

    I would most likely hire hands on guy. it shows initiative and drive. but I would ultimately need to test them both to find the best candidate.

  4. TimothyOnline

    *I* would hire the one with hands-on experience, but I’m not an IT Hiring Manager.

    I have nearly 10 years experience, a degree & some certs, and I’ve been turned down for all kinds of positions. If I had to guess who’d actually *get* the job I’d say the guy who has the degree and certs.

  5. Eurial Turner

    I can relate to the second guy I just have a 2-year degree and hands-on experience the one thing that the four-year college grad does not know you can have all that hype and confidence yet anyone can say they can do a job yeah I’m the type of person if I don’t know something about a job I learn it because picking up a book and doing it are two different things

  6. Ameer Hussain

    Yes, I’m here to hire as an IT manager. I have not any degree in any university because I’m a student of IT. But still, I have much experience in this field. If you want I am here to do something special for you. Thanks

    • Quinton

      Neither one. The person with the degree and all the certs in the world does not have the hands on experience that I am looking for and the person that claims to have experience only has a random cert that I have never heard of from an uncredited online course and his help desk experience is not the type of experience I’m looking for. I would save both resumes and continue interviewing potential candidates.

  7. Jason Aquino

    As a former network engineer, it really depends. Having a CCNP, is kind of critical. It shows you put in the work. In this da and age with EVE-NG and GNS3 you can be a very competent network engineer, ready for a professional position. Even if you have been out of the game for a while. Emulated networks is pretty much the real thing. The only difference would be in data centers and having a understanding of the topologies, well depending who you work for. ISP’s are are different from colocation etc. Really it is all about how into it you are. I mean if I was a hiring manager, and I ask about what is a VLAN or the packet structure (encapsulation) and he or she gives a detailed example. Then I would be impressed. The CCNA in my opinion is kind of worthless, it is a lot harder to get these days, but does not say much. You need the CCNP to break in. But on the other hand, if you really show you know your stuff in an interview that could make all the difference, not being certified.
    Like I said, it is all about how much you are into network engineering. If you really love it, and show passion, that is the ideal candidate. I have worked a lot of Cisco jobs, and they are not very exciting. You learn a lot of stuff like OSPF or BGP and never get to actually do that. Mostly just configure switches, and be a security guard in the data center, in case something does go down. A lot of Ethernet cabling, rack and stack. The guys who actually build data infrastructure’s are CCIE contractors.
    The bright side is, Cisco DevNet and Python automation. I am more on the software development side. And if you have basic networking skills but can code, then you are a shoe in. That is the direction this industry is moving forward too. Plus security is still a major issue. Take a white hat hacking course, you won’t believe how vulnerable systems are today.
    It is almost a joke. It is a good thing computer crimes can land you in jail for years. So I imagine that keeps a lot of people at bay.

    Point is, if you want to hire a candidate, how passionate are they? And highly experienced network engineers will cost you a pretty penny.

    If it is a critical position, then yeah hire the $150K a year dude. But I would always go with the unexperienced in the real world guy, who loves Cisco network engineering. Best investment.


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