IT job-seekers, look to the MOOC

Employers are receptive to hiring IT job candidates with MOOC educations, but education alone won't result in a job offer. Projects that show how candidates have used their tech skills are key.

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Sisk's online studies include completing a Coursera course on Scala taught by Martin Odersky, who wrote the language, and finishing 75% of a comparative computer language course. MOOCs offer the opportunity to stop or pause a course without academic or financial repercussions, said Sisk, who is in his 60s.

"If you get busy at work or you don't have the time, you stop taking the course," said Sisk, who stopped the course after taking a new job that lengthened his commute. "You don't lose a ton of money. You don't have a grade that follows you down the years telling you what a failure you are."

Sisk's online learning wasn't brought up when he interviewed with his new employer, a Burlington, Massachusetts, nonprofit that collects and analyzes hospital patient care data to develop better clinical procedures. They were more interested in his skills, he said, adding that his MOOC education could have worked in his favor during the hiring process.

"It indicated to them that I am still interested in new ideas and acquiring new skills. Perhaps that had an effect."

Even if a hiring manager is wary of the education MOOCs offer, taking online courses can still aid a person professionally.

"If you're taking a Coursera class you're actively seeking that information," Morris said. "That says you're interested enough in the concept to be aware that these things exist." Job candidates can use completion of online courses to show their passion for a topic even though, at the moment, not all employers may be "giving the big thumbs up for completing these things," Morris said.

For IT job candidates with the desired skills and work background, "anything you can point to in addition to your real world experience is a benefit," said Jack Cullen, president of IT staffing firm Modis, especially if people can show that their course work added value to the business.

Cullen noted that a certificate from a MOOC is not the same as earning a certification through a traditional certification program. For example, companies seeking a network engineer certified in Cisco Systems technology want someone who earned a certificate through an authorized program.

"There's a difference between course work and certifications," he said.

But that course work can give candidates an advantage in the competitive IT job market.

"If they're competing against someone with the same skill set but you've taken additional course work that's going to probably push that person up the food chain into getting the job."


Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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