As a university, it’s easy for us to say education is valuable. But is it really? For individuals looking at career advancement, applying for jobs, or figuring out their career goals, how does education fit into the mix? How much weight do degrees carry? How do hiring managers and businesses really view the value of education?
Answering these questions is the purpose of this series, where we sit down with key leaders and hiring managers at companies across a wide variety of industries, to better understand the relationship between education and employment.
Name: Mike Freeman
Company: Rocky Mountain Innosphere
Years on the job: Freeman has been on staff for over a year, but on the board since 2006.
Number of employees at the company: Six
Mike Freeman believes that planning for an education is just as important as the education itself. As the former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Fort Collins,Colorado, Freeman is very familiar with the importance of strategic planning. Having spent several years in consulting and working in government, Freeman is now the CEO at the Rocky Mountain Innosphere where he helps passionate engineering- and technology-related entrepreneurs jump-start new businesses.
The non-profit technology incubator was formed to accelerate the success of high-impact scientific and technology startup companies to promote the development of a regional entrepreneurial ecosystem in northern Colorado.
Freeman shares his perspective on the value of education as it relates to his work at Rocky Mountain Innosphere and the businesses it supports.
Q. What are your goals or biggest priorities when hiring new employees?
A. From our perspective, we have diverse skill sets dependent on the job. We look for significant work experience, an entrepreneurial mindset, and a strong academic background.
Q. What is the most important factor in making a hiring decision?
A. The fit for the organization — and attitude.
Q. What challenges have you encountered during the hiring process?
A. A blend of what companies here see. A lot of people come out with degrees that are difficult to translate into a job. It’s important when thinking about majors to really do some work and figure out what degrees are relevant, what degrees are selling in the market in terms of hiring, and what has the staying power. It can be tough to translate academic degrees that don’t have a lot of substance in the way of business.
Q. Describe any emerging trends you have observed in your field.
A. My field is too niche to relate to anybody, but in general, it’s important to look where investment capital is flowing. It’s flowing into those industries that have promise and are growing.
Q. When reviewing resumes and cover letters specific to your business, how important is education?
A. It’s definitely important, but coupling that with something practical, like an internship, is even better. People want to know what you can do and what you’ve done, not just what your degree is in. Doing some practical work while you are in school is really important.
Q. What makes a resume rise to the top of a pile for you?
A. The combination of academic background and success with real-world experience.
Q. What makes a resume sink to the bottom of the pile?
A. Poorly written resumes that fluff up jobs that weren’t that significant. If it is poor quality, it’s in the recycling pile immediately.
Q. How do new/young employees get ahead?
A. One thing that is over-publicized but under-accomplished is building a network. It’s critical to have a professional network and many people don’t start on that soon enough.
Q. Generally speaking, how do you view the role of higher education in the employment process?
A. In the traditional sense, the role of higher education is to prepare students and then to also play some kind of role for job placement.
Q. How do you see the role of education helping/hindering potential employees?
A. It doesn’t hurt at all. The only issue is getting degrees in the right areas and industries that have an expectation of hiring in the future.
Q. How has education impacted your own career?
A. For me, it has been critical. I needed an advanced degree for the work I started in, and that propelled me to have opportunities to work in other industries and organizations.
Q. What tips would you give for someone considering going back to school?
A. Make sure the degree translates into something practical, that it opens doors in the career you are looking to break into.
Certainly in the technical fields of math, science, and engineering, it is helpful to couple those skills with strong business experience, and the understanding of business economics. We are constantly looking for the right mix of talent to support a start-up.
Q. What do you think students should look for or consider when selecting a school and program?
A. I recommend looking at the success rate of the institution at training and placing students. From a business perspective, that’s the only aspect that matters.
Q. What skill sets are vital to this business?
A. That’s hard to answer because all the companies I work with are so different. Ultimately, the detail of the experience needs to match the job requirements. A strong science, technology, or engineering background, coupled with business knowledge is a good baseline. Then it depends on the needs of the specific company.
Q. What is the best career advice you have ever received and who was it from?
A. The best career advice is that you are responsible for your own career. Even if you have great relationships with the people you work with, don’t assume they are as invested in your future career as you are.
For more employer perspective, check out Fire Chief Randy Mirowski’s interview.
Thinking about going back to school? Use this guide to help you through the decision-making process.