Gator or Nole, Bull or Spartan, your alma mater can help you land a job

HR pros say school name is helpful

TAMPA - University of Tampa graduate Thomas Meachum thinks where he went to college matters.

"Yes, absolutely. Lots of employers understand the value of a UT degree," said Meachum, a Palm Harbor resident. "Plus, there are many other UT graduates that like to hire other UT grads."

Meachum, a certified financial planner with Merrill Lynch, says the university's name did come up and was helpful in the hiring process. "They were very interested in all of my qualifications," he said. "Having the business degrees and practical work experience certainly helped me obtain my current position. "

What do human resource professionals in the area say? They agree with Meachum's assessment that the school does matter.
Lisa Murfield, an HR manager for a Tampa law firm, has been vetting job candidates for 15 years.

She has worked in a variety of industries, from pharmaceutical to insurance. She reviews about 100 resumes a month. Murfield even co-authored a book, "The ROI of Compassion," dealing with employer-employee relations in traumatic situations.  

In her experience, the place where you obtain your education does seem to make a difference.

"We are always looking for the best candidates and I have found they generally come from more traditional colleges," said Murfield.

Kim Boulahanis has been with Health Integrated Inc. in Tampa for 16 years and is now director of corporate resources. She wades through up to 200 applications a month.

Boulahanis and Murfield say they check the educational background of potential new hires, no matter what institution they have attended.

"All background checks are done the same way," said  Boulahanis. "You are verifying that they did in fact attend the school and received a diploma."

And Murfield added: "As HR professionals, we seek the best employees and they have a great well-rounded education, not just a diploma."

"If you are hiring someone to be a part of your executive team, you will probably focus on schools such as Harvard or Stanford, due to their MBA program," said Boulahanis. "Law firms also heavily focus on where someone attended law school."

But she added: "For general positions that we hire on a daily basis, the actual degree is what we are concerned with, not the school itself."

As for pay and perks once you do get hired, the institution of higher learning doesn't directly affect the outcome, according to Murfield.

"The best candidates position themselves for the best rewards through not only their education, but their knowledge, skills and abilities," she said.

Boulahanis also says that the school would not be a factor.

"We would base their pay on the actual job-related degree, experience and possibly location," she said.

Work experience is what employers focus on more than ever, Boulahanis says, but that may be why she sees more people getting degrees online or with for-profit universities, which offer more flexible schedules.

"I believe this has also changed over time and continues to do so," Boulahanis said. "Many people are working full-time and are attending schools online to earn their master's degree. Schools such as the University of Phoenix that are relatively affordable seem to be popular now. "

Murfield says job applicants who have been through a rigorous academic program may have an advantage in the hiring process.

"Steel sharpens steel," she said. "To be the best, we associate with and compete with the best. Thus, the college we choose sets the pace for our lifelong learning. "

Meachum, the UT grad, agreed.

"I can do all things, if I've got the right focus and intent.  I got some of this inspiration from UT," said Meachum. "I think we must continue to grow and advance, or we wither and die."

Thursday at 11 p.m. on ABC Action News, I-Team Investigator Michael George uncovers allegations of serious problems at bay area for-profit universities, including claims that students didn't get the education they paid for.

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