Editorial

The Neowin guide to working in IT, Part One: Choices

Life, regardless of your past, present and future situations and decisions, requires you to do one thing; work. Now that exam season is almost upon us, for a lot of students it's the last chance to savour student life before joining the big bad world and the rat race that is career driven employment. The problem is though, from 16 onwards, when so many schools, colleges and university start to put pressure on you to choose a career, do you really know what you want to get from your working life?

I have been working since I was 16, my first job being in customer services working for a (then) massive retailer in the UK called Index. They've since folded, long before the global recession, but I remember out of three and a half years there, I enjoyed about two and a half of them. I studied for a GNVQ Advanced in IT in tech (or college, but in NI, we call it tech) straight from doing my GCSEs and once I had finished my two years, decided not to go to university (a decision I would later regret, but more on that later) and look for a job in IT.

I would love to say that I haven't looked back since then, but that's not the case. I've had knockbacks for positions I desperately wanted, I've been made redundant during the telecoms slump of the early 2000s, got so depressed in my work that I was ready to leave everything that meant and means anything to me, and flitted between six jobs in 3 years hoping to find the right position for me. Sure, I've had regrets, but I've been more than happy to call myself a geek, and allow my wife and friends to call me one too, all for my love of all things good (and sometimes bad) in the IT world.

So, if you have either decided yourself, or it's been suggested to you, that a career in IT is the one for you, where do you begin?

If you love IT, you'll know what you love about it

Okay, I admit that it's not the best way to persuade anyone that IT is for them, but IT presents a very varied and diverse selection of jobs. It's up to you to play to your strengths and choose the right path for your career right from the get go if you wish to have any level of success. With IT being varied, from the outset, there are two paths your career can take you; operational and technical. But what's the difference?


Do you see yourself planning or maintaining?

I see operational as being the persons behind the desk that do scheduling, project management, meetings, finances, procurement, human resources, facilities management, sales, etc. They run the business and bring the money into the companies you will work for. Technical are the people who plan, test, implement, configure, troubleshoot and support software and hardware solutions decided on and sold by the operational staff. Technical is the bread and butter of the operation as without them, the operational staff are offering something they ultimately can't follow through on. The same goes for the technical staff, they can't be doing everything from running the business to selling solutions and implementing them; there's just not enough hours in the day to be honest. While yes, there are lone, self-employed IT consultants that do all the work themselves, when it comes to a business that is supports 30, 40, 50, 60+ customers, some of which need full time support staff or 24/7 cover, there is an obvious and immediate need to hire the right and correct people for the positions that will help drive the growth of the business.


Do figures float your boat?

Say for example, you have the gift of the gab and could sell ice to the eskimos, you could easily sell solutions to customers. But does that mean that you are a sales person, with no need to know the technical aspect of IT? Hell no! I know sales people that could out-technical the best of people I've encountered over the past 16 years, simply because they need to know and learn the product to a point where they could almost plan and implement it. And it goes the other way as well. A technical person will still need to know the benefits of say migrating from SharePoint 2007 to 2013, being able to subtly suggest to customers that the newer version of the product will provide a benefit to their business, while justifying the cost.

This example can be applied to any IT role. There will always be a degree of crossover when it comes to a role and the responsibilities of the person in it. It doesn't mean that if you choose operational, you've got to stick with that route your entire life. The same applies to technical jobs as well. You can jump between the two areas, as long as you have the backing of your (potential) employer, the positions are there to be won and you can prove you can do the job (either through previous experience or relevant qualifications or certifications). There are technical people who have grown into team lead roles and moved on to become senior management or directors. There are, undoubtedly, managers who have had to become more hands on technically as their business has required. It's something that will happen in any career, but don't let that put you off pursuing the area that you love now. Experience, no matter how little, all counts.

Even a technology lover, like me, can use their passion to write blogs, start a website or even write for a popular news outlet like Neowin. So don't think that you're limited to getting a job in a company or organisation, just because that's where traditional IT has evolved over the years.

Technology, technology, technology

This is when IT starts to really come into its own. I've paraphrased Steve Ballmer a little bit, but technology can be anything from the kettle in your kitchen to the latest nanotechnology being used by doctors to diagnose and cure diseases. We as consumers are driven by this inherent need for improvement. We want our computer to do things faster; we want more than just calls and texts from our phones; we want our technology to make our lives easier. The bottom line is that technology is driving society forward in a way that wasn't seen 20 years ago.


Some of the big players in the Enterprise environments today

So in that respect, there is more technology, more choice and more work in IT than ever before. Do you love Microsoft or is Linux your baby? What about virtualization technologies such as Hyper-V, VMware and Citrix? Does being an Apple technician float your boat? Networking technologies? Cloud solutions? Storage platforms?! Do you see where I am going with this? And this is all before I go with software development. What language do you love to write in? Do you see yourself as a web developer or mobile app developer? Do you think developing UIs are you forte? Firmware? Scripting? Application support?! Again, do you see where this is going? But wait, there's more; who could forget about networking and communications? I'm not going to go into much detail on the different positions available in this field, but planning, development, deployment and maintenance of small to enterprise size LANs, WANs and WLANs will all come under this, along with the security, policy and governance aspects of IT.

Like the differences between operational and technical, you can jump between the different areas of technology and vendor with ease. Sometimes more so, depending on the technology you want to work with. It's easier to move between VMware and Linux than it would be to move from PCs to Macs. But not impossible. I've always kind of said that a dev could not do the role I do, much in the same was as I couldn't do the role of a dev. All too often I've seen devs not able troubleshoot Exchange connectivity, so simply reboot the server - once during an offline defrag! But there are exceptions. I work with a guy called Steven; exceptionally talented at the infrastructure side of things, but he's a wiz when it comes to scripting, SharePoint and application development too. He would be the perfect example of someone who knows how to fully manage a hardware and software solution, and be able to customise apps, hell, even develop them to suit a specific business need. So again, not impossible.

Is it good to work with one technology or several? Well, each can have both a positive and negative effect on your career. While it's good to work with one technology, say for example Citrix, there are benefits to working with multiple technologies that work across a range of hardware and software platforms. Citrix is actually a good example of that too, with Receiver being available on Windows, Max, Linux, Android and iOS. To give you an example, I am Microsoft certified in Server 2003, Server 2008 and Exchange 2010, but I am also a certified Citrix Certified Administrator for XenApp 6.0, and am gearing myself up to sit the VMware VCP course and exam for ESX 5.1 and have just booked my first Windows Server 2012 exam for April 25th. I do put myself down to being a Jack of all trades, master of none, which is admittedly not great, but I know my limits and I know what technology I'm comfortable working with and what I would like work with to move forward in my career.

Qualifications and certifications VS Experience VS You

I'll keep this as short and sweet as possible. Qualifications, no matter how insignificant, matter. Don't get me wrong, I know that experience can more than make up for lack of studying and exam taking. But some employers want to see that you've done a degree, or high level qualification. It's partly the reason I regret not going to university and doing a degree; in the past I've seen jobs where one of the essential criteria is a degree or HND in an IT related subject. So I've had to leave it. I've been a bit down about it, but ultimately I wouldn't be in my current role if criteria like that hadn't forced me to apply for other jobs.

But then there is you. No matter what role you go for, your personality will win over an interview panel 90% of the time. It's only natural. So even if you're not the most qualified or experienced, the drive, willingness to learn and flexibility for the role and the potential employer, you show, might tip the scales in your favour. I've been interviewed for jobs I've had no right being interviewed for, based on experience or qualifications, but I wanted to work for the people and prove myself in the role. That obviously came through in the interviews as well as the feedback I received, while ultimately I didn't get the job, was positive. I only lost out to the more experienced person, so coming second is a win in my book.

I'll quickly add that the place you're applying for will always play a factor in how you're coming across in an interview. If you know them, like them and want to work for them, you'll be more determined. Yes, that will put extra pressure on you and your side of the process, but don't let that put you off. As long as you know what environment you're getting yourself into before taking a role, you'll avoid being stung badly like I have.

So where does that leave us? In the second part I want to talk about the low points of working in IT, both from my own experiences and what I've learned from other people who I've encountered throughout the years.

Images courtesy of Shutterstock and the vendors whose logos are shown

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I just turned 33 having started in I.T. back in 2004, professionally anyway. I started working in computers (custom builds, building web sites) back in 1998. I am a car guy above everything, aside from being a father. However I have a true passion also for tech and have an incredible knack for it, in this field you are either great at what you do, or you suck, to be blunt. Since everyone likes to work smarter, not harder, I decided to make IT a career and not just a job to pay for my car habits. I'm currently and I.T. Manager/Infrastructure Architect for an electrical engineering company and my main client is an up and coming oil company. I'm JUST NOW at the point in my career where I'm starting to make what I want ($85K per year, $100K per year before this year is out) and where I can actually say I love my job! Company vehicle, cell, laptop, benefits, blah blah, what really matters is that I truly enjoy the exact type of I.T. work that I do and the people I work around! Happiness and contentment can make up for allot of salary. Just as money isn't worth killing yourself for, been there done that too, never again. It took me allot of years to be in a position where I do the EXACT type of IT work I actually enjoy doing. I'll also say that no matter what, continued learning at an almost exponential level is constantly required if you are going to stay on top of your game and continue to advance in this field. Remember I said you are either great of you suck at IT? It's not only having a true interest and passion/knack for it, it's taking the time in your job AND personal life as reasonable, to stay on top of new tech and how you can apply it in a business practical sense. Geez, I could write a book about this field just as the original story. I'll end saying one thing though, being great has its long term price mentally. I don't mean work vs. personal either, I'm taking for granted you can balance that, which allot can't. I'm talking about just learn mode and input overload over the years if that makes sense to you older guys out there. **** comes flying at us from ALL conceivable directions in this tech driven world we live in. I can honestly say that in another 10yrs, I'll be total burn out and won't be able to continue being at the top of my game. I love turning off my phone and getting lost on a drive or motorcycle ride for hours on the weekends. I can't wait to retire to a Caribbean island with no phone or computer. Seriously. I have no Facebook, no Twitter, none of that crap. I haven't even watched TV in 8 years except for a hour or two of NetFlix here and there. No TIME!

I have a 2yr A.S. degree in computer systems admin. It from an online school back in 2000 made up of MCSA, MCSE, CCNA, CCNP, A+, etc.

Totally ****ing useless. The school even went out of business a couple years later. If I had to do it over, I would get the certs on my own. Also, if I had to do over, I would specialize in advanced networking. I'm still not specialized enough to make real big money but I do love what I do. The smartest thing you can do is start your own company, way more work, you might shoot yourself, but it will pay off. You will NEVER be wealthy working for someone else.

To know how to install windows and to play counter strike does not mean that "x" student will be a good IT worker.

Most IT workers feel disillusioned because they think that IT works is easy or a pleasant work. It is not a pleasant work unless the student really loves what he is doing.

Some people say "hey, i can sit and work in front of a computer during 8 hours without any problem" but, most of the time, it is not true unless it involves facebook, personal email, twitter and online games.

Decide early what you want to do and then work towards that.

For example I've been working in support/server admin for over 10 years but decided about 4 years ago that what I REALLY wanted to be doing was networking. Its taken me over 2 years to make the move despite having a couple of Cisco certifications that I studied and paid for myself.
The reason was experience, I lacked the experience in the right area, sure I had knowledge and I had done some work in that area but not in depth enough for a potential employer to be happy with employing me.

I am now moving in to a networking role however shortly (YES!!!!! so happy) but I know it will be a lot of hard work and learning but I think what really got me in to the role was I didn't give up trying to get a position in this company, I applied several times and when I got in for an interview for a lesser role they could see that I was over qualified for the position and had the right attitude and passion about networking. Then I got the offer.

In short:
1) don't give up if you want it
2) be determined
3) have the right attitude
4) decide early what you want to be doing

You better not study any IT related subject. The greedy US companies are moving all the jobs to India and cheap labor countries.
You better become a doctor, lawyer or anything that cant be sent overseas....

juanmix said,
You better not study any IT related subject. The greedy US companies are moving all the jobs to India and cheap labor countries.
You better become a doctor, lawyer or anything that cant be sent overseas....

I sort of agree with this. I almost changed my major to BSN(Nursing) because its one of those jobs that can't be moved.

Nothing against India here. But I have to say they are spoiling the IT market. They take up IT jobs here in Middle East at salaries one would not even work as an office boy! They have literally destroyed the salaries of the IT field. This is fully true in UAE.

I see companies here looking for IT professionals to work for 8 hours a day, 6 days a week at a monthly salary of 815 USD as a Software Engineer. Imagine the rest.

Speaking from expierence, I couldnt agree more with articles like these as well as its future parts!!!

IT Consultant here with support element (Plan big projects + support, Provide infrastructure to clients + support, Hosted services + support, Roll out of Network and Domain architecture + support)

IF you need any questions answered, ANYONE, please feel free to PM me

I'd like to use myself as an example here. A lot of people on here state that experience trumps qualifications. I'd like to say not entirely true. I've become good friends with my boss and this is what he told me about the 3 people he hired along with myself a few years ago. First, I have a Masters Degree(MS) in Computer Information Systems. I was hired along with 3 other guys based on that piece of paper that showed a Bachelors and Masters. In my case, I was hired over an older gentleman who had been in the field for 17 years, Certs up the ying yang, and military experience in the same field. The one thing he did not have was some sort of 4 year college degree. So I'd like to say that not every company looks for experience. That degree does mean something. The company I work for is one of the most profitable companies in the world and they love to be hated. They are an entertainment and content delivery company. Just for more info, I didn't graduate from a prestigious school. Graduated from California State University Long Beach. One of the new guys that got hired with me graduated from UCLA, one from California State Northridge, and the other University of California Berkeley.

Be prepared to take endless exams. Don't try and cram everything in too fast. You can push your brain too far and you'll just end up exhausting yourself with too much study. As I said there are a lot of core exams to take and Microsoft is probably one of the longest core exams to take.

Be prepared to spend some money on books. I would recommend buying from online stores or from local book stores which have a logo in the windows saying Student Discount. Just show your Student ID and you normally get a 10% discount which doesn't sound much but at least you are saving a bit of money. You could save more money by buying eBooks for your studying... Although, at times you'll need your books with your in person for studying when you're in a library or collage or uni. If you have a iPad or another portable device then you're laughing. Some colleges normally have good networks; although, this depends on the networks administrator and how they have set up the network.

IT is one of those qualifications which never end. I am 42 and I'm still taking exams to make sure I am up to date with the latest OS, applications and so forth. I will say one thing. CISCO exams are not easy... Some people may find them easy and fly through their exams. These are people I normally place in the category of... Well educated and knowledgeable in theory, but in practical they are useless. I have worked with many people like this. They can take all the exams in the world and pass every single one. Practical, they are as thick as Cough!

Am I too old to start working in IT. To be honest, this is a question I get asked all the time. Some employers say basic answer is Yes and No. They prefer the age between 20 and 30+ is the ideal age to work in IT. ...Why! Well because a younger brain works faster then an old brain. Is this true. In some people who have been working in IT and are now what is classed an "IT Dino" which basically means they have done the same job for years, no promotion or pay rise because they haven't kept their self up to date with the ever changing world of IT.

These are a few I can think of of the top of my head. Although Microsoft have retired some of them back in 2011, therefore I would recommend speaking to a careers adviser or speak to your local Uni to find out which ones have been retired by Microsoft.

Microsoft Certified IT Professional
MCITP: Enterprise Desktop Support Technician 7
MCITP: Server Administrator on Windows Server 2008
MCITP: Enterprise Administrator on Windows Server 2008
MCITP: Database Administrator 2008

Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist
MCTS: Exchange Server 2010 Configuration
MCTS: .NET Framework 4 Windows Applications
MCTS: Web Applications Development with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
MCTS: Accessing Data with Microsoft .NET Framework 4
MCTS: Windows 7 Configuration
MCTS: Windows Vista Configuration
MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Active Directory Configuration
MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Network Infrastructure Configuration
MCTS: Windows Server 2008 Applications Infrastructure Configuration
MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Implementation and Maintenance
MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Business Intelligence Development and Maintenance
MCTS: SQL Server 2008 Database Development

CompTIA (These look good on your CV)
CompTIA A+
CompTIA Network+
CompTIA Project+
CompTIA Security+

Microsoft Server 2003 and XP*
Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)
Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator (MCSA)
Microsoft Certified Desktop Support Technician (MCDST)

(I do believe some of the above have been retired by Microsoft; although, I am not 100% which ones)

Cisco
Cisco Certified Entry Networking Technician (CCENT)
Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA)
Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP)

As suggested, planning is important, you have to set aside your goals. Don't be afraid to start with the easy ones first. Get these exams out of the way and then progress onto the others.

If you're a UK (United Kingdom) resident then look at OU (Open University).
Speak to your local Uni in your city about IT courses.
(They can be a bit expensive, find out about financial backing from local authorities in your city)

Edited by SYBINX, Mar 18 2013, 2:32am :

"Qualifications, no matter how insignificant, matter."

I agree with Dot Matrix's post above. As someone who came up through the technology ranks, like you noted, and am now a director at an IT shop, I placed no emphasis on 99% of certs out there when I started my career, and I place no emphasis on 99% of certs now that I'm a hiring manager. There are a few exceptions, most notably the CISSP if you're going into security, but your A+, MSCE, etc, etc, are practically worthless IMHO. I want to know that you can do the work, not that you can take a class and answer some questions on a test. My 2 cents, anyway.

Fezmid said,
"Qualifications, no matter how insignificant, matter."

I agree with Dot Matrix's post above. As someone who came up through the technology ranks, like you noted, and am now a director at an IT shop, I placed no emphasis on 99% of certs out there when I started my career, and I place no emphasis on 99% of certs now that I'm a hiring manager. There are a few exceptions, most notably the CISSP if you're going into security, but your A+, MSCE, etc, etc, are practically worthless IMHO. I want to know that you can do the work, not that you can take a class and answer some questions on a test. My 2 cents, anyway.

Looking for help?

Fezmid said,
"Qualifications, no matter how insignificant, matter."

I agree with Dot Matrix's post above. As someone who came up through the technology ranks, like you noted, and am now a director at an IT shop, I placed no emphasis on 99% of certs out there when I started my career, and I place no emphasis on 99% of certs now that I'm a hiring manager. There are a few exceptions, most notably the CISSP if you're going into security, but your A+, MSCE, etc, etc, are practically worthless IMHO. I want to know that you can do the work, not that you can take a class and answer some questions on a test. My 2 cents, anyway.

In my opinion it works like this. If you want to apply for a job that a lot of other people are going to apply for, let's say at a huge company, degrees and certificates may be used as a filter. They have a lot of choice, so they can be picky. They need to narrow down a lot of people quick, so they drop the people without degrees and certs. Then once you get in the door, the interview is just about experience.

With smaller companies and less applicants, they don't have a need to filter out a huge chunk of resumes immediately, so they are mostly unimportant next to experience.

In the end, experience gets you the job. A degree or certificates may get you the interview though if it's a popular position. I am and always have been under the impression that school is 90% pointless. I dropped out of high school, then went to college still (based on high SAT/ACT test scores because I know the stuff, just didn't do my work). That lasted a little over a year before I partied my way out of college too. Less than 10 years later I have a pretty good job at one of the biggest computer companies in the world, why? Because I prove myself with my experience, not my school or lack of a single certificate. As always, hard work is the best way to get somewhere.

One other note though, you will see people claim college is a way to prove you can stick with something to completion. There's some merit in that statement, so I always give examples of projects I've worked on in the past with similar dedication to prove that I can stick with something since I don't have that college degree someone else might have. I mostly don't agree with that thought though because anyone can go to college, take near remedial classes, and still pass with some kind of a degree, but just remember you're presenting yourself to appeal to what the interviewer wants to see or hear, not what you think is best. A little character goes a long way.

Edited by AJerman, Mar 18 2013, 4:00pm :

I'm shooting for a BS in Systems Administration, so this is a great article to read, however, I abhor certs (especially ones that begin with "Cisco"), and don't plan on getting any save for basic should anyone want them. They serve no purpose in my eyes and are superfluous in light of college degrees. I learn by doing, not reading a book filled with technobabble gobbledygook.

College degrees are no different than a cert.. just a piece of paper that shows you can vomit up what someone else has told you to. To be successful in IT you have to be ambitious and most importantly, a self learner. If you can't crack a book and understand that "technobabble hobbledygook" you won't make it in IT..

spudtrooper said,
College degrees are no different than a cert.. just a piece of paper that shows you can vomit up what someone else has told you to. To be successful in IT you have to be ambitious and most importantly, a self learner. If you can't crack a book and understand that "technobabble hobbledygook" you won't make it in IT..

I think it's quite clear by now I am highly ambitious about technology.

Also, I have no issues with self learning, however, I am a hands on guy. I learn by doing, not by passing tests. I'm not afraid of making mistakes, or getting my hands dirty.

Ambitious? Hilarious. You want technology to be so simple that you can 'figure it out' by making mistakes on someone else's dime. Ah, you're too much. Face it, Geek Squad is what you are looking for with that M.O.

I'm going to go ahead and complain that the Apple logo is too large in proportion to the others. Could you cut it down in size and maybe throw up an Oracle or even a Linux penguin?

Enron said,
I'm going to go ahead and complain that the Apple logo is too large in proportion to the others. Could you cut it down in size and maybe throw up an Oracle or even a Linux penguin?
Considering its insignificance in corporate IT I was kind of surprised it was so prominent.

But then again this article was posted on a website that was taken down for days by some water.

Cracking article, and well written.

I started out in IT via a home college course while I was working as a printer, I loved computers and knew this was what I needed to go for to move forward.

I now have my own business providing IT support to small businesses (not doing great, customers going bump with big bills takes its toll, but that's the state of the country).

I passed the initial Network + exam and applied for a job at Zen internet, got it and worked there for a year - in that time, with them being more business focused I dealt with plenty of calls from 'IT Support' staff related to internet connectivity, but often the conversations would run into areas such as their exchange server sending x spam, or issues related to internal issues focused on AD and other MS stuff. I was studying for the MCSE/MCSA at the time, and while I was sat there on the end of a phone, on crap an hour, I thought to myself "hang on, I'm guiding this guy though this fix, he's charging the customer £50 a hour and I'm the one actually doing the work - screw this" and the rest is history.

I still haven't got the MCSE/MCSA, but know more than any fresh MCSA/MCSE graduate, experience kills certificates hands down, the problem is proving it.

A student doesn't need to listen to pressure. Even though I went into the military not knowing what I was going to do, I floated in college until I decided to go into Public Health. But given that I didn't like the field, I left Public Health and went into IT as a help desk employee knowing I wanted to do something in computers since I loved working on them. From there, I went into Desktop support, and then back in help desk (as a second level tech), then as a junior Systems Admin and finally as a Systems Administrator, Along the way, I earned a MBA and a Masters in IT Management. I even taught IT classes at a college for 5 years.

To those looking to break into the career, just remain positive. Know that not everyday will be rosy (7 years of Help Desk experience here) and continue to learn. Finally, HAVE FUN!!! I enjoy everyday of my job; not just because it has new challenges, but that it's also fun with the people you work with!

There are lots of different ways to get into an IT field. I started my job off as a call centre worker, started developing little program's to make my work easier and out of boredom and now I am a software developer for the same company in charge of the systems the agents use and the training systems. I didn't even though I could take that route originally.
Lookin forward to next article

I would say not applying for a job because you don't have one of the qualifications is the wrong way of thinking.

Experience goes a long way, you just have to give clear examples of what you can do and have done when applying.

WooHoo!!! said,
I would say not applying for a job because you don't have one of the qualifications is the wrong way of thinking.

Experience goes a long way, you just have to give clear examples of what you can do and have done when applying.

Exactly!

Qualifications mean very little these days - Experience and passion is what really counts!

Too many people today are comimg out of school/college/uni with the same generic IT skills/qualifications... so employers now need another way to distinguish between prospective job candidates, and that's where experience and passion come in!

For example, I have no formal qualifications in "IT" whatsoever, yet became interested in computer programming from a very very early age (back in the days of the good old Acorn Electron and BBC Micro!). This "hobby" continued throughout my teenage years and into adulthood (obviously I'm not still using a BBC Micro today!)

But today, as a result of my paassion and experience gained through years of a simple bedroom "hobby", I am a very experience programmer and software developer, and now have my own successful global software business!

So my advice for anyone thinking about a career in an IT related field is, A) Be passionate about what you want to do B) Gain as much experience to back up your knowledge as you can!

I don't know about the rest of the world, but in the US it is illegal to hire someone with experience but not all of the listed requirements over someone with all the list requirements but no experience. Companies get sued for it all the time. Equal Opportunity Act requires that if you list something as a requirement for a job, the person you hire HAS to have it or you can get heavily fined if caught. All that being said, the only way you will get caught is if someone is actually paying attention. Really only the larger organizations with jobs that people really want have to worry about it.

You'll notice that 99.99% of companies have found a loophole for this so called law. The word "preferred" is quite commonly used in job descriptions.