Getting Hired When You Don't Have a College Degree

I listened in on a recruiter panel recently where an HR person from a Fortune 500 company admitted that he added a Bachelor's degree to the list of requirements for all his job postings because it was an easy way to screen out candidates.

He didn't try to make the case that the degree is a key predictor of success in corporate jobs, an argument you often hear. He was honest in saying that the requirement was just a way to winnow out candidates in a competitive job market.

He's not alone in this practice and it presents a challenge for job seekers who lack the crucial piece of parchment.

I meet a lot of job seekers who are concerned that they lack a four-year degree, especially in the current job climate. Many express regret, guilt, and even shame over not having one. They've bought into the idea that without the degree they either aren't qualified for many position or just don't stand a chance of landing anything. My HR panelist's candor aside, this is not necessarily the case.

The issue here is that too many jobs seem to have a gatekeeper who has put a sizable obstacle in the way of job hunters who lack a college diploma. The solution is to go avoid the gatekeeper and find another way in to the company.

I routinely remind job hunters that most people get their jobs through their network. When you run up against an obstacle in your search, your network can help you to find a way around or over it. If a lack of a college degree is the obstacle here are a few ways your network can help:

  • Rather than applying via a job board where your résumé will be filtered through a set of requirements that you won't match up with, try to find an insider at the company who can advocate for you and let the decision maker know all you have to offer. Try every possible angle; talk to friends and family, reach out to colleagues and people you know through affinity groups, and search your contacts on LinkedIn and Facebook to find an in. Once someone on the inside is advocating for your candidacy and singing your praises, your academic credentials will become less of a factor in winning an interview.
  • If you have any college credits, list the university and area of study on your resume to show you have some college experience. If you have more than one year of college, you may want to list the number of credits you have as well.
  • If you have licenses, certifications, or training classes that are relevant to your target audience, list them prominently on the résumé to show your dedication to gaining new knowledge in your field.
  • When interviewing, make a point of telling stories and emphasizing facts that prove you have been successful in your previous roles. Maybe you were the top sales person, the book keeper who reaped the greatest savings for the company, the HR manager with the best time-to-hire metrics, or the self-made CEO who led the company from being in the red to turning a significant profit. Your recent professional accomplishments should be more important than educational credentials from years ago.
  • During an interview, ask if there are any concerns about your candidacy to see if the hiring manager brings up your education. If they do, discuss how you have performed as well as or even better than your colleagues with a degree. Maybe you trained colleagues who had more formal education than you on a particular product or were selected to lead a project over your teammates despite not having a degree. Prove how your lack of a degree was not an impediment to doing your job well.

I learned a long time ago that education is not necessarily correlated with success in a job. Remember that Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Richard Branson, Barry Diller, and Mark Zuckerberg never graduated from college because they were too busy building their companies.

Take a page from their playbooks: Focus on what you've done and what you can offer rather than on what you don't have. And if you hit a roadblock, keep beating new paths until you find a way in.

Next: Make $30 an Hour Without a Four-Year Degree >>

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at 50 and no college degree here in michigan simply means once the unemployment train runs out the next step is being homeless.I couldnt afford college after high school.So i joined the military,five years,i was stupid enough to think that would help as far as worldly experience.I spent 21 years on a job,lost that after being aquired by larger company.My next job,at half the pay lasted 10 months.That effected the amount and time i am able to collect benefits.At 50 the price to hire me,no college,my horrible credit rating(lost home,gave back car)has sealed my fate.Thank God my kids are older,still in college though.My plan is to walk to california,from michigan.At least its nice there.Got nothing else to do,no place to go.

April 26 2010 at 3:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

My start date should say December 13, 2008 on comment 101, sorry about that.

April 13 2010 at 11:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Recently, I worked a minimum wage job for a little over a year. When I was hired Decemter 13, 2009, and because of my work history I was promised the bookkeeper job after I learned the day to day operation. On April 3, 2010, I learned from my co-worker who had just been given the title of Manager, that she would be learning the bookkeeper and backroom proceedures. I was so appalled and upset that she would promote her and give her the job that I had been promised. I quit. You see I have 8years Corporation Accounting, another 4years Training Instructor and Night Supervisor for TWA, 16years Office Manager and I have money handling experience in several different settings including banks and stores. This new Manager did not complete High School and is on felony probation for drugs. Tell me how to figure this one out!

April 13 2010 at 11:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You are so right. I am not saying education is not important, but your hands on experience, knowledge and what you can bring to thetab le doesn't count. Your actual day to day encounters in dealing with issues and solving problems, ability to work on your own, multi-task and overall capability doesn't count. All that matters now a days is that little piece of paper that says you went to college. Without that there are so many places that don't want to give you a chance or even meet with you, so you can speak with them and let them know how good you are and capable of doing the job. It is so unfair.

March 30 2010 at 8:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Isn't that practice unethical at best and illegal at it's extreme?

March 27 2010 at 9:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well, thank you for correcting me Frank, "uneducated" it is in the future:) I had a High School education only, yes I graduated. English was one of my strong points too! HA

The job I held (until my pany moved out of the USA) was custom color matching for a plastics company for almost 20 years. I got thrown in to this position WITHOUT any was extremely technical, precise , and required extensive knowledge. I learned, by trial and error, or should I say "via "The School of Hard Knocks". I was ridden hard by a nasty superior. This man started, the same day I did, and took a dislike to me immediately because I had no formal training (college)
Flash forward a few years ahead, I became well adept and knowledgeable about my job, created many short cuts, satisfied customers for years and made the company profitable. In fact,by my ability to create a way to re-work scrap material, I saved the company over 1 million dollars in my 20 years as an employee. I still have customers who keep in touch with me after my absence of 6 years, as they are disgruntled about present product & service they are receiving.
In the mother plant in Germany....this is a highly educated job with strict education necessities, and they could never figure out how I had such an ability to do the job naturally.
So what I'm saying is....just because one does not have a college degree...does not make that person unable or not qualified to do the job. Most of the college kids they did hire, that I worked beside, had absolutely no common sense, made 5th grade math mistakes, and continually bitc!!! because they felt they should start out at the top of the ladder pay-wise...and should be exempt from having to put their 20 yrs in the company to get there.

March 18 2010 at 8:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Ralph Vitello

Have a really great day

March 17 2010 at 2:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This article would have been more worthwhile if it had been "Getting Hired When You Have a College Degree." I am ABD on my PhD and was Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude in college and I cannot find a good job. I have found in my city that employers want to pay less money for people with less experience. The job market where I live is better for uneducated people than for educated ones. I cannot get hired for anything even though I have great references and a terrific work history. In today's economy those with education and experience are more at risk for unemployment.

March 17 2010 at 1:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

having a degree (or two) doesn't guarantee employment either...

March 17 2010 at 1:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"degree required" is simply code for 'dregs' and barrio/ghetto 'minorities' needn't apply !

March 17 2010 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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