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.