June 19, 2018

How to Get the Job When You Don’t Have the Degree to Back It Up


Article by Haley Shoaf

Companies need people, not collections of degrees. Despite that obvious truth, many people who would otherwise be great candidates for open positions don’t apply for roles that advertise education requirements they don’t meet — even when their other experiences and skills would make them the perfect fit.

This phenomenon is more apparent in some industries than others. According to a Harvard Business School study, while 67 percent of production supervisor job postings in 2015 claimed to require a degree, only 16 percent of people employed in those roles had graduated from college.

These kinds of figures showcase the difference between what companies think they want and what they truly need. The truth is, candidates without degrees can perform jobs just as well as their peers who hold degrees. In the 20-week learning program that LaunchCode uses to prepare candidates for roles in software development, we’ve seen no difference in completion rates between people with PhDs and people with GEDs. Our experience demonstrates that while degrees might be helpful in some fields, they are not reliable proxies for someone’s ability to do a job well.

Unfortunately, degrees make it easy to trim down piles of applications, so candidates in a competitive job market need to learn how to stand out. By following these four tips, people without college degrees can demonstrate their worth to potential employers.

1. Think Outside the Application

If your resume doesn’t meet the education requirements, think creatively about other ways to distinguish yourself. One good option might be a portfolio with examples of work that demonstrate your marketable skills. These examples can include a personal website, writing samples, coding projects, podcasts, or anything else that demonstrates your drive, passion, and follow-through.

Nontraditional resume boosters like these provide a glimpse into your skill set that companies would not otherwise get. By sharing proof of your abilities, you can convince would-be employers to look past your lack of a degree and consider your proven value.

2. Understand the Company’s Pain Points

If everything at this potential employer were going perfectly, its hiring managers wouldn’t need to hire anyone. Do some research to figure out what the company needs, then provide potential solutions to the problems this role is designed to solve.

Sometimes, this means solving a problem the company doesn’t even know it has. If you have experience in an area where the company is lacking, point out opportunities for easy wins. When the interview rolls around, ask pointed questions to show that you not only understand the company’s pain points but also see possible solutions.

Recruiting guru Liz Ryan calls this “pain interviewing.” By focusing on the problem and its solutions, you show the hiring manager how you work through issues and prove that you’re the right person for the job.

3. Demonstrate an Ability to Learn

Companies need people who know things on day one and can hone their skills on day 30, day 90, and day 365.

Hyatt Hotels CEO Mark Hoplamazian told Fortune, “We hire more for personality and growth mindset than specific skill set. We believe curiosity, passion, and a love of learning together can be greater than a person’s previous experience. Care comes from a place of empathy and understanding — traits you can’t learn from a book but that produce better results.”

Research the company and consider industry trends before applying. Show readers of your resume that you are invested in learning about the job, then follow through by learning more about the company and the role as the application process progresses.

4. Build an Industry Network

Figure out where you want to go, then get to know the people who are already there. Even a brief connection with someone who works at your target company can make the difference between a discarded resume and an invitation to interview.

Attend networking events, meetups, career development workshops, and other events attended by industry leaders. Reach out on LinkedIn and other social media platforms — keep those profiles sharp and updated — to gain the attention of people who will remember you when it’s time to fill a relevant role.

Degrees alone cannot account for passion, drive, and willingness to grow. Companies value lifelong learners who demonstrate a desire to evolve professionally. View challenges not as roadblocks, but as exciting opportunities to prove to potential employers that you are the solution-oriented hire they’ve been waiting for.

Even if you don’t meet the minimum degree or experience requirements, you can still land your dream job. Now that you can learn almost anything online, the value of a degree is diminishing in favor of proven skills and a willingness to learn. Don’t let your lack of a degree halt your professional progress. Follow these tips to stand out from the crowd and show employers what you have to offer.

A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.

Haley Shoaf is the VP of impact at LaunchCode, a nonprofit organization preparing individuals for and matching them with opportunities in the technology industry. As one of the winners of the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, LaunchCode has been recognized for expanding “the tech workforce by providing free coding education to disadvantaged job seekers.” Prior to LaunchCode, Haley was a Venture for America fellow in St. Louis.

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