No Degree? Use these 5 Tips to Apply with Confidence

My job entails speaking with job seekers daily about the ways in which they can optimize their resumes to generate more responses from employers.  A common concern my colleagues and I hear is what to do if you don’t have a degree and how best to approach this on your resume.  While it may be true that some professions adhere to strict guidelines or thresholds when it comes to the educational backgrounds of their potential employees, in many cases there are ways to craft a strong resume without the degree and still remain competitive with other job seekers.  Here are five things individuals without a degree can do to address the problem:

  1. Highlight Work-Related Accomplishments:  In most cases, employers are more concerned about your most recent, relevant work history over your education, particularly if you have been gainfully employed for more than five years in your field of interest.  Be sure to emphasize and list your accomplishments at each position rather than just your duties.  By illustrating that you have accomplishments that directly relate to the position of interest, you’ll alleviate the concerns of the hiring manager when they see you don’t have the preferred education background.
  2. Include Unfinished Education:  A common myth says you should not include education that is unfinished or currently in progress.  We recommend including this section much like you would if you had the degree, but instead of providing a year of your degree, include the phrase “Expected Degree Date: 2016”.  If you went to school in the past but never returned to complete the degree, you would instead write “Earned 30 credits towards XYZ Degree”.  Including partial education sections will fill a gap and may be enough to keep you in consideration for the job.
  3. Add Professional Courses or Development:  Have you obtained career related certifications, memberships, or affiliations to develop your career further?  Have you done online training or attended conferences and seminars to learn about the latest developments in your field?  These are all things you can include in a “Professional Development” section on your resume.  While this won’t completely replace your lack of degree, it will certainly illustrate your motivation and desire to be knowledgeable of trends in your career.
  4. Send the Application:  The introduction to this post references that some professions can be strict when it comes to being considered for roles without the necessary education.  With that being said, we still recommend submitting applications for jobs where you don’t have the desired level of education.  The worst thing that can happen is getting rejected for the position, but at least you give yourself an opportunity.  You never know, employers may be impressed by your relevant work history and decide to set up an interview!
  5. If All Else Fails, Complete the Degree:  If the obstacles in your job search seem too tough to overcome without a degree, it may be time to return to school.  Many programs allow you to take online courses or night classes to reach your goal and still hold temporary employment.  In many cases your current employer may help foot the bill for the classes too.

Lacking a degree is certainly an obstacle, but as we’ve illustrated, it will not completely deter you from landing the job you desire.  Follow the steps above, stay proactive in your search, and you’ll set yourself up for success.  We wish you the best in your future career!

19 comments

  1. There should be a Federal law against discrimination based upon education – just like discrimination based upon race, religion or age.
    I call it Educational Snob-ism. Nothing beats experience!
    Qualification should be degree or eqivilant experience. Besides – what you learn today is obsolete tomorrow. What good is a 1980 degree in computer science or basket weaving good for in 2015 technology?? You learn about life as you live.

  2. People ride on the coat tail of experience people. We have not the heart nor the will to pull the rug from the educational snobs. I believe it is time for us to pull together to make American business savvy through arm to arm holding our ground in bring our young men and women into the business ownership. Some one has to get the work done.

  3. Some of the worlds richest people don’t have a “College Degree.”
    There are people out there now running businesses which are very successful, who have no degrees. Innovation beats
    Memorizing something that was taught to you anyday.

  4. I empathize with people without degrees, who have tons of experiences. However, in my field, I cannot simply learn a few ways of doing something, and go with it. I perform a great deal of analysis, and often have to provide ‘on-demand’ or ‘one-off’ types of analyses. It is my education, that has given me a broad and deep base for adapting analyses to fit the needs of the data as well as the reporting, that allows me to have the adaptability and experience to excel in my chosen field. Someone cannot be “taught” on the fly how to tailor the analyses that I do.

  5. Depends on your drive/knowlege peroid. In reality no one cares what you did. They want to know what you will do and how believable it is (not contradicting myself, just dont feel like optimizing the phrase ).

  6. I understand some careers/jobs may require a person to be degreed – doctors, engineering, teaching, lawyers to name a few… and some employers believe a college educated person may bring something extra to the table. College is still overrated and the entire educational network is playing upon it by raising tuition rates to astronomical levels. As long as there is demand for college graduates the tuition rates will continue to increase by probably 5% to 7% /year. I know several people that have degrees and are making a good living working jobs in which they are not required.

  7. I have noticed on many jobs sites, it will say you can apply no matter what your race, religion, creed etc then if you do not place a specific ‘B.A’ or “B.S.” or Master of something your application simply does not go through the parameters set forth in the program that disperses the resumes.
    It is to me unthinkable that an application can ask- do you have ‘formal education’ or ‘none’.
    Those were the options at some pretty high profile companies i checked on before answering this post. In other words it didn’t matter how many certifications, AA’s AS or anything else only the four year degree in ‘blah blah’ was considered FORMAL EDUCATION and nothing else counted.
    It is preposterous to believe that unless you were in a sorority or fraternity that you can’t learn and train others on a complicated program. I had a friend who mentioned after he goes back to school and gets his masters degree he’ll start making what I made an hour when I first when into radio.
    Crazy. the problem is as much the companies that set the parameters in the application programs.
    Large corporations are intrusting their ‘key words’ to someone who may have NO interest in the betterment of their company.

  8. I have found exactly the opposite over the past thirty years. As recently as last month, I lost an accepted job offer once they found out I had an MBA. I have never had a job that requires a high school diploma, let alone the four degrees I wasted time to get. So, when I note “educational discrimination”, I mean the exact opposite of the article. I finally accepted a severe underemployment yesterday, and I am hoping they don’t find out my education.

  9. John,
    Why dont you move to Afghanistan and join the Taliban.
    There should be a Federal law against discrimination based upon education – just like discrimination based upon race, religion or age. I call it Educational Snob-ism. Nothing beats experience! Qualification should be degree or eqivilant experience. Besides – what you learn today is obsolete tomorrow. What good is a 1980 degree in computer science or basket weaving good for in 2015 technology?? You learn about life as you live. – See more at: http://www.theconfidentcareer.com/2014/12/no-degree-use-these-5-tips-to-apply-with-confidence.html?cid=6a00e552bc80e9883301b8d0be01b5970c#comment-6a00e552bc80e9883301b8d0be01b5970c

  10. I believe there are stark differences between being ‘educated’ and having a degree. There are a multitude of ways that an individual can become educated, without obtaining a formal degree. That method of education includes experience on the job as well as other methods. Short courses, certificate courses, personal reading and study, etc. Perhaps one day this alternative approach to becoming educated will be recognized. I’ve worked with many degreed individuals that completed their education after 4 years. I continue my education every day and am in my 40th year in this industry.

  11. Had I finished my Engineering degree when I first went to college, I would now be skilled in using a slide rule, creating drawings with pen and ink and a T-square, and programming a computer with punch cards. Instead, I worked my way up through technician jobs to a 25 year career as a manufacturing engineer. Now I can’t get hired because I never finished my degree. I should have spent more time working on my slide rule class.

  12. Thank you so much for this article, it gives me some positive hope that I am heading in the right direction. I got into manufacturing after working 2 years in a fast food restaurant. Now, due to unwelcoming circumstances I have taken the plunge to get a degree in Industrial Electronics Technology. I see no need in staying on the bottom of the totem pole when you can be on top.For individuals who can weave a great resume, I commend you.They’re are those like myself, who have the experience but may need some assistance in applying it towards persuading the employer.

  13. I agree with John and also age discrimination. I’ve been in my industry for 35+ years and just lost my job. I’ve had the pleasure of being mentored by the best in my business throughout my career in many different areas of business and can’t think of a better way of learning. You just don’t hear of that happening very much anymore. People are just too busy or afraid of losing their job to someone else.

  14. Age AND education discrimination seems to start, and end, at the HR level, and this is a shame. In my experience, many of these people don’t even understand what a company or organization actually does, especially for creative staff positions. Think I will start marketing myself as a consultant so that I can bypass them and deal with the folks I really want to work with.

  15. I am so glad to see that I am not alone in this area. I have applied to more than 80 jobs in the New Hampshire area to no avail. I have 1.5 years of college in Business Administration, before becoming an Executive wife and mother. My husband’s career path was the driving factor in our lives by in the 80’s. Now, I find that I’m being “punished” if you will, for taking on that role back in the 80’s. I have since gained more than 20 years in Business Management/ Payroll/ Administration background and I’m finding on each app I apply for there isn’t even a prompt for “some college”, there use to be. But, I agree w/ the discrimination theory, it’s very real. I will put my experience up against anyone that is just coming out of college, even my own children. Someone needs to give the experienced thru work a break…that is our education.

  16. Well, all I can say is… My Mother was born in 1927 into a very poor family who lost her father and two siblings. As a result of her unfortunate upbringing and quite possibly a learning disability she was illiterate. Considering she worked in a factory for 27 years at a company that allowed for a very decent pension for this era. She saw to it that her children attended parochial schools. First two daughters became teachers after graduating Concordia Teachers College and while me, the third daughter became a nurse; our Mom who could only sign her name, pulled a better financial retirement than we could ever dream of. After having 3 girls she got her Golden Boy for more reasons than one! He was her special one and becoming a muti-millionaire at a very young age only magnified his greatness. Money is a funny thing.

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