Sometimes, you will see a job that seems like an ideal fit for you—with one major exception. What do you do when the job listing says, “College degree recommended” or “College degree required” and you don’t have that degree?
The good news is that there are ways to get a good job without a college degree, even if the job listing says it is a requirement. In fact, some hiring managers simply say this because it’s easier to ask for a college degree than to dig down into which skills are most valuable for the job. If you can demonstrate that you have the skills and experience needed for the job, some employers will overlook your lack of a degree.
There are some things you can do throughout the job search process to get a good job that pays well without a college degree.
Ask: Can I Do the Job?
Before applying for the job, look carefully at the job listing. Read the job description, looking in particular at any “required” skills or experiences. Then ask yourself the question, “Can I do the job?” If you have most of the skills and abilities needed for the job, but are only lacking the required degree, go for it.
Keep in mind that if the degree is listed as “recommended” or “desired” instead of “required,” the hiring manager will be more likely to look at an applicant without the degree.
However, if you lack the degree and you don’t have many of the required skills and work experience, you might not want to apply. There is no sense in wasting your time and energy applying for a job that is not right for you.
Consider Taking Courses
Even if you are unable to get a four-year bachelor’s degree (or a two-year associate’s degree), you can always take small steps in your education that would impress a hiring manager:
- Consider taking courses in your industry at a local college. You could then include these courses in the “Education” section of your resume.
- You can also complete certificate programs related to the job and include those on your resume. Many certificate programs have flexible schedules, and some are even online.
All of these things would show a hiring manager that, while you don’t have a college degree, you are working toward developing a strong academic background.
Similarly, include any education that you do have. If you have some college experience, you can say “Bachelor’s studies” on your resume or list the related courses (or certificate programs) that you have taken.
Whatever you do, don’t lie. Don’t say you have a bachelor’s degree if you only completed part of your studies. Employers will check your background during the hiring process, and if you lie, they can rescind an offer or even fire you.
Connect Your Skills to the Job Listing
When you don’t have the educational requirements, be sure to show how you are a good fit for the job in every other way. The best way to do this is to connect your skills and experiences to the job listing.
Include any keywords from the job listing, particularly skill words. For example, if the job listing says applicants need to have “Experience in data analytics,” you might mention your years of work in data analytics in your resume summary or in your summaries of previous jobs.
Network as Much as Possible
Networking is a good way to get an interview when you are applying for a job and lack the required degree. When you apply, reach out to anyone you know at the company. Let them know you are applying for the job, and see if they are willing to write you a recommendation, or tell the hiring manager about you. In your cover letter, mention that you spoke to this person about the job.
You can also do this if you have not found a specific job opening. Reach out to any contacts and ask if you can talk to them about the industry or about your current job search. This might lead to information about a job opening.
In your cover letter, avoid focusing on your lack of a degree. Sentences like, “I know I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but…” only highlight your lack of a degree. Instead, focus on the skills that you do have, and explain how your job experiences make you a strong fit for the job.
Tips for the Job Interview
If you get the job interview, great! Here are a few tips to help you impress the hiring manager, even if you don’t have the required bachelor’s degree.
Project confidence. Like your cover letter, avoid defensive statements like, “I know I don’t have a bachelor’s degree, but…” Only address your lack of a degree if they ask.
If you focus too much on the qualifications you don’t have, the employer won’t see what qualifications you do have.
Focus on your skills and experience. When answering questions, try to mention any keywords from the job listing. Make sure to highlight your skills and experiences that make you a good fit for the job.
Show how you will add value. Because you don’t have the required degree, you have to go above and beyond to show that you are the right person for the job. One way to do this is to focus on how you will add value to the company. Perhaps you have helped reduce costs or increased efficiency at other companies. Highlight these experiences and explain that you would like to add value to this company too.
Prepare an answer to the likely question. While you do not want to emphasize your lack of a bachelor’s degree, the hiring manager might ask you about it. You might get a question like, “I see you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. Do you think this will hinder you on the job?” Be sure to have an answer prepared. When you answer, again try to emphasize your qualifications (rather than focusing on the drawbacks to not having the degree).