Developing Your Career

Developing Your Career

Overcoming the “Degree Required” Hurdle

By Greg Simpson on March 28, 2014

During the recession, a highly competitive job market put employers in a strong position—each open job prompted a glut of resumes. With so much talent competing for open roles, organizations have been able to elevate their selection criteria, often requiring college diplomas for jobs that previously were filled by high school graduates.

A new CareerBuilder survey that found 27 percent of employers have “raised their educational requirements in the past five years,” with 56 percent reporting higher quality work from college grads and 41percent citing better communication. While most managers agree that long-term professional experience with tangible results can often trump a college diploma, today’s hiring process often makes it difficult for candidates without degrees to make it past the screening stage.

Consequently, these job seekers have to address the changing standards by focusing attention on their track record—and away from their lack of a degree. Here are a few strategies that can help:

  • Develop a Communication Strategy. Organizations want problem solvers, so make certain your resume demonstrates the solutions you’ve provided through your experience, skills and accomplishments. If you’ve attended college but didn’t earn a degree, mention your intended major and degree program, e.g. “Coursework toward a bachelor’s degree in accounting.” You’re not claiming you have a degree, but the words may be enough to clear the automated applicant tracking system. Also include any relevant training, certifications, and college courses you’ve completed.
  • Use Your Network to Gain Access to Decision Makers. While networking is important for all job seekers, it’s even more important if you don’t have a degree. Frequently, hiring managers are more forgiving about the lack of a degree than recruiters; however, they also want to hire a “known” candidate with verifiable evidence of their expertise. Uncover the targeted hiring manager, solicit referrals from networking partners familiar with your work, and then reach out to the manager directly.
  • Prepare for “THE QUESTION.” During networking conversations and interviews, the inevitable question will arise: Do you have a degree? If not, why? Respond honestly without sounding defensive. Focus on what you have, rather than what you don’t have. Because managers often view a college degree as sign of commitment and tenacity, provide specific examples of accomplishments, courses and professional development that demonstrate your determination and commitment to continuous learning.

Not having a four-year or advanced degree doesn’t have to result in a lower-level job. Overcome the hurdle by developing a savvy communications strategy, focusing on your experience and accomplishments and networking to gain the inside track.

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