How to Navigate Around the
Microsoft Corp. has Bill Gates,
Oracle Corp. has Larry Ellison, Dell Computer Corp. has Michael Dell
and Apple has Steve Jobs. Aside from the fact that all of these
individuals are very successful CEOs, what else distinguishes them?
Unless a recruiter (or these days, a computerized resume scanner)
recognizes their names, they very well may be rejected for
management positions because they lack college degrees.
In today's marketplace, companies
are fixated on degrees, often allowing the lack of a degree to
override other important factors and eliminate candidates before
they interview. It's obvious why such fields as law, medicine,
finance and engineering require degrees. However, when considering
more "general" positions, such as operations or executive
management, the requirement of a degree often is irrelevant.
The depersonalization of the
hiring process has caused many companies to lose candidates who are
potentially great assets to their organizations. A lack of a degree
hardly means a lack of ability, and when individuals without degrees
have proven themselves, it's unfortunate they can't claim a
Bachelor's of Experience degree without being accused of deception.
Until a few years ago, a candidate without a degree at least had a
slim chance to get past the degree hurdle by impressing interviewers
with their accomplishments. But as more companies use software to
screen resumes, the computer takes over and rarely considers prior
A: While what you say about degrees
may be true, the issue isn't entirely black and white. Messrs.
Gates, Ellison, Dell and Jobs are consummate entrepreneurs and
didn't feel they needed college degrees when they started their
businesses. Entrepreneurs rely on their vision, perseverance and
belief in themselves, not their credentials. However, most employers
consider a degree to be evidence of candidates' intellect, ability
to learn and commitment to finish what they start.
In the current job market, a college
degree now represents what a high school diploma once did. And, many
careers that once required a bachelor's degree now demand a
master's. Employers expect workers to be continuous learners, and
many professionals now balance jobs and college course work.
Employers assume people without degrees are disinterested in
education. It's not surprising that recruiters question why
non-degreed professionals don't pursue a formal education.
Experience Over Education
So what can experienced job hunters
do to compensate for not having college degrees? If you use
traditional job-search techniques--want ads, search firms and
direct- mail campaigns—expect traditional employers to look for
reasons such as this to weed out candidates.
Recruiters or computerized resume
search engines usually screen out resumes of individuals whose
qualifications don't match the job description. Like their corporate
staffing brethren, executive recruiters make their decisions based
on a profile of the ideal person for the position. Yet they usually
don't expect to find a perfect match. In fact, they rarely locate a
candidate who fulfills all criteria. A college degree is one desired
element, and recruiters often choose experience over education,
especially for more senior executives.
However, even without a degree, your
resume's chances of passing muster may be better than you think in
small firms, where hiring managers typically review resumes early
on. They're more open-minded than large-company screeners and less
concerned with your education credentials, so long as you have the
experience to handle the job.
Networking is another way you can get
around the diploma roadblock and use your experience to your
advantage. Companies fill up to 80-90% of jobs through referrals
because they prefer hiring people their employees like and trust.
Potential employers who meet you by networking will likely consider
your overall capabilities and not focus on whether you have a
college degree. Their goal is to find a person who complements their
team. This is especially true for higher-level executives. At this
level, education isn't among the top three considerations unless the
position requires a specific credential.
Recruiters and managers spend 10 to
30 seconds skimming resumes for keywords and phrases that indicate
whether candidates are qualified for the job. As they seek the best
prospects, education is rarely the first or most important
Rapidly changing technology makes
even recent engineering graduates' skills obsolete in 18 months.
Continuing education is the key to marketability. A candidate with a
record of commitment to learning will be in greater demand than
someone relying on a 20-year-old degree.
Sell Your Experience
A keynote speaker at a recent
conference of career management professionals told an intriguing
story about the importance of educational credentials in today's
labor market. The CEO of a large computer company received an e-mail
complimenting him on his firm's redesigned web site and suggesting
further improvements. The e-mail writer said he had developed a
system for web pages and invited the executive to view his personal
web site as an example. Sure enough, the writer's site was beyond
state-of-the-art. It was stunning. Anxious to take advantage of the
writer's talent and hire him before a competitor did, the CEO
offered to meet him any time that week to discuss a job opportunity.
The writer e-mailed back that the meeting would have to be on Sunday
because it was the only day his mother could drive him. The web page
genius was 12-years-old!
While you don't have to be a computer
prodigy to get hired sans degree, companies are more interested in
candidates' ability to do a job regardless of their education
credentials. If you don't have a degree, stack the deck in your
favor by tailoring your resumes, targeting smaller firms and
committing to learning and networking to increase your chances of
getting hired. Consider the suggestions below.
Be specific. When responding
to a classified ad, match your qualifications and experience to the
position's requirements. A one-size-fits-all resume won't work, even
with a tailored cover letter. Describe accomplishments that relate
directly to the job. What you say about your education (buried at
the bottom of the second page of your resume) shouldn't hold you
back. If it does, it may be a sign that the firm is inflexible, and
you're better off finding a more open-minded employer.
Small is better. Focus more on
small- and medium-sized companies that need your expertise. These
firms probably won't have resume software or human resources
gatekeepers screening out your resume. Direct your resume to the
hiring manager and describe how you can contribute to the firm's
mission and bottom line. Chances are you'll get an interview.
Be a learner. Describe all
relevant continuing education prominently in your resume's education
section. Microsoft certification, Covey training or up-to-date
knowledge of employment or tax law will help you land a new
position. If you've attended college but haven't completed your
degree, mention the college at the end of the section.
Network. Rather than relying
on traditional job-search techniques, concentrate on networking,
which can lead you to hiring authorities. Talk to friends, friends
of friends and relatives about their contacts in industries and
careers that interest you. Attend meetings of professional
organizations, ask college professors about trends and key employers
in your area, tell fellow church members you're in the job market
and ask your golfing or fishing buddies who they know in your area
of interest. Ask each contact for the names of others.
If you treat networking as a research
project, build rapport with people you meet and make your networking
meetings mutually beneficial, you'll uncover hard-to-find
opportunities. You'll also be in a better position to emphasize your
experience and downplay your lack of a college degree.