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No Degree?

7 ways to sell your experience
Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer

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Becky Blanton, 53, has worked for five major media companies, been an assistant advertising director for a Fortune 500 company and owned her own newspaper. She's also currently writing a book called "Staying Hungry: The Official Guide for Never Settling for What Life Puts on Your Plate," about grit, determination and perseverance.

With such an impressive career backdrop, you might be thinking Blanton's educational background is equally impressive.

Though she has some college education under her belt, Blanton doesn't have her college degree. She does everything she can to gain experience by attending conferences, workshops, seminars and job training classes and shadowing friends at work.

Blanton is not alone in lacking a college degree. In 2007, 46.6 percent of the labor force had less than a high school diploma and 69.9 percent had no college degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While getting an education is certainly important, many people argue that it's not the degree that's important; it's what you learn and how you apply it.

"There are many myths about what a degree can do for you," says John Murphy, author of "Success Without a College Degree." "Too many college grads depend on the promise that their degree is a 'golden ticket.' Employers know that vague degrees, such as English literature, humanities, sociology and liberal arts have little to do with the practical world. The things that get jobs have more to do with attitude, first impressions and experience than a diploma."

Blanton agrees that a diploma is not the most important thing to an employer. She says that not having her degree has never been a disadvantage.

"I have only been turned down from one job because of a lack of a degree and that was teaching journalism at a college," Blanton says. "Experience, not education levels, is what employers are after. They want to know you can do the job. I had to work a little harder, learn a little more and go the extra mile to show employers I could do the job. I learned the people skills, attitude and job skills to succeed and didn't rest on my 'I have a degree' laurels that so many people do."  

If you don't have a degree and you're looking for ways to land a job in spite of it, here are some tips on how you can sell your experience, regardless of your education.

1.   Be a problem solver
"Millions [of people] graduate with vague degrees that only attest to one's ability to read books and take tests, but not necessarily solve problems," Murphy says. "Industry experience conveys that you can solve problems for an employer right away or with little learning curve. Examine your experience and spell out how you helped solve problems, any problems. Competitors with degrees won't be able to compare."

2.   Tell your 'Rocky' story
"Not having an impressive academic pedigree -- or any degree at all -- can be a plus if you've found a way to succeed to this point without one," says Sean O'Neil, principal of One to One Leadership, a sales and management training and recruitment company. "The more you can demonstrate a history of success relative to more pedigreed peers the better. You can paint yourself as a self-made professional, as compared with the silver-spoon Ivy Leaguer who had all the odds in their favor."

3.   Be open to education
"Many companies have favorable back-to-school plans for their employees. If you're speaking with a prospective employer that places a large emphasis on academics, you might want to indicate a desire to take advantage of their plan," O'Neil says. "Demonstrating a desire to make up any gaps in your résumé while on the job might just tip the scales in your favor."

4.   Don't make it a big deal
"Don't make it such a big deal and it just might not be," says Bill Gaffney of the Amaxa Group, a recruiting and coaching company. "If it is an impediment to you, then you are going to reflect that when you talk with the company. There are really very few companies where the degree will stop [someone] from hiring a person if they are the best out there."

5.   Focus on achievements over education
"If you don't have a degree, it's very important for you to shine in every other aspect of your résumé," says Cathy Severson, career counselor and owner of Retirement Life Matters. "Don't settle for a list of tasks, but really demonstrate how you can do the job better than anyone else can. The best way is to do this is by providing concrete evidence of how you have excelled at similar tasks in the past through accomplishments."

6.   Prepare your success stories
"For the interview, prepare several stories of success that showcase how you have accomplished tasks similar to others who possess a degree," says Barbara Safani of Career Solvers. If you are a sales professional, for example, focus on how you exceeded your sales targets and have done as well as or better than your colleagues. If you are an accountant, prove how you have uncovered errors and recouped money for the company -- despite the fact that you didn't formally study accounting. If you are a high school graduate competing against a recent college graduate, talk about the experience you have garnered in part-time or summer jobs or full-time jobs you had while others your age were at college, she says.

7.   Create a combination résumé
"The most important task is to market your key skills and accomplishments to the employer by creating a résumé that focuses on your contributions to your previous employers and your experience that is most relevant to the position for which you are applying," says Winifred Winston, certified professional résumé writer. "By creating a combination résumé that lists your relevant skills and experience first, you are sure to capture the hiring manager's attention. You initially want the employer to be able to fold your document in half and just by reading the top portion they know you are someone they should contact to schedule an interview. Does that top portion list education? Not necessarily."

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues.



Last Updated: 17/04/2009 - 9:45 AM


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