You may have leaped tall buildings in your field, moving faster than a speeding bullet up the career ladder. But now, you come to an impasse. It is once again time to move up and move on, but more and more you see that pesky requirement for a “four year degree” popping up. Can you move on to a new (and better) job without putting your life on hold to go back to school? Probably, but you will need to carefully target your job search to get around the requirement.
First, take a close look at your rÃ?Â©sumÃ?Â©. Since many companies ask for a four year degree “or equivalent”, your rÃ?Â©sumÃ?Â© needs to highlight that equivalent. Although you did not get a piece of paper, you have the intelligence, knowledge base, critical thinking and lifelong learning skills of someone who does. Chances are, demonstrating this will not involve only one thing you have done, but rather a number of achievements taken together. A period of self-employment might be one of those items. Other possibilities are: Filling in for a supervisor; publishing credits, patents or other creative work related to your field; responsibility for a project or team; knowledge of foreign languages; working abroad; solving a problem for an employer; saving money or coming in below budget; receiving recognition from either your employer, a professional organization or other significant third party; membership in professional organizations; interests and hobbies of an intellectual nature (e.g. avid reader/student of Civil War history); and participation in non-profit organizations as a board member or other responsible position.
Be sure any of these kinds of experiences show clearly on your rÃ?Â©sumÃ?Â©. List achievements which took place outside your employment in their own section (e.g. Awards and Recognition; Interests; Volunteer Activities). For job-related achievements, give a brief description of a position, then start a new sentence with “Achievements included . . ” and list them. Don’t be concerned that your business failed, or that you published an article in a journal that’s not on the typical magazine rack. These are still valuable experiences that show a level of skill a potential employer might not know about otherwise.
Second, revamp the section on your rÃ?Â©sumÃ?Â© titled “Education”. If you have only a high school diploma, leave this section out altogether. (Most employers will assume you have at least a high school diploma.) If you attended a technical school, received a certificate or Associate’s degree, or attended a four-year college but did not graduate, then list your educational history, beginning with your high school diploma.
Third, target those companies that are less stringent regarding the four-year requirement. Many companies will list “four year degree or equivalent” in their advertisements. Don’t bother with companies who insist on a four-year degree as an ironclad rule. These companies aren’t likely to budge, as they either require you to have a four-year degree as a result of the way they are regulated or their managers are not trusted to make judgments in hiring decisions. Smaller companies are going to be a bit more flexible than larger ones, as they are less likely to be considered discriminatory if they do not adhere to rigid policies which require a four-year degree. Of course, the best way to find a job is through networking, and if a friend or colleague can refer you, the issue of not having a four-year degree is going to be further minimized.
Fourth, be ready to answer interview questions about your education in a non-defensive, but positive, manner. For instance, if an interviewer says, “I notice you do not have anything on here listing your education,” respond with something like, “No, I do not. I have a high school diploma. I am a strong believer in self-directed, lifelong learning. As you can see from x, y and z, I put those beliefs into practice every day.” In other words, you want to emphasize that you see education as a continual process that you participate in daily, rather than a finite four-year period in your late teens. This will certainly put you ahead of candidates who attended college twenty years ago and have done nothing with their brains since then.
Lastly, consider taking on new activities to bolster what you put on your rÃ?Â©sumÃ?Â©. If you have a number of college courses under your belt, visit an admissions counselor. You may be able to test out of some courses, attend night school for a brief period and get your degree. If you never attended college, see if there are any certificate programs offered in your field. (Certificate programs are fairly short, making them easier to face academically and financially.) Join a professional organization and attend courses or seminars they offer. (A professional organization is also a great way to find a job.) Start reading again; turn off your television for at least one night every week. Go to your local library and check out books on your favorite subject. The great thing about adding this type of activity is that you are never worse off because of it.