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The UnCollege Blog

How Will You Get a Job if You Don’t Have a Degree?

How will you get a job if you don’t have a degree?

This is a question that people in the UnCollege community get asked a lot. And it makes sense. The “go to school, get a degree, and get a job” path is well-established. Many people simply aren’t exposed to the fact that there are other options. But hackademics know that it’s far from a safe bet to rely on degrees to get a job. This is especially true in an age where having a degree no longer sets you apart. Instead, we choose to rely on other things to help us convey our value: our skills and our portfolios, for example.

How can I help people (e.g. employers) understand what I’m capable of without a degree?

This is a question that people in the UnCollege community often ask. It’s something that people who leave school have to think through. It’s an integral part of learning how to make money. But I think there’s an important, related question that’s worth asking as well.

That question is this: Why would an employer require a degree in the first place? There are at least two reasons I can come up with. The first is generous: perhaps they are simply getting too many candidates for each of their positions, and they need a quick way of sorting through people, because they can’t feasibly bring everyone in for an interview. The second reason: the employer in question can’t find better ways to assess a candidate’s expertise, work ethic, and ability for growth.

In the first scenario, the situation is hopeful. It’s not that the employer necessarily believes in the value of the degree above all else. They’re simply constrained by the amount of time they have to sort through an abundance of applicants, and a degree is a straightforward (albeit flawed) filtering mechanism. This could be the case at large but forward-thinking companies like Google. (Though notably, Google has started deliberately hiring non-graduates.) In this circumstance, however, not having a degree won’t prevent you from getting a job there. You might just have to find a different way into the organization. For example, instead of emailing your cover letter and resume along with everyone else, you could email someone who knows a hiring manager and ask them to have coffee. After you’ve impressed them with your potential, you can ask for a personal introduction to the hiring manager. This way, you’re already several steps ahead of everyone else. Then once you have your foot in the door, and if you have the capacity to do the job you’re after, your lack of a degree won’t prevent you from achieving your goal.

The second scenario is trickier, and I advise you to be wary. The fact that an employer is relying on a degree to tell them whether or not they want someone on their team is notable, because it’s ineffective. Because what does a degree actually convey? It really just means that you had the ability and luck to get into your college, and that you participated in classes for four years. It says little of your attitude, your intentions, or your growth rate. It says even less about your aptitude in comparison with the thousands of other people with a comparable degree.

So what happens when an employer relies heavily on a degree to guide their hiring processes? Well, what happens is that you end up with a team that might not actually feel like a team. After all, do you connect with people because they too were able to grind through college classes for four years? No. You connect with people who share your motivations. When faced with the prospect of wanting to work for an employer that firmly requires a degree, even if a candidate is otherwise well-qualified, it’s worth asking this: do you really want to work at an organization that doesn’t have better selection mechanisms than their ability to discern the prestige of your university, and the purported relevance of your degree? If they can’t realize that skills aren’t necessarily gained in school, and can be gained outside of the classroom, what does that say about their culture? An adamance to stick to rules like, “All employees of this type must have a degree,” without regard for the nuances of the situation, is a troubling sign. It might foreshadow other incompatible attitudes.

All I’m saying is this: employers are judging you. It is your right and responsibility to make sure that you are also judging them.