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The UnCollege Blog

Will Employers Hire Dropouts?

The following post is written by Rainesford Stauffer, a former dropout turned success story, and contributor to UnCollege's Ask A Dropout Series. Ask your future dropout questions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #DropoutQs.

I confess: When I left school, this was the question that worried me most. Logically, I knew that (for most industries, anyway) a college degree is no longer necessarily the golden ticket to successful employment it once was: About two-thirds of graduates struggle to launch their careers. Despite that, I was scared not having a degree would been as lacking something—and every negative stereotype regarding degree-less young people swarmed my head. Being unable to stick with something. Being lazy. Being behind.

Thankfully, we’re in a day and age where those assumptions can be put to rest swiftly with fact: When you can direct your own path, it is now seen as a great opportunity to develop the soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, and teamwork, employers want but believe recent grads lack. Studies show that students who take time away from school experience greater job satisfaction and outperform their peers academically. An article in U.S. News and World Report stated that in 2014, there will 50.6 million jobs this decade—and only 27.1% will require a college degree. Plus, 44% of college graduates are working in jobs that don’t require a degree—and more than 20% of grads are underemployed, says the Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, “the traditional credential is rapidly losing relevance,” meaning that as workforces and the skills required to succeed in them shift, credentials and signals of aptitude are changing, too. Among the biggest reasons to hire someone without a degree? Being a self-starter is something 66% of employers put at the top of their lists—and something college grads often lack, colleges aren’t necessarily teaching real-world skills, there’s been a hefty increase in alternative education options, and employers are seeking the best candidates for the job, regardless of how they get there.

So, we know a degree doesn’t always give you your dream job. But the worry remains: If you drop out, can you get hired?

The short answer: Yes. And you can get a good job, too.

The question usually isn’t whether you can get a job, it is how you go about it.

When I got my first full-time job, I didn’t have a degree and wasn’t in college. I’d also spent the previous few years proving I could hack it in my chosen field, so even though I didn’t have a degree, I had a body of work. There’s a couple ways to do this:

  1. Programs like Degreed allow you to track and measure all your learning in order to showcase lifelong education and give you tangible ways to show what you have learned in a variety of areas.
  2. Depending on your area of expertise (whether it be coding, journalism, or somewhere in between), there are a variety of short certificate programs you can use to demonstrate advanced skills in one area.
  3. You can build your own body of work. This is what I did: I freelanced and worked internships until I could outline, in detail, my skills, what I had accomplished in previous positions, and why I was a competitive candidate.

College used to be proof that you were qualified for whatever industry you studied. Now, there’s multiple ways to continue your education, show your skills, and make yourself a competitive job candidate. Staying aware of trends in your industry, being able to show you can grow along with a career, and that you can learn by doing are necessary to success and achieving the most you can out of your learning.

While a brand-name degree may have once been the doorway to opportunity, in many ways, the job market is more competitive now: Employers want to know what you’ve done and what you can do, not just what you’ve studied. If you’ve gone to college, you have to make the most of the classes you’ve taken and major you’ve chosen to turn them into a career, and by extension, a life. A degree doesn’t do it for you. It is just something to have. You do the work, learn the field, and have the talent. If you dropped out, you have to do a similar thing: You have to show how what you’ve done and what you’ve learned make you qualified. By demonstrating your skills and path in an organized, experienced manner, you can present yourself as a leader, independent thinker, and hard worker to your employer, all of which matter more than a piece of paper. (Unless you want to be a doctor--in that case, please go to med school!)

Now that you've explored the question of "Will employers hire dropouts?" find out what steps to take to get a job without a degree. 
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