Looking for a job these days can be tough...and even more difficult if you do not have a college degree. Job postings abound with the tag "Bachelor's Degree required" and many non-degreed job seekers are frustrated and wondering: WHY do so many employers require a degree?
Well, here's my stab at it: employers who specifically indicate that a degree is required are really looking for applicants with credibility. In other words, does the applicant know the job function and needed skills for that career field? Theoretically, a degree will ensure that the person does know, for example, mechanical engineering, brain surgery, or mental health counseling. For the employer this saves them money and time - they do not want to invest in heavy training - and also impinges on risk managment issues. Would YOU want a brain surgeon working on you who did not have a medical degree?
Having said that, there are in fact many BIG NAME people who did not earn college degrees, like Bill Gates. So, what did they do to gain credibilty with their target audience? Here's where practical, hands-on demonstrations of ability and skills comes in - whether you gained those skills from education and training or real-life experience.
How can the employer know you gained those skills? If you have experience, you can point to the positive results you obtained using those skills - preferably results that the employer would value for that job function. That's why quantifiable accomplishments are so important in your job search documents, not simply duties and responsibilities. What challenges did you overcome? What new initiatives or processes did you create that resulted in increased efficiency, more revenues, skyrocketing new-member or new-customer sign-ups, and so on? How well did you perform those job duties? Did you make a difference, or were you a seat-warmer?
Another employer concern is your industry knowledge. Do you seem like you "fit in" with the industry? Can you "talk the talk and walk the walk"? Do you know the buzzwords, current industry issues and problems, key players, and up-coming trends? To convey this to a prospective employer, you not only have to know the answers to these kinds of questions, you have to know how to communicate the answers in a persuasive and credible fashion. Without convincing communication skills, your noteworthy accomplishments could go unnoticed. Worse yet, you could be evaluated and found lacking...a "pretender" to credibility.
What about references and referrals from well-respected people in the field? These can go a long way in underpinning your credibility and helping you get a foot in the door. Employee referrals have become a significant pathway to being noticed, with a positive "halo-effect", by a potential employer. Of course, once your foot is in the door, it is still up to you to convey your credibility and bottom-line value.
Credibility is all about PROOF substantiating a CLAIM. Seems to me there's many ways to do that. Interestingly, a lot of job seekers claim to have degrees and do not. The phenomenon of lying on resumes has become prevalent (see my blog post of January 22, 2006 entitled Personal Branding Revelations on Ethics). Lying about having a degree (or the kind of degree) is the most frequent instance of lying.
Creating the illusion of having a degree when you do not, for "instant credibility" with the employer, is risky business. Unfortunately, as we have seen in high-profile news stories, this "untruth" can come back to bite the applicant-turned-employee and often with disastrous consequences.
If faced with the degree requirement, look for creative and ethical ways to catch the eye of the employer. Study job search methods that really work (you may want to consider some professional job-search coaching for your career target). You could enroll in a degree program and begin taking classes while you're conducting your job search - this would show your commitment to the career field and your willingness to get up-to-date training. Start implementing credibility-boosting techniques into your job-search strategy and watch as employers' doors begin to open!