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Can You Get a Job Without a Degree?

The other day a reader asked me if it is possible to get a job in marketing without a degree.  I gave a quick response, but I wanted to write something more general around getting a job without a degree.  So here we are.

Having a Degree is the Easier Path

So I am going to start with a very clear statement.  It is always easier to get a job if you have a degree.  Most human resource managers and systems filter out those who do not meet the requirements of a job.    So not having your degree means you have one more thing working against you.  After all, I mentioned before the only reason I got my MBA was to get around this type of filter.  So obviously the degree has value.

Not Having A Degree Does Not Close All Doors

But, just because the degree removes the hurdle doesn’t mean getting the job is impossible without it.   After all, I personally have held jobs in marketing, sales, logistics, and IT.  Every one of these jobs has on paper required a degree in one of these areas.  Yet my education is in Computer Science, Economics, and Finance. Yet somehow I got these positions.  So how did I do it?

Connections and Reputations

Well, it comes down to connections and reputation.  Your connections and reputation is what gets you jobs later in your career.  In many cases the job finds you rather than you find it.     So we can easily establish that the further away from college you are, the more your connections matter and the less your degree does.

But what about if you are earlier in the process and do not have a degree.  In the case of our commenter I don’t know their age but we know they did not finish their degree.    I might guess the writer is a few years out of college but not so far as most people forget the degree entirely.

Well, in this case, it is harder since you don’t have the connections necessarily.  But it’s still not impossible.   The key is to leverage the connections you do have.  Also, you need to be willing to take a job in an adjacent space.

Each Job Builds Towards Your Desired Position

I’ve kind of hinted at this in much of my writing.  Each position you take should be done in a way as to craft yourself towards the position you want.  Well, the same thing goes for our young marketing friend.  It should be easier to crack into a job in say sales.  An adjacent space to marketing.  

Then our marketer to be can prove himself in the entry position.  All along they should work to establish relationships in marketing both in their industry and in the company where they work.   Eventually, if the job taken is successful they should be able to shift across to marketing.

Another Option is Freelancing, Self Employment, or Small Company

Another way to do it would be to start doing marketing freelance work on the side.  A smaller company might also be willing to give you a position with marketing responsibility amongst others. Basically anything that gives you the connections and a portfolio of work in a related space should bridge the gap from not having the degree to the job.

Executives Without a Degree

I’ve personally known more than a few folks that have followed this path.  I’ve met former school teachers and those without degrees that were in executive positions one level below CEO.    It’s not a rocket ship or easy path to the top.  But you can work your way into the corporate world without a degree.

Get Your Employer to Pay for the Degree

A note, I have also observed in the corporate world that many employers will pay for a degree if it relates to your job.  So if you find your education is restricting your flow forward after a reasonable amount of movement, you can potentially explore getting the company to pay for your next step.  

A degree is ultimately just a springboard.  The path forward without a degree is harder, but it is not impossible.

4 Comments

  1. freddy smidlap
    freddy smidlap February 10, 2020

    i have taken 3 temp jobs through services in my life that have led to full time employment. i’m in a technical role in science/manufacturing and the 1st two were just technician or entry level as i did not yet have my degree. the second one of these i stayed 5 years once hired full time and they paid for me to finish my degree. the third one i was a temp for 9 months and have been here 15 years now. sure, you get paid less for usually up to a year but you can get a sense of if you want to stay and the employer can get a sense if they want to keep you….and get paid at the same time.

    not all these positions are going to be advertised and i agree to just go and do something “near” where you want to be. if you’re any good then there will always be a place for you.

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance February 15, 2020

      Very good point about non posted positions. I can’t count how many times a hiring manager has had candidates in mind to interview before the job posting even goes up.

  2. Katie Camel
    Katie Camel February 14, 2020

    The answer is definitely yes. That’s been my experience in the workforce. I have two degrees, but I’ve worked alongside plenty of people without degrees. Initiative and who you know definitely help.

  3. Steveark
    Steveark February 16, 2020

    At my company two of the vice presidents, probably making $200k only had high school degrees. It is harder now but not impossible.

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