Well, it depends on the job.
A college degree provides advanced knowledge and specialized education in particular topics with the intent of presenting the degree-holder as a specialist. Obviously, in some fields, a college degree or advanced graduate degree is completely necessary; however, in many cases, the college degree may not be necessary for this endeavor.
If you are looking for ways to stand out in a pool of qualified applicants without a college degree, there are a handful of approaches that may help you establish yourself as a top candidate.
Network Like It’s Your Job
When you don’t have a college degree, your resume is less likely to get through the Applicant Tracking software that most employers use to sort through applicants and identify the most qualified candidates. The only way around employer software is by developing relationships with decision makers.
Haven’t you heard the saying, “Treat your job search like it is your job?” When you don’t have a college degree, networking should be your first priority and should be treated like your job.
Contact your local chamber of commerce to see if there are any networking events that are open to the public. Attending job fairs both those hosted by local colleges and those hosted by non-educational organizations is a great way to meet recruiters and HR professionals. You can also use apps like Meetup to find networking groups for professionals.
Find A Mentor
Finding a mentor in your industry is also a great way to get your foot in the door. Using LinkedIn to find and connect with a potential mentor is highly recommended. LinkedIn is a trusted networking site that serves as a great search engine as well.
Search LinkedIn for your ideal company to work for. LinkedIn will also direct you to the profiles of current employees at those companies. Looking either to the Headlines provided or reading more thoroughly through the profiles will help you identify who a potential mentor could be.
Send a Personalized Invite to connect with him or her. Use this to introduce yourself and encourage a response rather than sending a generic Connection Request. Once a dialogue has started, you can request to shadow your new mentor or offer yourself as a part-time intern.
Take Online Courses
Certain jobs and industries may require advanced knowledge in certain topics. With the vast number of online courses, prioritizing some continued education is essential to presenting yourself as a top candidate.
Many local community colleges offer continuing education courses and individual courses to help enhance skills. Certificate programs are also easier to complete online and hold some weight as equivalent qualifications in some fields. Taking specialized courses by reputable sources can boost your resume (or LinkedIn profile) when you don’t have a college degree.
Volunteer In A Similar Role
Gaining some experience (even unpaid experience) can greatly impact an employer’s perception of your qualifications and skills. Many non-profit organizations seek volunteers with particular skill sets. Volunteer experience can be considered equivalent experience when you don’t have a college degree.
LinkedIn doesn’t just list job posting, but it can also connect you with skills-based volunteer opportunities. You should also reach out to organizations that you are passionate. Sharing your intentions and plans with friends and family may also open up doors for you.
Freelance For Small Businesses
Ready to take a plunge? Depending on the field, you may be able to build up your skills and experience as a freelancer or contractor for small businesses.
Creating a personal brand and packaging your skills as a service can help you gain valuable experience that employers will take seriously. It can be inexpensive (but somewhat time-consuming) to develop a website, launch a few marketing campaigns, and secure your first client or two.
Pay Your Dues and Advance
A final (but often frustrating) tactic to consider is applying for an entry-level role not requiring a college degree and working your way up to a more desirable position. Sometimes starting out as an assistant or administrative clerk, learning on the job, and paying your dues can pay off.
When you don’t have a college degree, employers will often look for equivalent experience or trust gained from years of experience working with the same employer. Starting at the bottom and working your way up is hard work but often a rewarding approach to landing your ideal job.