How to Land a Job Without a College Degree


Over the past few months I've spoken with several people who've said that, for different reasons, college isn't the right path for their child. 

You don't need to be a parent to know that college tuition has become outrageously expensive—to the point that you begin to wonder about return on investment—depending on where you go, what you study, and, most importantly (at least according to my dad) how hard you apply yourself, of course. estimates the average four-year Bachelor's degree debt from a private college at $58,600 and $31,900 from a public institution. 

Without going down an economic rabbit hole, being saddled with this expense has a ripple effect. For example, graduates burdened by debt can't afford housing and tend to live with their parents longer (cue my screaming), which, in turn, impacts landlords/real estate agents, home inspectors, etc., etc.  

I often joke that the most useful thing I learned in college was how to start a conversation with strangers (mostly around a keg), which I guess has been helpful when it comes to networking (over coffee while wishing it were a keg).

Even with a more reasonable price tag of $12,000 a year—the cost of my tuition back in the early '90s—that seems like quite an expenditure for what I loosely call my "skillset." 

Though I loved majoring in English, it probably comes as a shock to no one how infrequently The Canterbury Tales comes up in conversation

Still, I wouldn't change my experience—or my major. I'm beyond grateful that I had that opportunity. 

That said, I can completely understand those who question if college is worth its current cost—especially in light of rampant layoffs and the constant chatter about robots coming for our jobs. 

Fortunately, there isn't a single path to success. Yet the idea of applying for a job without a college degree on your resume seems daunting. 

So, when I received a press release offering tips on how to land a job without a college degree, I was intrigued and wanted to share it. 

(Side note: A friend asked me if I was getting paid to post these expert pieces. Reader, I'm not, but if I could figure out how to monetize these I'd probably be a lot less stressed about how I'll help my kids pay for college! I receive between 50 and 100 press releases on any given day. The topics range from career insights to innovations in carseats and canine breath mints so I select the ones I find most helpful to this audience, like this one...) 

In his new book EXPERIENTIAL INTELLIGENCE: Harness the Power of Experience for Personal and Business BreakthroughsSoren Kaplan explores how experiential intelligence (or “XQ”), a combination of mindsets, abilities, and know-how gathered from life experience, shape our opportunities in ways we often don’t recognize. 

As a serial entrepreneur, Kaplan sees innovative companies looking “outside the box” at a wider selection of candidates, based not on college degrees, but on experiences, skills, and passions. Candidates are now empowered to seek opportunities they may have avoided in the past, tapping their full set of skills and experiences.

Kaplan explains that employers increasingly value actual job and life experiences over college degrees on resumes, and more companies (from IBM to Tesla) have relaxed such requirements.
Kaplan proposes 5 Strategies for Getting a Job without a College Degree:

1. Explore Experiences – Consider all your work and life experience and identify specific things you’ve done that could present unique assets you can leverage in your resume. 

Consider travel, volunteering, community service, clubs, sports, art, family rituals, or anything else that may impact your thinking, specific skills, or abilities. 

2. Create Connection Points – Select a few of your experiences and identify how they gave you assets that may benefit a specific job or position. 

For example, traveling abroad may have instilled an appreciation for different cultures, which might support a position in marketing since empathy is an important ability for understanding customer needs. 

3. Share a Story – Select one of your experiences and write a 1-2 paragraph story about it, and how it supports your ideal job or specific opportunity. 

Use the story in your cover letter and weave it into interviews to highlight your unconventional experience and how it will help you excel in the job. 

4. Get Certified – Many opportunities exist to gain certifications for specific jobs that sidestep the need for a formal college degree. 

Coursera, for example, has partnered with Google and others to offer career certificates – an instant qualification for various high-paying jobs. 

5. Volunteer – While you might not yet have direct work experience in a field, seek out volunteering opportunities to support your vision of the ideal job.  

For example, if you want a job in a specific field(s) but lack experience, explore volunteering; i.e., offer tech support at a nonprofit to qualify for IT, or get trained as a community mediator to help get into HR.

Even if you have a college degree, these are useful suggestions for showcasing your life experience to illustrate your value. I hope you find them helpful. 

As always, thanks for reading! 

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