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Can I Get a Great Job Without a Degree?


One of my friends has spent most of her working life at jobs that she hates. To pay the bills, she has held jobs ranging from network marketer to janitor.

There’s nothing wrong with those jobs, but they are not what she wants.

This woman has many valuable skills — from sales to graphic design — but she is convinced she can’t get hired for the type of job she really wants because she doesn’t have a university degree.

She hasn’t listened to me when I’ve tried to convince her a degree isn’t necessary to get hired for a great job. I hope you will.

If you don’t have a degree and you feel it’s holding you back from having what you want in your career, I’m here to say you don’t have to let it hold you back.

What does someone like me know about getting hired without a degree? (After all, I have two degrees myself, including a Master’s.)

I know because I have hired some wonderful people without degrees for wonderful jobs — including writing, design, and a variety of other great gigs.

And I have learned a lot about the hiring process over the past two decades. I’ve hired a couple of hundred people for more than a half dozen companies, taught hiring skills for the University of Calgary’s management certificates program, and co-created a company that publishes guides to getting started in fabulous jobs that don’t require a degree.

There are several reasons why employers ask for applications from people who have degrees:

  1. It really is necessary for the job. For example, if you want to do brain surgery or build rockets for NASA, you will almost certainly be expected to have a relevant degree.
  2. It isn’t really necessary for the job but asking for a degree helps screen applicants. In other words, it helps reduce the number of applications to a more manageable number.
  3. For some other reason known only to the people doing the hiring. In one company where I helped with hiring, the marketing manager didn’t have a degree himself but insisted on hiring only people with MBAs to serve under him.

You probably can’t do anything about the first and third of these reasons, but you can do something about the second.

When you see a job advertised that asks for a degree, but you know you are capable of doing the job without that piece of paper, consider applying anyway.

But be selective about where you apply.

If you want to work with a traditional large corporation that requires a degree for a job, chances are your application will be screened out before it is even seen by a real person if it doesn’t contain the right keywords, such as “graduate”. And if it somehow makes it through that hoop, it may then get weeded out by a human resources person.

Instead, consider focusing your job search on more flexible organizations offering jobs that don’t fit into the traditional mold.

Then show why you are the ideal person for the position. First, you’ll need to show that although you don’t have the education, you do have the job skills and experience.

If you’re lacking in any area, there are a number of ways to quickly develop your skills and experience — from getting a non-student internship to starting your own part-time business — but that’s for another column.

Even when you have the relevant skills and experience to do the job, it’s important to invest time in tailoring your application letter to the specific business and what you can do for them.

I have seen more than 1,000 job applications in the last year alone, and probably fewer than 2% of applicants tailor their application to the employer in more than a superficial way.

Superficial tailoring is including the company’s name in your application and referring to something they mentioned in the job ad.

Much better tailoring is addressing your application to someone in the company by name, mentioning something you’ve learned about the company by doing some online research, and describing why your experience is ideally suited to their needs.

It takes more time, and there’s no guarantee of landing a particular job, but it can put you far ahead of other applicants — even those with degrees.

Tag Goulet is co-founder of, a publisher of books on how to get started in a dream career, and Academic Director of the International Association of Professions Career College at


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