I don’t have a degree, what do I do?

Ah! The big issue of degrees. Is it important to have one? Do people really need them? Why do some parents put such pressure on their children to earn a degree, or even two? Probably because at this point in time people are recruited on the basis of their degrees and academic history – to the detriment, sometimes, of the person they are or of their non-academic experience.

So… The first thing you need to do (and likely the most important) if you don’t have a degree is not to let yourself become discouraged and lose confidence. Degrees don’t define who we are, and you can achieve the level of professional success you dream of without a degree. Remember Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to concentrate on developing Facebook, as did Bill Gates in order to launch Microsoft.

Define your career goal

OK, we’ve said it, so now what? First, you have to know what you want. A degree or diploma is a tool to achieve what you want, not an end in itself. So: what do you want? Do you want to join an established company? a startup? a nonprofit? Or do you want to start your own business? It’s like everything else: find out where you want to go, and then you can work out the way to get there.

Draw up a list of the qualifications you need

Once you’ve set your goal, consider the qualifications required to achieve it. Look around you. How did people with that type of job go about it? Who works for that industry? Go and meet with them (via LinkedIn, at trade fairs or meet-ups) and use their careers for inspiration.

Once you’ve done that, connect your own qualifications and experiences with each of those criteria. For instance, you may not have an accountancy degree, but you helped your parents keep the accounts for their shop for years. Use that experience! You may not have a degree in journalism, but you had a summer job at a radio station. Use that, too! You haven’t studied management, but you worked as a counsellor at a summer camp during the holidays? That means you have leadership qualities, you’re a responsible person and you’re not afraid of hard work! The principle behind the process is that you need to showcase what you can do and your work (or non-work) experience in order to show that you have the right attitudes and qualifications for a specific job.

Be willing

This means you both need to volunteer and show determination. Do both! Join projects in order to gain experience – that will show recruiters how motivated and determined you are! Not having a degree doesn’t mean you’re not able to do anything. Do you want to be a project manager despite never having done a business course? Manage projects for nonprofits or NGOs. You want to organise events? Volunteer to help organise cultural events. That way, you will gain experience.

Take vocational training courses

If, as well as your experience, you need to learn technical skills (there are some things you can’t make up as you go along), there are plenty of vocational courses or even night classes. There are plenty of continuing-training courses and short courses, both online and physical, that you can take to learn what you need to know in order to be confident at interviews, showcase your motivation and increase your skills. Check out Coursera, Udemy or Skillshare, for instance.

Showcase your soft skills.

You don’t just need to know things, you also need to know how to behave. Determined, hardworking people will always be valued and this will always be taken into account during a recruitment process. Indeed, your attitude and soft skills may be what makes the difference and boost your application at interviews. Communication, customer relations, negotiating skills, the ability to read body language, management, the ability to work in a team, the management of people junior to yourself, the ability to defuse difficult situations, the ability to motivate your troops and focus a group on a single goal… all of these are human skills that not everyone possesses. So if you’ve got it, show it! Managers often hire us for who we are, not only for what we can do. Technical skills can be learned, whereas knowing how to act around other people is something else!

Develop your network

In today’s labour market, who you know is as important as what you know, as wide professional networks open many doors! At the beginning, we advised you to go and meet people whose careers you can emulate, and this applies in general to people who work in your dream industry and elsewhere. Tell people about your career plans, go to events, conferences, interact and make a good impression! Who knows? It may be that in a few months’ time someone will have an opportunity for you, will remember you and help you up into the saddle. These people may even become mentors who will guide and advise you. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you – make it!

Finally… showcase the variety of your background and experiences, whatever they are, and surround yourself with people who pull you upwards and believe in your potential. It’s never too late to make a start and climb the ladder. Learn on the job, it’s the best way, and experience is the best degree! Believe in yourself and hang in there – it’s the key to success!