No Degree? No Problem. Why You Should Apply for High-Paying Jobs Without a Degree
Let’s talk about high-paying jobs without a degree. Don’t feel like reading? Listen here!
Don’t have a college degree? You are not alone. In fact, according to the 2021 Census Bureau report, only 48.4% of adults over 25 had an associate, bachelor’s or more advanced degree. That should be encouraging for job seekers without a degree because millions of Americans are proving they can find career success without one. And employers are finally starting to recognize this.
Read on to find out how and why employers are starting to look beyond the college degree—and why you should still apply for high-paying jobs without a degree.
These High Earners Didn’t Obtain a Degree, So Why Should You Have To?
Tony Smith is Vice President of his division for one of the largest financial services organizations in the United States. Ben Salas, meanwhile, has a high-paying job in sales for a leading SaaS organization.
What do the two, now in their 40s, have in common?
Neither have a college degree.
Tony Smith has evolved throughout his career, continually learning new skills and new technology to move up the corporate ladder. He started out working in a warehouse for a telecommunications company. He moved into the office after a few years in a customer service role.
Through on-the-job training—and strong interpersonal, communication, and natural leadership skills—Smith received several promotions. He started managing people, where he excelled, and through a series of job changes, he took advantage of strong corporate training programs to move up the company ladder.
Smith had completed two years of college but did not get a degree. As he moved up—working for larger, Fortune 500 organizations—the fact he did not have a degree never became an issue because he proved he had the skills necessary to do the job.
“I’ve been able to move up throughout my career because I’ve been able to learn and apply new skills,” said Smith.
“Every job has offered strong training programs, which have played a key role in my development and advancement.”
Ben Salas, meanwhile, is a tenacious software sales professional. He has charisma, is a go-getter, and is relentless. He’s gone through his fair share of layoffs—three, in fact—over the last 20+ years, all with large enterprise software companies where success is often based on one thing: results.
“In my world, if you can sell, you can succeed,” said Salas. “That being said, in some cases, one or two bad months, and you can be let go—so there is that. What has worked for me is that the jobs have all been similar—software sales. But each company has its own sales training and sales development programs. Every company does it differently, but through each job change, I’ve learned new skills that help me succeed.”
High-Paying Jobs Without a Degree? No Problem (Maybe)
How has Salas overcome the lack of a degree? On the job, it’s his communication skills. And his ability to work with key decision makers at large organizations making multi-million-dollar investments.
When applying for jobs, his resume showcases his history and those successes.
“My resume and career history are full of experiences and successes that can’t be summed up by a degree I would have obtained over 20 years ago,” said Salas, who also completed some college but did not earn a degree.
There are certain jobs or professionals where a degree and industry-specific licenses are required. Doctor, lawyer, engineer, and nurse are some professions that quickly come to mind.
Corporate High-Paying Jobs Without a Degree: Shifting Requirements
The thought process across corporate America—that one needs a degree to be successful—is shifting. Leading tech organizations, startups, Fortune 500 organizations, and small businesses are ditching the degree requirement in favor of professional experience, upskilling, training, certifications, and proven ability to do a job that may not even match a degree.
So even if the job posting says “degree required,” it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t apply for that job. Especially if you have related experience and proven success in your profession, says Hallie Crawford, a career coach and founder of Create Your Career Path, a boutique career coaching firm known for its holistic, hands-on approach to career coaching.
Some companies are starting to shift their viewpoint on bachelor’s degrees, recognizing that having a degree doesn’t necessarily make a candidate better qualified than those that don’t have one. Hiring managers also are on the lookout for soft skills after the COVID-19 pandemic, such as flexibility, interpersonal skills, and problem-solving skills. You may possess the other required skills and years of experience that the hiring manager is looking for. If you match the majority of the listed requirements and feel confident you can do the job, go ahead and apply. Make sure to highlight your experience and your skills in your cover letter if you don’t have the required bachelor’s degree to help get the hiring manager’s attention.
6 Degrees of Separation: What Employers Want in 2022
Cengage Group’s Employability Report (May 2022) polled 1,000 Americans 18 and over (600 in healthcare and social assistance, technology, and skilled trades and 400 in various other industries) who are employed for wages and who make hiring decisions at their current employers.
Among the report findings:
- 50% of recent graduates have not applied to entry-level positions because they felt underqualified and unsure of their skills.
- Only one in 10 employers don’t require a degree for entry-level jobs.
- Only 26% of employers believe traditional degrees are an important indicator when considering a candidate for an entry-level job.
- Yet, nearly two-thirds (62%) of employers still require a degree for entry-level jobs, and more than a quarter do so because they need to “filter the talent pool” or because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”
- But 43% percent believe skills training credentials are the most important when determining if a candidate is qualified for the role.
- Among employers who do not require a degree, nearly half (48%) say it’s because they believe candidates can attain the proper skills through life experience, internships, skills training credentials, stackable credentials, and hands-on experience outside of an institution.
According to the Cengage report, more than 60% of the U.S. population doesn’t have a traditional four-year degree, and this figure dips lower for marginalized populations. By removing this requirement, employers will not only benefit from a vastly expanded talent pool to fill staffing gaps, but they’ll also be able to demonstrate more social purpose.
Of those employers who do not require degrees for entry-level roles, approximately one in four (22%) say it’s because they believe it’s an integral part of creating fairer employment opportunities.
The report also states: “Several business innovators, such as IBM, Amazon, and AT&T, are disrupting the hiring processes, redefining job readiness and removing degree requirements for applicants.”
IBM has removed degree requirements from 50% of its posted jobs and wrote this 2021 letter that stated:
At IBM, we’ve been doing this rethinking for a while now. Like many others in our sector, we often have trouble finding candidates with the right skills to work in high-tech roles. In 2016 we coined the term “new collar jobs” to refer to a surging number of careers that don’t necessarily require a traditional bachelor’s degree but instead need a specific set of in-demand skills…This focus on new-collar jobs has allowed us to open the aperture when it comes to training and hiring for some of our most innovative and high-tech roles. IBM has now stripped bachelor’s degree requirements for more than half of our US job openings, and we’re continuously reevaluating our roles to prioritize skills over specific degrees.
Employers Don’t Want Degrees—They Want Soft Skills and Lifelong Learners
Stacey Wanninger, HR Consultant and Director of On-Call HR for FutureSense, says while many job postings still state they require a college degree, that doesn’t tell the entire story.
That’s why if you have the necessary skills—and better yet—can prove it on your resume, through the application process, and in the interview, apply for that job even if the posting indicates it requires a degree.
“The hiring manager might prefer a degree, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is required for the position,” says Wanninger. “Studies are proving that women tend to only apply for jobs where they meet the majority of the job requirements and could be missing out on opportunities. If it interests you, apply. It is also important to have different resumes for different types of jobs so that you highlight the skills and experience you would bring to the table for that particular job.”
Harley Lippman, CEO of Genesis10, one of the largest staffing companies in the U.S., says when one doesn’t have a degree but is applying for a job that says a degree is required, it’s important to showcase any alternative education the person has obtained throughout their career. This includes certifications, training programs, internships, apprentices, boot camps, online courses, and past work history can all suffice for not having a college degree.
One word of caution—never stretch the truth on the education experience on your resume.
“We have seen many candidates who have implied that they have a bachelor’s degree on their resume, but never actually earned the degree,” says Lippman.
“These offers are almost always rescinded once the individual goes through an education verification. Trust, honesty, and morals are always more important than a degree.”
Want to Earn? Always Learn
Another tip: Never stop learning.
New technologies continue to make an impact on every job. The way we work, how we do our job, and what employers look for are always evolving. That’s why it’s essential to become a lifelong learner.
Take classes through Coursera or Udemy. Find out what type of training your employer will pay for—and take advantage of it. Read job postings within your field—what skill are they looking for besides a degree? Don’t have it? Learn it. There are more ways than ever to learn beyond just going to college.
Employers recognize this. And so should job seekers.
“I had several corporate training programs throughout my career that, to be honest, I thought I’d dread going through at the time,” says Smith. “But if I didn’t go through those programs and learn the skills each company looked for in those roles, I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today.”
Wrapping Up: No Degree = No Obstacle
The stories of Smith and Salas are not unlike that of many American workers.
They’ve used a combination of training, solid soft skills (interpersonal, communication, emotional intelligence), and good old-fashioned hard work and grit to get ahead in their career.
They haven’t let the lack of a college degree get in their way—and most important—they have demonstrated to employers that their real-world experience and skills are more important than a degree.
These stories prove that if you continue to learn new skills throughout your career, are adaptable, and have the right soft skills, you, too, can earn a high-paying job without a college degree.
Does this sound like you? Then yes, you should absolutely apply to that high-paying job without a college degree.