Job Doc

Can you be competitive without a degree?

Q. My career has spanned more than 25 years, and I have been very successful. I have managed large, successful sales teams as well as large project and development programs. Past employment was secured through relationships. I never finished college, and now I find that I can’t even get a call back from an employer, even for jobs I am perfectly suited for. Do I have to go back to school to get a job? Or is there something else I can do to get over this hurdle?

A. The most important sentence in your question is, “Past employment was secured through relationships.” You are proving one of the most important strategies in the art and science of job hunting: Relationships matter.

Let’s start with the positives. You have had a successful 25-year career. You have worked with successful sales teams and large project and development teams.


Most of the candidates with whom you are competing probably have college degrees, but your network could help you offset this disadvantage. It is probably filled with professionals who understand you have worked hard to achieve success in your career. These contacts are critical. Education is important, but relevant experience is more important.

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A few pieces of very specific advice:

 Lead with the positives. Focus on your success, tenures with companies, experience, enthusiasm, and energy for past roles.

 Use your network. Get active on LinkedIn.

 Don’t ever lie about your lack of a bachelor’s degree. It will come back to haunt you. Instead acknowledge that you never completed your degree, but you believe that a successful, 25-year career is more important.


If you are close to attaining your degree, think about how you could finish it. Could you take online courses if you are just a few credits short? Or could you consider a school that would award you credit for some of your work-life experiences? If you choose to return to college, research the college thoroughly. You will want to make sure that the college is accredited.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.