Categorized | Career

To Degree or Not to Degree

Posted on 20 August 2012

As a longtime professional recruiter, I’ve often been asked, “How important is a degree for getting a better position?”

The short answer: As important as you make it. Yes, there are headhunters who draw lines in the sand, unwilling to touch “non-degreed” job seekers. But that simply culls out workers who are less likely to be placed or less marketable to client companies. Recruiters receive so many resumes each day that they look for any way to lower the stack. For the same reason, recruiters tend to specialize in various industries and occupations. We can’t be all things to all people.

But an individual without a degree is not any less “hot” than someone with one (or more). A non-degreed person can get just as much attention from recruiters and hiring companies–if they know how to present themselves effectively.


You’ll gain a tremendous amount of informal education simply by being on the playing field–in the working world.


Real World Experience
For example, I placed a senior account executive with a small dot-com a year ago. She started with a base salary of $90k, but certain bonuses brought her up to $150k. Her prior year’s compensation as vice president of sales for a software solutions integration company was $130k. This move brought her back to doing what she loved most: selling, not managing.

This person was 29 years old, and had 10 years of work experience behind her. Plus, she had only two years of junior college and no degree. What she did have was chutzpah (according to Webster: “supreme self-confidence, nerve, gall”). She also knew many people and had great social skills. Of course, these qualities are essential in sales, but success in any field requires certain intangible attributes.

For those who are about to graduate, don’t disregard this message just because you already have a degree or two under your belt. Out in the real world, you’ll encounter demanding recruiters who want more. The more letters after your name, they think, the better. You may even be on track to head straight back into school. But take it from me: Stop and think about your motivations.

The Examined Life
If Mom is a lawyer, doctor, or professor, and you’re expected to follow the family line, then good luck. But this is your life, your decision. If you think that an advanced degree automatically makes you more marketable, consider life after school.

College degrees do support career growth–but you can’t rely solely on them. There are so many more determinants of success than good grades. Maybe you can land that first great job, but it will not always lead to a satisfying long-term career.

What are the core “life skills”? I remember one little quotation, author unknown, that spells it out quite well:

  • Press On
    “Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are omnipotent.”

So, what’s my point? If you’re graduating, I offer a hearty “Congratulations!” on your very worthwhile accomplishment. And let me remind you that your hard-won degree, along with other requisite life skills, will take you as far as you choose to go. If you take time now to develop the non-academic side of your personality, career growth and happiness can be yours.

For those without degrees, you can gain a tremendous amount of informal education simply by being on the playing field–in the working world. As a professional recruiter who has placed many individuals in corporate America, I know that those who develop themselves academically and personally stand the best chance of making it.

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