Q. What is the best way to address not having a Bachelorís degree when the job description states Bachelorís Degree Preferred? I've been an executive assistant for over 15 years. I have a two year degree and a wealth of experience working in a variety of situations.
A. Job descriptions and advertisements address the ideal qualifications organizations are looking for in an employee for a specific role. To the employer, these represent the skill set, capabilities, sophistication, knowledge and culture, among other things, that are representative of their employee base. You are right to take into consideration what they are asking for, and to take note of the "preferred" comment in the search language, but do not let this deter you from applying for the position.
If you prepare a letter response, focus on the skills sets and requirements of the job which you do have. Make sure you address these specifically in the cover letter, and the skills are clearly demonstrated on your resume. A "T" style cover letter can be used very effectively. As the body of your letter, put what the organization says they need to the left of the T using their language, and on the right side of the T put the skill set and experience you bring which addresses that need.
To address the education, your resume should have an education section and an additional education section as well. List the college or university you attended, the degree if you have one, and a line that says "Successfully completed coursework in...". Use that same line in the T cover letter. Add the coursework you think most closely speaks to the responsibilities of the job, the industry of their organization and the function of the person you would report to. For example, if you are reporting to the CFO, list finance, accounting, or any quantitative courses you took. If you are working with a marketing group, list management, sales, or business related courses.
All employers like to see writing courses, and public speaking courses as these are vital to so many jobs, so add these if you have them. If you have additional technology training and experience, make sure to list these under the additional education section, in reverse chronological order so that your most recent experiences have the limelight.
When networking, with people who may work at the organization, you can ask if there is something specific about having a degree that the organization is invested in. Some firms want to be able to say "over x% of our staff have degrees" or a certain number of people are "enrolled in degree programs". For some employers, you might decide that taking a course or enrolling in a degree program might help your candidacy. Finding employers who reimburse for continuing education may be just the motivation you need.
Encourage your network to talk about all the skills you bring to the job, and not look at your lack of a degree as a short fall. With 15 years of experience, play up your real life skills, and the maturity to successfully represent the company, your boss, and complete the work that needs to be done with an A+.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.