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No degree but lots of experience

Q: My career has spanned over 25 years and I have been very successful in the corporate world. 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 in order to get a job? Or is there something else I can do to get over this hurdle?

A: Congratulations on having a successful career. 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. Most job seekers still find out about new opportunities through their personal and professional networks.

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

However, most of the candidates with whom you are competing probably have completed a college degree. An article published by the Boston Globe on December 15, 2010 paints a picture of who we are in Massachusetts. According to the article, written by Globe staffers Peter Schworm and Matt Carroll, “Massachusetts has a greater percentage of college graduates than any state in the country.” This article, entitled “A portrait of the state’s population,” was based on a five-year survey called the American Community Survey (ACS), published by the US Census Bureau.

Let’s return to another positive though: your network. Your network is likely filled with professionals who have worked with you and/or understand that you have worked hard to achieve some success in your career. These contacts are critical! Education is important but relevant experience is more important.

A few pieces of very specific advice:
1. Lead with the positives when you pitch your background and career. Focus on your success, tenures with companies, experience, enthusiasm and energy for past roles.
2. Use your network. Get active on LinkedIn.
3. 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 your 25-year career with lots of success if far more important.

If you are close to attaining your degree, think about how you could finish your degree. Could you look at online courses if you are two courses short of a degree? 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 in advance. You will want to make sure that the college is accredited.

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