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Getting a job in the US without a degree

Getting a job in the US without a degree

Old Apr 3rd 2011, 11:25 am
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Default Getting a job in the US without a degree

I’m currently in the process of planning a move to the US (with my USC partner/soon to be wife) and aside from the visa issues I have been looking at the job market to get an idea of what sort of jobs are available.

Qualifications wise I have A-Levels (which I know are essentially worthless in the US) and a few professional certificates. My current job is fairly specialised and realistically I probably would not be able to find similar work in the US, at least not in the short term. Therefore I’ve be looking at ‘general’ posts in the wider job market.

From what I have seen it would appear that US recruiters/companies put a great emphasis on university degrees, even for entry level jobs. In your opinion will the lack of a degree be a big hindrance to my job searching? I realise that this is a very broad question and I could always get a job flipping burgers etc but ideally I am looking for a job at a similar level (junior/middle management) and wage (approx $45k USD).

If anyone has moved to the US without a degree or if anyone has any tips/hints with regards to job hunting I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks in advance
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 12:00 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by uk_ca635 View Post
I’m currently in the process of planning a move to the US (with my USC partner/soon to be wife) and aside from the visa issues I have been looking at the job market to get an idea of what sort of jobs are available.

Qualifications wise I have A-Levels (which I know are essentially worthless in the US) and a few professional certificates. My current job is fairly specialised and realistically I probably would not be able to find similar work in the US, at least not in the short term. Therefore I’ve be looking at ‘general’ posts in the wider job market.

From what I have seen it would appear that US recruiters/companies put a great emphasis on university degrees, even for entry level jobs. In your opinion will the lack of a degree be a big hindrance to my job searching? I realise that this is a very broad question and I could always get a job flipping burgers etc but ideally I am looking for a job at a similar level (junior/middle management) and wage (approx $45k USD).

If anyone has moved to the US without a degree or if anyone has any tips/hints with regards to job hunting I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks in advance
I don't have a degree, but I moved here via a transfer with my existing employer and have remained with them ever since so it was never an issue. What I will say is that since I have moved here I have recruited a number of people into junior management roles and when working with our various HR partners on this (who take care of the advertising and initial screening for me) they are always eager to apply the "degree filter" to my vacancies. It annoys the hell out of me as a degree is in no way required for some of the roles I am looking to fill, and I have had to put my foot down a number of times (partly through me wanting to exercise control over the situation and not allow HR to run away with things!) so that they will let me see resumes of people without degrees!
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 12:22 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by uk_ca635 View Post
My current job is fairly specialised and realistically I probably would not be able to find similar work in the US, at least not in the short term.
Whether you'll be able to find similar work may depend on where you'll be living. Small town = unlikely; small city = some chance; big city = better chance; megalopolis = best chance.


In your opinion will the lack of a degree be a big hindrance to my job searching?
Have you considered going back to school to get a degree? I may be horribly out of touch with reality, but given the choice between two otherwise equally qualified candidates, I'd be more likely to choose the candidate with the degree. To me, it's less about the actual education and more about the inherent level of commitment to self-improvement... or, at least, to motivated self-interest.

Ian
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 12:28 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Hard to say, it's still an employer's market out there. Employers can and do insist on degrees just because they can. You're probably better off thinking about joining at entry level, not ideal, however, once a place sees the skills and talent you have, you'll be moving up in no time.

Good luck!
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 2:38 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Degrees aren't always necessary and it is more of being at the right place at the right time. In todays job environment, that is much harder to do.

In 1997 one of my sons without a college degree who was previously working in low paying retail jobs decided to learn web programming on his own. For the next 6 months he learned as much as possible and then started applying for web programming jobs in LA. He was hired by a startup company at a salary of about twice of what he was previously earning.

Two years later, he and two friends started their own web marketing company with him doing the engineering (programming), another in marketing and sales, and the third in administration. They got bit contracts to keep the operation going for the next two years but I was told by the sales and marketing guy that if they can get one big contract, they would be on their way of becoming successful. Finally they got a contract from BMG to develop their web site, sell the advertising, and share in the profits with BMG. My son developed the web site but the marketing guy didn't know how to sell the advertising so they closed down. So after two years and in the middle of the tech recession, my son was out of a job with a large amount of debt (the company credit cards were in his name and the others skipped out). Within 2 months he found a web programing job with another startup but the credit card companies were at his doors. I loaned him the money to clear the credit cards and he paid me the money back over the next three years.

For the next three years he worked as a web programmer, graphics artist, and manager until he learned that the founder of the company was going to split the company into two different companies (web programming with about 50 employees and a graphics design studio with about 6 employees). He was scheduled to remain with the web programming company but asked the founder if he could go with the graphics design studio and was allowed.

For the next 3 years he worked as a graphics artist, manager, and occasionally a producer until he was promoted to producer full time. Now he is the only full time senior producer with the company and has about six projects under his direction at all times. The graphics design studio has thrived with currently about 60 full time employees and plus up to another 100 contractors when they have a lot of large projects going on at one time. The web programing company closed its doors.

The following is some of his work. You may have seen some of the Coke, Toyota, Honda, GMC, AMEX, or FIVE (UK) commercials. The commercials have a delay in starting so be patient.

http://buck.tv/library
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 3:04 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Depends on the job.

It's more about networking and who you know that'll be the biggest thing.

You main problem will be the online application, you stick a no to degree and you get filted out into the bin, if you lie, you'll later get filtered out and in the bin. If you have direct contacts you can try and get around the HR filter screen.
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Old Apr 3rd 2011, 5:08 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

My husband arrived here with an 2yr degree equivalent to an US associates, but the degree was not related to his career in IT. However, he has many professional certs, which he has maintained and added to over the last 7 years he's been here. There have jobs he's applied to that he was more than capable of doing that never gave him the time of day, most of which were large corporations. He's had better luck with the smaller companies. He's never had a problem finding employment (he's had better luck than I have!).

Overall, I think the answer is that you can find work, but it may depend on the field you're in and who your competition will be.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 5:52 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

I do feel that without a degree, you do face a bit of a uphill struggle (from my own experience).

It can be gotten around (i.e. the networking comments above), but even when you do that, to give yourself the best possible chance long term, I would suggest really working towards getting a degree. Have to say that now I have a masters I feel so much happier being able to tick that off in the "Highest Level of Education reached" boxes that are so prevalent on every application here.

While on the way to a degree, I would recommend gaining any US-centric professional certifications you can in your industry, as well as joining relevant professional bodies. The latter point can help very much in your networking efforts, as they usually provide contact details of people by company, so when applying for jobs online, you can often guess who the actual hiring manager is and shoot them an introductory email direct, which may help to offset any "HR Degree Filter" that may be in place.

Good luck!
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 5:58 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

I found that having a degree has certainly helped me negotiate better pay for the jobs I have held so far, BUT so has experience.

I work for a local government, and many of their positions say something along the lines of "X degree and 1 year experience OR 3 years of experience". I work with a group of 4 others...one of us has a degree (me), one has a degree and a masters degree, and the other three have a combination of experience that meet the requirements.

Think positive!
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 6:51 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by uk_ca635 View Post
Qualifications wise I have A-Levels (which I know are essentially worthless in the US) and a few professional certificates. My current job is fairly specialised and realistically I probably would not be able to find similar work in the US, at least not in the short term. Therefore I’ve be looking at ‘general’ posts in the wider job market.

From what I have seen it would appear that US recruiters/companies put a great emphasis on university degrees, even for entry level jobs. In your opinion will the lack of a degree be a big hindrance to my job searching?
As you say, your "A-Levels" will be considered pretty much worthless here, especially as very few employers will have a clue what they are. Essentially, your education will equate you with a typical high school leaver in the US, which is likely to short change you. Historically, a higher percentage of people in the US than the UK have had some post-secondary education, so you are likely to get grouped with a segment of the population that likely is less "academically strong" than you probably are. If I was in your position, I would try to get some kind of tertiary education under my belt, maybe starting off at a two-year college and seeing how it goes.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 7:58 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Like you I have A levels and no degree and I think only having that level of education has hurt my chances significantly despite 10 years experience in the IT field in the UK and several vendor certifications. I have worked for Ford Motor Company in desktop support, in high pressure trading company supporting everything and finally was a very well respected engineer in a team maintaining the windows server environment in HSBC's headquarters in Docklands, yet here I couldn't even get a job supporting windows clients in a uniform company! I have now taken a break from job hunting to go to university here. It seems the only way to move forward unless you try to go self employed, which is also on the cards for me.

Of course I live in Florida, which is just about the worst place to be unemployed at the moment and that could also have something to do with it.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 8:36 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by WARPed View Post
Like you I have A levels and no degree and I think only having that level of education has hurt my chances significantly despite 10 years experience in the IT field in the UK and several vendor certifications. I have worked for Ford Motor Company in desktop support, in high pressure trading company supporting everything and finally was a very well respected engineer in a team maintaining the windows server environment in HSBC's headquarters in Docklands, yet here I couldn't even get a job supporting windows clients in a uniform company! I have now taken a break from job hunting to go to university here. It seems the only way to move forward unless you try to go self employed, which is also on the cards for me.

Of course I live in Florida, which is just about the worst place to be unemployed at the moment and that could also have something to do with it.
In 1984 I was a manager for a high tech company and needed software engineers. I assumed that filling those positions would be easy since the economy was just coming out of a recession and the unemployment rate was high so we placed an add in the local newspaper asking for experienced programmers. I received about 500 applications but only a few had experience and the rest were recent college grades. I interviewed about 20 applicants including all that had experience and rejected two of the three with experience since they demanded 8-5 work hours or were just outright weird. I finally hired the other one with experience but no degree and two of the college grads.

I then started networking because it would take too long to get the new grads up to speed and picked up two more programmers without degrees.

This was in the Silicon Valley and the company was Japanese (many Silicon Valley engineers don't like working for Japanese companies because they are considered unimaginative) and I didn't consider the lack of a degree as an issue. If a prospective engineer had more experience in the area that I was trying to fill than another prospective engineer and he seemed like a go getter, I would hire that person every time no matter what degree he has. Only when there is similar experience between two candidates would I consider looking at educational differences.

I'm sure that not everyone manager looks at prospective employees the same way as I do.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 8:55 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by Michael View Post
In 1984 I was a manager for a high tech company and needed software engineers. I assumed that filling those positions would be easy since the economy was just coming out of a recession and the unemployment rate was high so we placed an add in the local newspaper asking for experienced programmers. I received about 500 applications but only a few had experience and the rest were recent college grades. I interviewed about 20 applicants including all that had experience and rejected two of the three with experience since they demanded 8-5 work hours or were just outright weird. I finally hired the other one with experience but no degree and two of the college grads.

I then started networking because it would take too long to get the new grads up to speed and picked up two more programmers without degrees.

This was in the Silicon Valley and the company was Japanese (many Silicon Valley engineers don't like working for Japanese companies because they are considered unimaginative) and I didn't consider the lack of a degree as an issue. If a prospective engineer had more experience in the area that I was trying to fill than another prospective engineer and he seemed like a go getter, I would hire that person every time no matter what degree he has. Only when there is similar experience between two candidates would I consider looking at educational differences.

I'm sure that not everyone manager looks at prospective employees the same way as I do.
Which goes to show the importance of being able to figure out how to avoid the HR filter, because if you had to apply via the online website, 9 out of 10 you'd probably not get passed on to the hiring manager for consideration these days, which is where playing the LinkedIn game can be very helpful.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 9:12 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

You might be able to wangle O Levels being equivalent to a HSD and A's a two year college.

Not sure if that will make much difference.

As others have said the big problem is getting past the screening process.
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Old Apr 4th 2011, 9:39 pm
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Default Re: Getting a job in the US without a degree

Originally Posted by Bob View Post
Which goes to show the importance of being able to figure out how to avoid the HR filter, because if you had to apply via the online website, 9 out of 10 you'd probably not get passed on to the hiring manager for consideration these days, which is where playing the LinkedIn game can be very helpful.
I never found that to be a problem. In every company that I worked with the HR department sent all the resumes directly to me without filtering. It is only when a person applied for any job that HR may decide to read the resume to determine who to direct that application to.

If no mention of education in the resume, they likely wouldn't dare to reject that resume out of hand if the person had the necessary experience. It is important not to include your educational background in a resume if you don't have a degree so likely to have any filtering by HR or managers.

Another trick I've seen used is a resume starting "Attended University of XXX for BS in Computer Science" when a person doesn't have a degree. This may get an applicant in the door and can later discuss his educational background during the interview if it arrises.

Last edited by Michael; Apr 4th 2011 at 9:46 pm.
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