Four Strategies for Overcoming Degree Requirements

Matt Goldenberg’s client wanted to get into Web marketing and analytics. He had an aptitude for his work at a real estate company but faced one big hurdle: He lacked a Computer Science degree, and many of the job postings he’d seen required one.

Turning Point Ahead SignSo Goldenberg, a Portland, Ore., Career Coach, devised a clever strategy.  He had the client approach his current employer with a plan to do some Web marketing for the company, at a reduced rate. In exchange, he’d be able to raise his fee if he got results within three months. The experience opened up freelance opportunities, expanded his portfolio, enhanced his resume and ultimately led to an IT position at another company.

Many IT job postings still require degrees – in spite of the fact that some hiring managers are concerned about the ability of Computer Science programs to keep up with dizzying changes in the industry. And while some postings don’t require a CS degree, they do demand a bachelor’s of some kind.

How do you get around these requirements? Here are four strategies.

1. Bypass HR

Degree requirements are often stipulated by the company’s principal gatekeeper: Human Resources. HR rules tend to be pretty rigid, so only getting around them will get your foot in the door.

“The best way to overcome degree requirements from HR is to bypass HR completely,” says Ramon Santillan, Founder of Persuasive Interview, a Houston-based company that focuses on using psychological cues and scientific research to help candidates succeed in job interviews.

2. Network

One way to do this is to enlist company employees as your champions: Networking and employee referrals are still the most common methods for landing a new position. Indeed, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that 70 percent of jobs are obtained through networking.

“If you put the word out through your friends that you’re looking for a new opportunity, they will take your resume straight to the hiring manager,” explains Santillan. “If you can back up your skills with a work portfolio or solid references, the hiring manager can make a case for HR to hire you despite the lack of credentials.”

Goldenberg says part of his strategy for his client was to have him find people online at the company where he sought to work, and build strong relationships with them. “When his resume went in there, there were people pulling for him and saying, ‘Check this guy out,’ “ says Goldenberg. “That got him in the door.”

Essentially, you need an advocate within the company who’ll explain why you’re the best person for the job, adds Val Wright, a Leadership and Innovation Consultant. Usually the best person to do that for you is a hiring manager or a peer who introduces you to the right people, she says.

3. Show Off Your Experience

Showcase your experience over education. George Bernocco, a Resume Writer and Job Services Professional for the Connecticut Department of Labor, has IT professionals without the required education play up their experience and skills in their resume and cover letter.

“Moving the client’s current education toward the end of the résumé allows the employer to view the client’s work experience and general IT knowledge first,” he says. (He adds that he isn’t speaking for his department.) “Since the résumé only gets the client the interview, I would [tell the client] that during the interview they should continue emphasizing their skills. With the IT field, the client will need to demonstrate current knowledge, as it’s a constantly evolving field.”

4. Take Some Courses

Finally, compensate by taking some courses and earning some certifications. This will position you as someone who is serious about enhancing their education, Goldenberg says.

Goldenberg also counsels his clients to create their own project and pick up a few hot skills that will make them more competitive in the job search. In other words, figure out the skills employers are looking for today, and then show that you can give them to them.

3 Responses to “Four Strategies for Overcoming Degree Requirements”

  1. “Bypass HR”
    Much easier said than done! Most ad online have no contact information, not even the name of the company. Finding someone who matters in the IT Dept is only slightly less difficult than contact HR. Could you post a few tips on how to break through the corporate firewall of gate keepers? How do you handle a department that doesn’t answer external calls and does not return voice messages?

  2. Hey Dave,

    Thanks for taking the time to read. You’re right, networking is hard, and trying to find and get access to the right person is difficult. One thing that I think could help you is to stop thinking of the company phone number as a way to get access to people. The trick is to find their names through company directories or LinkedIn, then find alternative ways to get access to them.

    Here are a few of those ways:

    1. Grow from the inside out: Tell everyone in your current network that you’re looking to connect with someone from X company. Chances are, you know someone who knows someone.

    2. The Drip Method: Make small connections with the person through little helpful emails, tweets, blog comments, etc. Then, when you ask for a coffee meeting, they’ll have name recognition.

    3. Event Networking: Find events where people from the company are likely to go, and meet them there.

    There are six strategies in total, and they, along with a ton of other resources for career changers, are available in the free starters kit at

    Hope that helps!


  3. The idea of bypassing HR entails approaching the job search in a whole different way. Instead of applying to the jobs available, stop and think what kind of job do you want. From there you can reach out to your network and determine where those jobs are. Think about it from this perspective: do you think the CIO applied for the job through a job posting? They found out about the job through their network or by simply keeping an eye out for the job they wanted at the company that they preferred and making a case for being the candidate to hire. That’s when psychological cues and social triggers kick in to get you the job you want. I’ll be more than happy to answer other questions on how to bypass HR. Just email me!