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How To Get a Job Without a Degree

The backdoor is usually left open.

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

For college dropouts, it feels really hard to get the job you want.

For the first 20 years of your life, our entire culture is obsessed with your performance in school.

You spend 8 hours a day at a school, where every staff member is holding one question above your head the whole time”

What school will you get into?

All this for your first career job.

Once you get there, people only care about competence and performance.

That’s the catalyst that’s hard to reach for dropouts.

It’s hard, but it’s not impossible.

While my friends were in college, I had the job they wanted after graduating. I was a project manager and account manager for a marketing agency.

By the time they graduated, I already had multiple years of experience in the industry and the contacts I need to create opportunities for myself.

The trick is to realize you can’t go about getting that first job the normal way. Waiting in a pile of applicants who look better than you on paper.

You have to go through the back door.

So here is the framework I used to get a job in the industry I wanted to be in by not competing with college-graduates.

Study before it’s required of you.

A lot of people go back to school for a new subject to move into a new field. Or wait until they have a job in that industry to begin learning the role.

The problem of course is going to school will cost you a ton of time and land you further in debt when that’s the opposite of what you want to do.

Looking for a job before studying the skillset puts you very far down the totem pole. The business hiring you would have to train you from the ground up. Most employers prefer people who have basic knowledge of the role.

How do you overcome starting at zero? How can you create an advantage for yourself?

I spent months preparing before I started approached marketing agencies. I read books, took online courses, and listened to hundreds of podcasts on the topic.

When I finally got the interview, my knowledge in the field was why they hired me. They knew I didn’t have any experience in the field, but they didn’t have to teach me the very basics of the job.

Seek out people who have the job you want.

Think about most company’s hiring processes.

For high-level positions, they hire a recruiter to find the right person. For most jobs, they put out an application online and a flood of resumes come in.

The only thing they can learn is who looks best on paper, and schedule interviews with their top prospects.

You have two options:

  • Find a way to differentiate yourself on paper. In a way that stands out enough to overcome your lack of a degree.
  • Or, avoid this process altogether.

Differentiating yourself on paper requires a big achievement or accomplishment. Although, it’s not impossible. It could be something as simple as writing a lot about a topic on a blog, getting published, writing an ebook, or running a volunteer project.

Your way around this is to connect with people, instead of an organization’s hiring process.

I got my job by driving to LA for an event and chatting with one of the featured speakers at the end.

He was the founder of a digital marketing agency and I was fascinated by the work he does. When the event was done I went up to him and asked, “I want to do what you do. How should I get started?”

He asked me a little bit about myself and then offered me an interview to intern at his company.

He and his partner interviewed me and ended up picking me over a few other candidates. For an unpaid position.

The internship was supposed to be 90 days, but about 30 days in they gave me a promotion to a paid position then moved up again and again to project manager and account manager.

The other candidates applied online. Had I applied online I wouldn’t have been picked. Because I was able to connect with him personally, before the job was even on the table, I got to the front of the line.

Adopt the student persona. Even if you’re not one.

When I interviewed for the position, I had a couple of things going for me. I could speak his lingo because I studied the job, and I had met with him personally.

But there was another element that helped. When I first met the founder of the agency, I didn’t ask him for a job.

There’s an old adage, “If you want advice, ask for money. If you want money, ask for advice.”

That’s the golden rule to follow here.

I wasn’t asking this founder, who I desperately wanted to work for, for a job. I just asked him for advice.

Asking someone for a job is asking a lot from them. It’s a huge commitment on their part. It costs them a lot of money and requires a big time commitment to training as well.

Asking for advice is a much more delicate approach. It allows the other person to let their guard down.

You’re not a person who wants something from them. Trying to prove your worthiness for something they have. You’re just a student. Looking for some friendly tips from someone better than you.

This makes it much easier to open a line of communication.

It’s also failproof. If you ask for a job, you may get a flat out no. There’s nowhere to go from there.

If you ask for advice, you might not get a job, but you’ll at least get some helpful advice. That will serve you well as you continue your search for the right position.

Final Thoughts

If you’re a college dropout, you need to accept the fact that you can’t compete with graduates at face value. You have to find creative ways to show your strengths.

This is a blessing, not a curse. The truth is college graduates have to compete with college graduates that look even better than them on paper. Because they are all using their diploma as their competitive advantage, no one really has a competitive advantage.

This is your opportunity to create your own lane entirely. Finding a competitive advantage that no one else has. Bypassing the competition altogether.



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Adam Stinson

Adam Stinson

Helping college dropouts gain control of their lives through financial education. Go to for a field guide to non-traditional success.