Ask the Headhunter: I don't have a college degree. Will that hurt my negotiating power?
In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.
Question: I am looking for a new job in the e-commerce arena. I have seven years of marketing, production, management and technical experience, but absolutely no college education. How should I present my lack of formal education, as I am sure it will be used against me in salary negotiations?
Nick Corcodilos: Don't present it at all. Focus on your understanding of the company's business, the e-commerce industry and on the problems and challenges this specific company is facing. Doing this research will be harder work than many college courses, and it can substitute for a degree if an employer is more focused on productivity than on credentials.
Be ready to outline how you're going to use your talents and skills to make the company more profitable. It's entirely up to you to show why you're worth the money you're asking for. That's the core of the approach I teach here on Ask The Headhunter and in my books. See "Stand Out: How to be the profitable hire."
If they're still stuck on the degree, there's little you can do other than suggest you will earn a degree soon — and then do it. If you really want to pursue that route, there are ways to get college credit for your work knowledge and experience through good distance-learning programs. (See "Can I earn a degree from the School of Hard Knocks?")
Check with your state education department for a listing of accredited schools that offer distance learning programs. Don't assume an e-education program is legit based on marketing; check it out thoroughly. I'd even contact companies you'd like to work for and ask them which distance-learning programs they respect.
While I'm a fan of e-education, I also think a bricks-and-mortar college experience is worth the investment. Plenty of face time with professors and other students in an academic setting produces a well-rounded graduate. But don't assume you should attend a big-name school. There are many good community colleges and state-funded schools that will cost a lot less.
Some companies will hold the lack of a degree against you when negotiating, but not all will. Play it as it lays, and don't walk in feeling at a disadvantage. If you do, it will show, and that will hurt you. (On another note, be careful about fudging your credentials. See "Degree Inflation: Will it blow up in your face?")
- Your goal should be to justify the salary you want by mapping your abilities to the employer's objectives, so you must ask what those are.
- Ask what the boss wants a new hire to accomplish in the first year, then in two and three years. Discuss these to make sure you understand them.
- Be ready to show how you will pull that off. Few job applicants are prepared to do that, and it's easy for the boss to reject them.
A talented person who can think fast on their feet and explain what they can do — that's who a manager may bend the rules for.
Just don't expect any manager to coax all this out of you. You must explain it to the manager. Lack of a degree need not hamper your salary negotiations. No employer will pay you what you want unless you can demonstrate how you're going to deliver the outcomes the employer wants from you. That's where a strong negotiating position comes from.
Dear Readers: Has lack of a college degree made job interviews challenging? How did you get past this hurdle? If you're a manager, do you put a lot of stock in degrees?
Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth "how to" PDF books are available on his website: "How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you," "Keep Your Salary Under Wraps," "How Can I Change Careers?" and "Fearless Job Hunting."
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