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Overcome factors that could disqualify you

BY SAMANTHA NOLAN Modified: January 11, 2013 at 3:41 pm •  Published: January 12, 2013
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Dear Sam: I am 49 years of age, and for the past 7 years, I have been the senior plant manager of a small food processing plant. I was recently laid off and have been conducting an unsuccessful job search. I think that there are two major issues confronting my quest: (1) I am near 50 years of age, and (2) I don't possess that coveted trophy called a "degree." Don't take this the wrong way—I am not criticizing those who do have degrees—but it frustrates me that so many employers require it with positions for which I know I would otherwise qualify.

Am I wasting my time sending a résumé when the job posting defines a degree as a requirement? I do have 60 credit hours of college, but I am not sure how to even note that. – Jim

Dear Jim: There are a number of strategies you can employ to minimize the impact of not having a degree when one is required for a particular opportunity.

Never mention it: The worst thing you can do is to explain on your résumé or cover letter that you do not hold a degree. There is a possibility that if you present a strong enough image of your past, a hiring manager could qualify you for an interview before even noticing you do not hold a degree. I always tell my clients to avoid mentioning potentially disqualifying factors, when at all possible, and not having a degree when one is required would fall into this category.

Define unique skills and strengths: You possess a unique background and skill set based on your breadth of experience. Now your challenge is to sell that to the hiring manager. Review your background and identify what makes you different from candidates that hold a degree but may have less experience. This is really of key importance, as if you are brought in for an interview and are competing against those who have degrees, you will need to sell yourself by articulating how you are more qualified for the job despite lacking the required credential.

Highlight professional development: When you do not have a degree, it is imperative you highlight your related training and education. Whether these were employer-sponsored or self-initiated training programs, include them on your résumé to show continued professional development.

Highlight the education you do have: You have completed two years of college which is probably worth noting. If doing so, your education section would appear as such:

State University Completed 60 Hours Toward a Bachelor of Science Degree

You could also omit the education section entirely—there is no “rule” saying a candidate has to have an education section on his/her résumé—if you feel it does not add value to your candidacy. I often omit the education section if I feel the lack of a degree, or minimal credit hours completed, will detract from the overall picture.

Lastly, in response to your question of whether to apply for these positions when you lack the degree required, I would answer yes every time! Very few candidates will be perfectly qualified; where you lack a degree, another candidate may lack a certain piece of experience. Sell what you have and be confident in your presentation. I would hazard a guess that it is not just your degree holding you back in your search; revamp your résumé to ensure it is truly reflecting your value, and I am certain your search will be more successful with or without a degree. All the best!

Dear Sam: What are some of the tips and tricks of professional résumé writers? – Sharon

Dear Sharon: When I first started to write résumés and would ask my mentor questions, she would often respond with the comment, “it’s not rocket science, it’s just common sense.” At first I was somewhat frustrated with the lack of “rules” to follow, but then I began to understand what she was really saying: résumé writing strategies have to be tailored to each candidate’s background, current objective, and key strengths. As a candidate or a beginner writer this is not really what you want to hear. Instead, you want to know the “rules.” Well, there are a lack of rules in the résumé writing business, and while some feel this is unfortunate as it makes résumé writing much more difficult, subjective, and strategic, it stems from the need to craft individualized résumés based on the specifics of each candidate and their current career interests.

So, to answer a question about the “tips and tricks” of a professional résumé writer is somewhat futile as each résumé is unique, built on an individualized strategy to serve that client and achieve his/her career goals. Having said that, the fundamental efforts of a professional résumé writer begin with a clear understanding of what the client wants to do. Only when this is understood can one build an effective strategy to present, prioritize, and relate experiences, education, and strengths to garner the attention of the target audience. Similar to a brochure for a product, each résumé should reach out to the target consumer (the hiring manager), telling them why they should “buy” the candidate. To do this well you really do have to use common sense, performing diligence in identifying your career target, understanding the core skills sought for those roles, and incorporating value propositions to “sell” your candidacy.