No bachelor’s degree? Pattie Hunt Sinacole shares advice

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Q:  I have had a successful career for about 20 years.  Most of my roles have been in sales or sales management.  I had a 12-year run at one company.  In the past, my personal and professional contacts have been invaluable.  Most of my past roles were secured through relationships.  Way back when, I never completed my undergraduate degree.  Now that I am out of work, I am not able to get companies to call me back, after I apply. I am focused on tech sales in eastern Massachusetts.  Some of these roles are ideal for me, and I know I could do very well in these roles.  Should I be returning to college to finish? It is only about 9 or 10 credits.  What else can I do?

A:  Congratulations on having a successful career.  Within your question, you discuss that “personal and professional contacts have been invaluable.”  You have shared that one of the most important strategies in the art and science of job hunting.  Relationships matter.  Most job seekers still find new opportunities through their personal and professional networks.

Let’s start with the positives.  You have had a successful 20-year career in sales or sales management roles. It also sounds like you have had a fairly stable employment background.

However, most of the candidates with whom you are competing probably have completed a college degree.  You are in the geographic region that is dominated by professionals with a high number of college graduates.  According to the America Community Survey (2021), Massachusetts is a top state with respect to the number of college graduate, as compared to other states.

Let’s return to another positive though: your network.  Your network is likely filled with professionals who have worked with you and/or understand that you have worked hard to achieve some success in your career.  These contacts are critical!  Education is important but relevant experience is more important.

A few pieces of very specific advice:

1. Lead with the positives when you pitch your background and career.  Focus on your ability to meet or exceed sales goals, stable work history, relevant experience, and energy for past roles.

2. Use your network.  Get active on LinkedIn.

3. Don’t ever lie about your lack of a bachelor’s degree.  It will come back to haunt you.  Instead acknowledge that you never completed your degree, if asked.  You can also explain that your 20-year career is far more important than a degree.

If you are close to attaining your degree, think about how you could finish your degree.  Could you look at online courses if you are just a few courses short of a degree?  Or could you consider a college that would award you credit for some of your work/life experiences.  If you choose to return to college, research the college thoroughly in advance.  Since the pandemic, online courses are far more commonplace and acceptable. You will want to make sure that the college is accredited. Good luck in your search.

Pattie Hunt Sinacole is a human resources expert and works for First Beacon Group in Hopkinton, an HR consulting firm. She contributes weekly to Jobs and the Boston Sunday Globe Money & Careers section.