Trite though it might sound, honesty really is the best policy, whether you're looking for your first job or interviewing for the third job in your career. That goes for honesty concerning your background, accomplishments, capabilities and your education. If you don't have the academic credential required for the job, showcase your other skills and qualifications and be truthful about why you don't have the sheepskin to hang on your office wall.
There's nothing to stop you from being considered for jobs that say a college degree is preferred or even required, assuming you can get past the application phase for an interview. Many recruiters, however, screen resumes according to education, if the job or the company has a hard-and-fast rule that candidates must have a college degree. If you're confident that you have the expertise and qualifications the company is looking for, submit your application, even if you lack the college degree the job requires. But be prepared for that difficult question about why you don't have the academic credentials the employer wants. And rehearse a pretty hard sell on your other qualifications for the job.
If you didn't have an opportunity to go to college, that's an easy-to-understand reason for explaining why you don't have a college degree. But it's also a reason to be interested in college now that you're embarking on a new career. If you're interviewing with an organization that offers tuition assistance or reimbursement benefits, it's an excellent way to suggest that you're looking for a job that has career potential -- or, at least, the chance to stay with the organization for a few years. For example, you could say, "After high school graduation, I didn't have the opportunity to go to college. Now that I've gained work experience in the health care field, I focused my job search on companies that will help me build my career through professional development and formal education, such as tuition assistance."
When you're a job seeker just a few hours or a couple of semesters shy of earning your degree, stress the portion of your degree requirements that you've already finished. Also, if you have completed a chunk of hours in your major, mention that during your interview. It shows that you've been exposed to the academic side of your field and you have a base from which to put theory into application.
Some employers won't take substitutes, but you can certainly try to explain that you devote a significant amount of time to learning your craft, trade or profession through work experience. Credit your previous supervisors or managers with mentoring you so that you had an opportunity to learn as much as someone with a college degree learns in the same period. If dedicating your time to work instead of school was part of your original game plan, tell the interview why and what you gained from the decision and your experience.
Never, ever try to cover up that you don't have a college degree, and don't lie about having one when you don't. You might actually get the job, but when it's discovered that you weren't truthful during the hiring process, you'll probably lose your job. Plus, you risk putting your reputation on the line, especially if you're in a high-profile role. Scott Thompson -- the Yahoo! CEO who got the boot when he was exposed for lying about what discipline his college degree was in -- can probably attest to the shame and ridicule that lying on your resume can cause.
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images