No degree? 7 proven ways to succeed in your interview
20th December 2018
Many people resort to pointing to their 1st class or 2.1 degree from such and such university as proof that they are the right person for the job. And of course, a degree can be an excellent asset to have as it can demonstrate someone’s dedication to learning, hard work, and at its most basic level – a foundation of knowledge in a certain field / industry. However, for those of us without degrees – are we at a disadvantage? Most certainly not.
We want to answer the question that gets asked a lot – how can you best sell yourself if you don’t have a degree in IT but are competing against peers who have one?
1. Don’t make a big deal out of it
Don’t make your lack of degree the focus of your interview. If asked about it, explain your reasons but don’t launch into a big defensive speech. We would advise not even bringing that up at all – really, why bother? By highlighting that you bring attention to it when the interviewer may have not intended to speak about it at all. You discussing this might be perceived as a reflection of how you view yourself and that you are worried about your performance due to the lack of a degree. But that is rarely the worry – we know we can perform, we know we have the skills, which is why we applied. Our worries tend to centre around the future employer regarding us as somehow deficient. So let them ask the question if that worries them, but otherwise, spend your time focusing on the rest of the points outlined below.
At the same time – don’t be afraid of this question. Don’t assume that just because you’re asked about why you didn’t go to university, they don’t like you or think you’re not good enough for the job. Assume the best – it could be simple curiosity on their behalf!
2. Be confident
In addition to not making your lack of degree a big deal – be confident about yourself and your career to date. You have nothing to be embarrassed about – you have achieved great things by now and this is your chance to stand confidently and show the interviewer that you are comfortable exactly as you are and that your achievements are down to your hard work and dedication.
3. Realise the advantages of not having a degree
Your success is down solely to your own efforts! You had to compete against people with degrees and you have succeeded. You success is self-made and that is something you can take pride in, you have had to find creative ways to position and sell yourself to employers in the past and you have succeeded. This shows a high level of problem-solving ability as you had to find ways to break into your sector without the degree green-card.
4. Success and results
An interview is a time to highlight your greatest professional successes and the positive results you achieved in your previous roles. It is not a time to play down your successes – ‘I did well but that was a long time ago’ nor is it a time to sing songs of praises to yourself – ‘I am the best wherever I go!’. Be moderate but honest. Speak about the facts of your achievements and you will avoid looking arrogant. Highlight the strengths you have, benchmark yourself against your peers who have gone down the academic route (without saying, “I am better than people with degrees”) and demonstrate how you have achieved the same level of experience or higher.
5. Don’t berate education
Focus on yourself, not the people who have degrees. There is nothing wrong with having a degree just as there is nothing wrong with not having one. But don’t spend the precious interview time talking about people with degrees – avoid looking down on people with degrees or implying that they haven’t worked as hard as you. Degrees take effort, time and commitment and involve a lot of hard work, and you also risk offending your interviewers if they have gone to university. Avoiding this line of reasoning will allow you to be comfortable in your own skin and professional choices, rather than risking coming across as insecure and needing to put others down in efforts to elevate yourself.
If you don’t currently work in IT but would like to move into this sector but don’t have the right experience or academic background – don’t worry. There are plenty of jobs in IT that don’t require technical skills and tech-based degrees.
6. Analyse the job spec
Many people don’t pay enough attention to the job specs of the adverts they respond to, and as a result, their applications suffer. Have a baseline CV that you use as the skeleton for your applications, but tailor it depending on the job! Even if you’re applying for two roles that seem exactly the same on the surface – say, a Java Developer – you will be surprised by the subtle differences in requirements that companies and organisations may have. They might look for certain personal characteristics or a specific use of Java skills. Don’t miss these as they are your chance to shine. Your goal should be to match the job spec so well that they forget to even ask whether you have a degree or not.
Don’t make things up, though – you will be caught out sooner or later and that is not a career risk you want to take. But there are ways to present your achievements and experience in a way that aligns with the role you are applying for, and taking the time to study the spec and tailor your CV to it is an effort worth expending.
7. Demonstrate an interest in learning
You might not have gone to university but you should be able to demonstrate an interest in learning and developing your skills. This can range from free online courses to paid qualifications, or even taking part in online communities such as PHP Community Groups and other forums that enable an exchange of knowledge and add to your learning. By demonstrating that you are keen to learn, grow and develop, you give your potential future employers confidence that you will work hard and do your best.
Is this advice only for people without IT degrees? No! Most of these points are applicable to professionals with and without degrees, as well as those of you only starting out in your careers.