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 resume 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 resume 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 resume 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 resume—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 often tell clients that a degree is a “check the box” requirement; one candidate possessing a degree is equal to another having the same. Experience is truly what makes a candidate unique and what actually “qualifies” us for opportunities. I would hazard a guess that it is not just your degree holding you back in your search; revamp your resume 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!