Dear Sam: After 12 years, in just a few weeks, I will finally be a college graduate. Aside from finishing what I started, my goal in completing my accounting degree is to advance my career. I am concerned, however, with my financial situation and the impact it may have on my job search. Years ago, I became caught up in the real estate boom and invested time, energy, and lots of money in the purchase, rehab, and rental of several properties. Unfortunately, the good times did not last long, and I fell flat on my face. Everything invested went down the tubes, including my credit, which now includes a Chapter 7 bankruptcy and six mortgage foreclosures. I should note that before investing, my credit score had been in the high 780s. I fear that all of the work I have invested in completing my degree will be for naught when an employer pulls my credit report. Is there any way to delicately handle this situation? Should I “prepare” potential employers for what they will find once they inform me my credit report must be pulled? If it helps, none of the debt included in the bankruptcy was consumer debt; it was all debt accumulated while investing. – Steve

Dear Steve: As you are applying for accounting positions, I imagine your credit report will be checked more often than not. You will want to prepare employers for what they will find by explaining your situation much as you did for me. You may even want to develop a written account of the situation in the event the interviewer you explain it to isn’t the one making the decision. Would it be possible to get a credit reference from your bank or other institution where you have held a satisfactory record? It may be useful to have “validation” that your personal finances have been handled appropriately since your filing. I think with a professional and honest statement, coupled with third-party validation of your pre- and post-bankruptcy/housing boom financial management skills, you will put yourself in a better position. I wish you much success and congratulations on your upcoming graduation!

Dear Sam: I am struggling to find positions to apply for that do not require or prefer a college degree. I only attended college for just a little more than a semester, yet I have enjoyed a very successful career in accounting. Now, as a controller of a mid-sized company, I am seeking to apply for CFO roles. I have always been recruited from job to job or promoted internally, so this is the first time I have had to look for a job. When reviewing job postings, I am finding most require a degree. Barring returning to school, which I do not want to do at this juncture in my career, how can I find jobs that don’t require a degree and still fulfill my career aspirations? – Richard

Dear Richard: I can’t tell you how many senior-level finance and accounting candidates I have worked with who are in the same position. I think the short answer to your question is that you do not need to find positions that do not require a degree. There is no reason you can’t apply for the opportunities you are finding, regardless of the academic requirements. As a seasoned and accomplished finance professional, you can build a case that the lack of a degree should not even play a role in the decision-making process of whether or not to bring you on board. Very few, if any, candidates who apply for jobs are “perfectly” qualified. If we only applied for jobs for which we met every qualification, we would have very few to apply for. Haven’t you heard that it is not always the most qualified candidate who gets the job? It’s often the candidate who looks the best on paper—think accomplishments and value added during his/her career, not academic credentials from years gone by—and focuses attention on what he/she does offer, not potentially disqualifying factors. By this, I mean to promote your accomplishments, showcase the growth during your career, and perhaps don’t even list an education section as that will only highlight the lack of a degree. In my experience, I rarely have a candidate in your situation who has had the absence of a degree hinder his/her search when the search is rooted in a sharp and compelling resume. Best of luck.