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Currently, I work several unskilled jobs, that pay low wages. I would like to get a job doing something more technical (ideally in the field of geology), but I feel as though I have no way of attracting company attention without a college degree, even though I'm confident in my ability to do the work.

What factors cause employers to consider applicants with no degree? When interviewing them, what factors do they consider?

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  • Yes. I did several semesters of geology, but left for various reasons. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 19:01
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    This question boils down to what skills do you need to learn which is off topic. Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 19:24
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    A better formulation of the question might be: Supposing that I already know and have the skills required to be successful in the field, how do I communicate that to employers? Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 20:01
  • The question depends on the status quo in the field of geology and what job you want to do. For instance in medicine, you could enter with a certification, but you'll never be a doctor without medical school.
    – jcmack
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 21:10
  • @KoboldGeorge: you could try asking on Quora, because they don't have as many restrictions about what you're allowed to ask. I fear you'll be trying to swim up Niagara to get any useful information on this question here.
    – iconoclast
    Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 8:22

5 Answers 5

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In general certification programs might help replace a degree as proof of knowledge e.g. you were trained in the field.

Depending on the kind of work you want to do you can get involved in volunteer work, personal projects etc. to have experience to show as well.

Lastly, if you have contacts in the field, you can contact them and see what are the best options for training and certification or side projects, maybe even a job they can help you in if you are lucky.

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In the long run you're better off doing the degree even if you have to do it as a mature aged student. Assuming you find someone to give you a chance you have to plan ahead. You probably won't stay in that position forever and with the automated resume culling systems they have nowadays your resume will not even be looked at by human eyes without the qualification written in it. This means you will be back to square one. Take a few years out, do the degree. It will be hard but not doing it will be harder.

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The hard sciences in general require relevant qualifications. Geology in most locales would need proof that you can do the work. A lot depends on the human resource pool. In an area with no qualified geologists they would hire people based on experience, or train them on the job. This would be only entry level though I would think in most places.

My own country has such a lack of professionals that people have been known to step into quite senior roles with nothing really to prove they know anything about anything.

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My thing is Electronics rather then Geology, but I expect many of the same considerations apply (Also not got a degree).

Small companies are your friends, they generally don't have the layers of HR filtering on the irrelevant before you get to the hiring manager.

When I decided that technical theatre production was a young mans game and I wanted to turn 15 years of designing and building electronic things into a proper job, I went looking for a junior position in an area where I knew there was not a lot of EE talent.

I also made sure I had a few more or less informal, but recognised tickets of various sorts, turns out that a Ham radio license opens doors in some circles (And the powerboat and explosives tickets also had their uses). I also made very damn sure I knew the theory and enough of the practise that I could answer some fairly hardcore questions.

Finally I researched the hell out of what the company did (In my case it was sonar), I went into that interview knowing not only the electronic engineering, but what the major types were, how the things were usually put together, who the customers were, who the competition were, what the materials were, and how the acoustic and electronic matching worked.

I got the job, as junior electronics engineer, two years later I leveraged my now Electronics engineer title into a 100% pay rise and a move to a better area, two years after that I made senior hardware engineer (Who writes a scary amount of software), still got no degree (But have a whole pile of very hardcore training in all sorts of advanced stuff under my belt).

You will want to find something that does not touch too much on heavily regulated industry (So soil mechanics for civil eng. is probably out, as I would have thought would be most petrochem and mines).

There are lots of little companies making peripheral gear for geological work and I suspect that a lot of it sucks because the guys designing it do not understand the reality of how it gets deployed, having someone on the team who has USED the stuff has value, and here might be your in.

These days I sometimes hire, and do not usually specify a degree as a hard requirement, but if you don't have it I will dig into the theory HARD, because that is often the weak point in such people, expect it to get mathy, and expect the interviewer to keep digging because you are NOT the safe option here, you need to convince them that you are just better for whatever is needed then the newly minted graduate.

A well researched covering letter is helpful.

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Your question is difficult to answer because there are different things you can and cannot do in technical fields without a degree depending on jurisdiction, company, and field. In light of this, my answer is in regards to the field of civil engineering, which includes aspects of geology, surveying, and of course, engineering. Furthermore, this answer is applicable to the US, other countries may have different requirements.

Engineering licensure has parallels with geology licensure in that you must pass a Fundamentals exam and then a Professional exam. To even sit for the Fundamentals exam requires a degree in an appropriate field. Some details for such exams are here. To perform ANY work in either of these fields requires you to work under the direction of someone whom has the appropriate licensure and failure to do so can result in some serious fines by the boards empowered to issue those licenses (in NJ they start at $5,000).

So with that in mind, you are asking someone in that field to consider you presumably for a technical office job. What this means is that your work will represent that person because it will be under their license by which it is produced.

On paper, the extent of your training is a handful of college coursework. Here are the factors upon which I would judge you were I to interview you for something in engineering and I think they parallel to geology:

  • Field experience and knowledge; show to me that you know what you're talking about. Be able to talk knowledgeably about the subject matter important to the position and avoid the use of field slang. The reason for avoiding field slang is that it changes from person to person and job to job, I want to see that you know what the correct technical term is otherwise I might not even be sure what you're talking about.
  • Be able to discuss the purpose of the work you're doing. When it comes to working in the office, you need to understand the big picture. You did some split-spoon tests, fine, but do you understand why you did them?
  • I might ask to see work samples of reports that you've prepared. If you've not prepared any reports, I might ask you read a report and explain it back to me. I am looking to see if you understand how to write a report in a manner that explains your intent and ideally an ability to tailor your writing to the correct audience.
  • A lot of my work involves technical aspects, but also includes a lot of non-technical matters such as permit acquisition. For me, you would need to demonstrate an understanding of these matters.
  • What are your technical skills? If you don't know how to use MS Word and Excel, I'm going to have to spend a bit of time teaching you that. If other drafting programs are needed for your field, what's your proficiency in them? For my shop, you aren't going anywhere if you can't use AutoCAD. I might require you to complete a CAD test if I wasn't sure of your skills.
  • Finally, I would want to see an intent to earn at least a certification in the field, if not a degree. This might be the sort of thing where you can get financial assistance through the company to complete the degree or earn the certification. Technical fields like engineering do not permit you to simply coast by on what you know, if you're not always expanding your knowledge, you're not keeping up. Good companies are usually not averse to spending money on employee education and development in the interest of keeping their staff current.

This may be a lot more than you were considering. But all of these things, and more, are really important. There are serious risks to someone's license if they permit work to be produced under their license that isn't up to par with the standards of the field. Most persons can present themselves at par with the field via a degree, but if that's not available, then they need to prove their competence in other ways.

In general, I'm not looking for someone who can do something well in the field. Once you're in the office, the job is very different.

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  • This is an excellent answer, and exactly what I was looking for, thank you. Commented Nov 30, 2018 at 17:10

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