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Just to summarize the important aspects of my resume, I have a career summary and list a few technologies I work with. After that, I list my last three relevant jobs:

  • My current position: Small company, software developer, two years
  • Fortune 500 company, web developer on contract, two years
  • Small start up, working on equity as a web developer, six months

But I think the thing that could be really holding me back is my last section which just lists my high school. However, I also try to make it more relevant by saying I've learned several related skills during that time.

I've been applying to quite a few jobs due to my current company having financial issues, but keep getting replies with the canned response: "we have decided to go with someone which more closely fits our needs". One of the companies I have applied for is that Fortune 500 company that I worked for on contract. I'd like to work there as a permanent employee, but keep getting rejected.

Is it likely due to my lack of college education, even though I'm a capable software developer?

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Your lack of education may or may not be hurting you. It would depend on the company to which you are applying. Some care a great deal about your formal education, others don't mind so much if you can demonstrate you have sufficient experience and skill.

What is hurting you is the fact you are listing your high school education and then nothing higher. We have a saying here that on a resume, anything that doesn't help you hurts you. Companies hiring experienced people don't care about where you went to high school. That really isn't relevant anymore once you get out into the world. Listing only your high school also only serves to highlight that you don't have a college education, and that just isn't a selling point when looking for a job.

Remember that your resume is basically a sales brochure. It isn't intended to be a comprehensive listing of all your experience, it is meant to tell a potential employer why they should hire you. The fact you did not continue your formal education past high school isn't a selling point. I would use your resume to highlight your real experience and leave the education off. If they care about your education, they ask about it in the interview after you've impressed them with the rest of your resume. Then you can tell them in-person why it isn't a problem.

  • 2
    Exactly my thoughts. Use the extra space to go into more detail about accomplishments from the workplace. – Steve-O Oct 22 at 13:02
  • "Remember that your resume is basically a sales brochure. It isn't intended to be a comprehensive listing of all your experience" -- Worth noting, a "CV" is the thing that is meant to be a comprehensive listing of your experience. A resume generally should be 1 (maybe 2) pages while a CV is expected to be more if needed. – Captain Man Oct 22 at 16:30
  • I was in a similar position to OP and came to the same conclusion and left out the education section completely. Focus on what you have to offer and see which jobs match. I found that at times I was rejected outright for my lack of a degree, but at the same time, I found companies were interested in me because of my experience and that was enough to get me interviews. – PeterK Oct 22 at 19:00
  • One reason why some more traditional companies look for a degree is that it is evidence that you are able to commit to and follow through on a long-term, (mostly) self-organized, and self-motivated effort like earning a degree; some consider that to be an indicator for valuable soft skills. If you suspect that a company will weigh this heavily, you could highlight your ability to independently complete work or lead efforts in your previous roles. – Backgammon Oct 23 at 21:53
16

Yes, your lack of formal education as listed on your resume could be holding you back.

The Fortune 50 company you're applying to will have an HR department. HR is where resumes go to die. They will be looking for certain 'keywords' and if your resume does not have whatever is specified then your resume will go in the circular file.

So what to do?

Companies don't hire resumes - companies hire people. People that can show they can do the job.

First of all - get in front of the hiring manager(s). This bypasses blindly sending resumes. This involves networking, research on the company and talking to people. Linkedin can be helpful here.

Second. Don't dismiss the contracting option. Instead of straight contracting look for contract-to-hire positions. I've found my last two (includes current) positions through this route. I work there for six months and after seeing my work I convert to full-time.


One last word. The large company you're looking at might not be an option right now. They might have background requirements (including education) for certain positions. In this case look at small to medium sized companies that don't have these types of requirements. Then in the meantime start taking classes on the nights/weekends. After several semesters you can then add to your resume that you're currently working on a degree with an expected completion of XX/XXXX.

Good luck!!

  • Being myself in the IT industry, this seems an accurate answer. – Paolo Oct 22 at 11:43
9

It depends on the company you're applying to. Some larger companies, especially those that get a large number of applicants need ways to quickly boil down the applicant pool. Often times that first cut is made by looking at an applicant's education, which seems to be the most common filter criteria I've come across. In these situations, you're just applying to the wrong company.

Some companies are moving away from this requirement, such as Google, Apple, etc. most recently, and when applying to companies with this stance, I think your best approach is to supplement the section on education with a section about Projects you've worked on. These projects should show what you do well and how they aid the company/community via the value you've added (e.g. improved process performance by 47% saving the company XX dollars in cloud licensing, reduced requirement of manual manhours needed to perform manual process X, added a new featureset that does X to project Y, etc.). You don't want to necessarily eliminate the education section from your resume/CV, you want to draw attention to things you've done that "count as" formal education. In fact, a project section for a developer is a must-have regardless, but in this case, it's vital.

Finally, you work as a developer, in IT, in the USA (which is currently going through one of the best job markets for quite some time). If you really think you've got the technical chops to code in just about any situation, start applying to technology companies or consulting firms that need your skill set. IT is, in my opinion, one of the few professions that actually place value on actual skills over education, so if you really have the skills here, applying to companies that value those skills (because they're a cornerstone to their business) will provide you with the best chance of getting an offer.

Now, if the harsh reality is that you're not the best programmer or you don't have anything publically visible you can show that demonstrates your prowess, you need to take steps to fix that. If your resume doesn't list anything that shows you're competent at your craft, that may be the ultimate issue here, rather than anything to do with your education.

  • This is very true, I was submitted to a company through a recruiter, interviewed, received and accepted an offer. The company then asked me to apply through their ATS and when I did, it rejected me the first four times because they required a specific number of years in one position, a college degree in another, etc etc. What was shocking to me was not the auto rejection - but the fact that even after the fact, HR could do nothing about it and never even saw the application getting rejected. It was basically a guessing game to get me into their system. – Mark Oct 22 at 16:44
  • harsh reality is true reality for everyone except one 'best' person – Michael Durrant Oct 23 at 0:27
2

Yes, it is most likely that the lack of post-secondary education is holding back your career. Please understand that unfortunately, a resume is too many times simply filtered through a list of keywords/requirements. These folks will not make a human interpretation of your skills if the resume is not passing the must haves. Or, think of the results of the following query, would you be part of this set?

select from pool_of_candidates where has_college = yes

Then, on the above subset they would start looking at the 'I would like' the candidate to have: this dev stack, experience, and so on... I am saying this from my own experience. I actually had several associate degrees; however, not having a bachelors was holding me back. Completing that degree late in my life helped tremendously with my career. I strongly advise you to start on one. Wish you good luck.

1

Probably.

Almost everybody that sees your resume has a degree. Being more like them would certainly make them like you more.

That doesn't mean you need the degree though: You only need 1 company to hire you (at a time). Right now, that may mean you have to apply to more jobs, but as you gain more years in the workforce, your degree (if you had one) would matter less and less.

If you reframe your question to this:

Would it be worth investing time and money in acquiring a degree, when I can get my desired job without one?

You'll get different answers.

It is perfectly natural to feel inadequate when you start the search for a new job. I've found that you can fight that feeling by applying to a boatload of jobs and doing udemy classes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8utmmWoBSBY

1

As someone who has conducted interviews I would not hold this against you since you have some years of experience working in the field. Generally I would care more about college education for entry level position candidates that have little to no experience in the industry. Even then I'm curious about projects they worked on in college, no so much the degree itself or their GPA.

However, I am not given resumes to pick from, the internal recruiters schedule interviews I conduct. Recruiters may be passing you because of it. What others have said cover this well, there may be automatic filters in place to ignore candidates without college degrees.

I believe you shouldn't limit where you apply to, but smaller companies may have less applicants and thus may be less likely to have automatic filters.

Whatever the case may be, I believe that if any recruiter contacts you (internal or third party) that you no longer need to worry about your lack of college education being a factor for that position. At that point I believe you're past the automatic filters. True, some people still may hold it against you but I believe it is much less likely.

1

Are you... a wizard?

If so, then you don't need a degree. You just need to find one company to give you a chance, and then prove yourself. When it's time to move on, you'll be able to find your next job on the strength of your real-world accomplishments. Quantify them if you can. Preferably in dollars.

Yes, there are companies that prioritize education and meaningless tests over demonstrated abilities. This may be most companies. But they're doing you a favor by self-filtering. If a wizard gets hired at one of those companies, they'll find themselves pulling the dead weight of a bunch of idiots with degrees.

-1

I retired from one of the Dow Jones 30 companies. As far as I can remember, most of the software developer employees have college degrees. It seems to me people without college education would have difficulty getting into the company.

I think the main reason is that they do not want to just hire a web developer. They want someone with the potential to do other things as well.

For example, in the recent years, AI/ML become main stream. Many of those kind of jobs require certain math knowledge, such as Calculus, linear algebra and probability/statistics, etc. Do you have them? If you do, then you don't have any problem getting hired by big companies. If you don't, please go back to school to train yourself.

Good luck.

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