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I've seen similar questions, and would like to first note that although those questions provide some useful information, they don't provide further information on how to handle the inevitable questions in interviews. With that said, let me get on with it.

I am currently employed as a Financial Analyst in a medium sized business in the United States, and I find myself looking for a new job. Generally I apply for positions that I would be perfectly suited for in that I know the industry (finance generally), work with their exact technologies, have an understanding of the broader duties involved, and have worked at that level in the past.

I am usually offered a phone or in-person interview to see if I would be a good fit for the company, and almost always I get a question regarding my formal education and lack of higher education (past high school). I have no interest in returning to formal education in that manner, and generally feel it would actually derail a large portion of my life path and career, not to mention the self-taught nature of my skills and the level above my peers that it's at as a result of my experience.

They generally persist however, and I get a lot of "Why don't you want to go back to school?" or "Well a degree is a huge plus for this position..." and I don't often get calls back. I understand that my education is the most likely factor holding me back from these positions, but it hasn't proved necessary in the past and ingrains a lot of bad habits when it comes to a number of different skills.

How can I get interviewers to understand that a formal education is not something I'm interested in, and that learning on the job or being self-taught are a much more effective way for me to gain the specific skills they're looking for on the job?

I'm more looking on how to frame my lack of formal higher education as a neutral factor, or as even a positive.

  • I'm curious why you think having more education would be detrimental to your skills? Generally speaking, more knowledge usually can only help. – Seth R Nov 4 at 16:24
  • @SethR Having worked with people with degrees, they generally learn a single way to do things in school, and are told that their way is the only right way. Yes it's a generalization, but bad habits are often ingrained into a lot of degree holders coming fresh off the assembly line. I find that I'm more adaptable having not had seen what the "right" way to do it is, and it makes it easier to adapt to the changes of the information. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 16:52
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    @JoeStrazzere You might not lose skills, but you might lose time learning outdated methods that aren't used in the real world. I've often found, for IT based courses, a lot of unis are teaching based on older versions of software or technology, so by the time you get to the real world your skills are obsolete. Meanwhile, having a job in the professional context, you tend to keep up to date with what a company are actually using. – Draken Nov 4 at 17:48
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    @JoeStrazzere I produced project management methodologies that swayed the CFO and the Controller at the time. Neither are with the company anymore (one retired, the other resigned as a protest). I'm surprised you'd say that given the sheer number of questions here struggling with "those aren't best practices" that are on this site. A lot of the knowledge learned in school are either outdated, impractical for a majority of businesses, or completely ignore existing company culture. There's a reason experience is much more lauded than education, but the latter seems to hold on. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 17:54
  • @JoeStrazzere I've removed that portion of the question despite my thinking on the matter. I think its a bit of an opinion that doesn't add a lot of value or substance to an answer, but doesn't invalidate existing ones. By removing it, I can make the question more useful for future readers. – Anoplexian - Reinstate Monica Nov 4 at 18:04
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There's an old saying "Show, don't tell". Focus on your achievements FIRST.

I'm in IT, and am a self-taught hacker,although I did later go to school (not college)

How can I get interviewers to understand that a formal education would most likely have a detrimental effect on my skills

You never frame it that way because you are coming across the exact way you say they are. They are pooh poohing your skills, you are pooh poohing their education. Instead stress that your years of experience you have provided you will not just a valuable education, but the skills that will help advance their companies success, and that you've done all of that WITHOUT education.

For the purposes of the interview and phone conversations, you say this:

I am giving serious consideration to going back to school, perhaps clepping a few courses where I am most familiar with the material

That shows that you have not closed your mind to the concept. I know that there are plenty of "education snobs" out there, but you have to appease them somewhat.

As I've said, I never got a degree, but I often get asked where I obtained my doctorate. Don't be ashamed of being auto didactic, but do not disparage the educational system either.

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How can I get interviewers to understand that a formal education would most likely have a detrimental effect on my skills?

You don't. You aren't in a position to tell someone that having a formal education would negatively affect your skills considering you haven't been through a formal education. Understanding multiple perspectives, knowing how to accomplish tasks, and passing tests showing you have a mastery over those skills is what management wants prior to hiring you. You're a high-risk hire if you don't have any certifications, degrees, or completed accredited trainings.

How can I get interviewers to understand that learning on the job or being self-taught are a much more effective way for me to gain the specific skills they're looking for on the job?

You don't. Your prospective managers want to know that you have the ability to learn a prescribed set of skills through pre-formed trainings. Assuring them you can just go out and learn these things on your own can be quite insulting to people who are quite advanced in the field and have been through the academic rigor to prove their education.

I'm more looking on how to frame my lack of formal higher education as a neutral factor, or as even a positive.

I've been hiring people for over a decade. You lack higher education; you are never going to frame that as a positive. What you have to do is highlight your other accomplishments showing that you can still perform the work despite you having no formal education.

Your battle is to show hiring managers that you're as capable as college graduates. You do this by structuring your resume to highlight your previous accomplishments in your field. You want to focus on your metrics, the technologies you used, and the processes you've mastered.

In the financial analysis field, there are certifications, trainings, and seminar. Consider attending these to counteract you not having a college education. At some point, your lack of formal education will be the biggest barrier preventing you from promoting.

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How can I get interviewers to understand that a formal education would most likely have a detrimental effect on my skills

You don't. It's unlikely to be true and that statement is too controversial to point out even if it is true.

I'm not saying that you need higher, formal, education, but saying that it would damage your skill set simply sounds delusional. It doesn't even matter if I think that statement is wrong or right. What matters is what it sounds like to recruiters, and it doesn't sound good. It's not going to help you to sound like you're "too cool for school".

That being said, I don't think you necessarily need more education (I don't know you but in many cases self taught people learn everything they need, especially with training from people who are educated and experienced in the field) and you should really focus on why you don't need more education, while not shooting down those who have it and implying that more education would be damaging.

Focus on stating that you're self taught, you've received training from people who have formal education (an assumption by me) and that you've compared yourself to other people in your field and state that you and your referrals can confirm that you're at least on pair or better than people who have the formal education. Make sure that this is true and your referrals can confirm.

It wouldn't hurt to include that if you find yourself lacking in any areas normally taught by normal education then you'd be willing to receive such education, i.e. by taking interesting educational courses, if needed but right now you've received all the training (by others and by yourself by self-teaching yourself) you need to be successful and being a competitive asset for the company for that position.

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How can I get interviewers to understand that a formal education is not something I'm interested in, and that learning on the job or being self-taught are a much more effective way for me to gain the specific skills they're looking for on the job?

You need to be direct.

You need to tell interviewers that you are not interested in gaining a formal education, and that you don't want a position that requires a degree.

You need to explain to interviewers how you got where you are as a Financial Analyst, how you produced project management methodologies that swayed the CFO and the Controller and how effective you have been despite lacking any degree.

You need to explain that you prefer learning on the job, and how that is particularly effective for you. You should probably be prepared to discuss your preferred learning style.

You should not attempt to convince an interviewer that education has a detrimental effect on your skills, is useless, that it produces bad habits, or that it is outdated - those are all losing arguments. Just convince them that you can do the job without it.

Right or wrong, many companies list formal education as a minimum requirement and most of their applicants will have this education, as will most of their interviewers. Your goal should not be to convince them that they are wrong. Instead, convince them that you are the exception to their rule.

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