Tips for Overcoming Degree Requirements in Job Ads

Christopher Sereno, the manager of the Marina and Outdoor Recreation and Equipment Center and Five-O Motors, meets a potential employee during a Marine Corps Community Services job fair aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Christopher Sereno, the manager of the Marina and Outdoor Recreation and Equipment Center and Five-O Motors, meets a potential employee during a Marine Corps Community Services job fair aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Aug. 17, 2017. (Lance Cpl. Autumn Rodenhizer/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Marlene Sharp gained loads of business development experience working in the animation industry. "However, my degrees -- a master's and a bachelor's -- are in the arts," the Los Angeles resident said. "Job postings advertise for a person with my marketing, business and legal affairs experience, but the possession of an MBA seems to be the deal-breaker. I've been rejected for at least one job outright because I lack an MBA."

Sharp isn't alone. In today's buyer's market, employers have reason to be picky when it comes to credentials and degrees.

"Companies that do this are usually trying to use the ad as a strong qualifier to cut down the massive number of resumes they receive," said Judi Perkins, a job coach based in Bethel, Connecticut. "The company hopes the list of requirements will deter the bulk of the unrealistic submittals."

But if you've truly got everything it takes to do the job except the certification or degree, it's still worth applying. Here's how to increase your chances of landing an interview.

The Job Posting-Resume Match Game

"Match as many requirements from the job spec as possible," said Barbara Safani, author of "Happy About My Resume: 50 Tips For Building a Better Document to Secure a Brighter Future" and owner of the Career Solvers in New York. "If they request that you know a certain software application that you don't have experience in, compare it to something similar that you do know or showcase a success where you had no knowledge of another application but learned it quickly. If you do not have a particular degree, show how you have been successful in your role despite this."

From that, develop talking points to use in your cover letter and interviews. "These provide examples of how you have on-the-job experience in the various skill areas sought for the position," said Jenny Schade, president of JRS Consulting in Wilmette, Illinois.

Do You Have a Mole in Your Professional Network?

As with any job search, it pays to have someone on the inside, or with inside information.

"Seek out your network and identify anyone that you may have a direct or indirect connection with who can help you secure an audience with the hiring manager or, at minimum, the company's corporate recruiter," said David Kimmelman, general manager of careers and jobs for CourseAdvisor/Avenue100 Media Solutions, a leading analytics-based performance marketing company in Wakefield, Massachusetts. Being recommended by someone the interviewer trusts can go a long way to establishing your credibility and get you in a door that might otherwise be closed.

While you've got them, review your bona fides with your connections and ask them for suggestions on how to market yourself. "It's often useful to have someone else read the resume and the job description to see if the two match," said Daisy Swan, owner of Daisy Swan & Associates, a career coaching and consulting firm in Los Angeles. "Is the reader able to get it? If not, changes need to be made to more clearly get the skills and experience on the resume in an easy to digest way."

This done, you can start making contact.

Extreme Career Makeover?

It's also important to showcase your ability to learn new things. "If at any point in your professional life, you have reinvented yourself career-wise and/or made significant changes in the industries you have worked for, make a point to demonstrate it," Kimmelman said.

This helps prospective employers see that you can evolve and expand your skills and knowledge. This shows that even if you don't have the credentials they're looking for, you can quickly pick up what you need. Having references who can speak to your adaptability is also a great idea, again for third-party credibility.

Project Confidence

Finally, don't underestimate the importance of your attitude throughout the entire job-search process.

"Don't feel defensive or fearful that you aren't up to par; it shows in your behavior, your choice of words and your tone of voice," Perkins said.

"If you have most of the requirements and success stories from your previous jobs, then you have something to contribute. Focus confidently on what you've got, rather than worry about what you're missing."

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