5 Steps To Get a Job Without the Perfect Background Or Experience

Credit: Shutterstock

Have you found yourself scouring the web for jobs only to see post after post asking for a college degree or MBA? How about jobs that ask for references or expect you to have industry experience and connections? Possibly the worst of them all -- entry level jobs asking for loads of experience?

Almost everyone has been there at one point or another in their job search; however, it’s crucial that you don’t let those feelings of self-doubt stop you. Even if you don't have the right background, it's still possible to get your foot in the door.

Frankly, your path will be a little harder than it is for those who have the right education or work experience, but it is possible to shift into a new career, with a little bit of persistence, smart decision-making, and a good dose of luck. But like Bruce Lee said, "You have to create your own luck."

Consider the following tips:

1. Read the job listing very carefully

When you see a job that catches your interest, make sure to read the description thoroughly before applying. Understand the job requirements, whether that be skills, experiences, or background. Even if a job is asking for a specific degree, you may be able to get an interview if your skillset matches the job requirements. Ultimately, you need to be truthful to yourself and know if you can do the job described before applying.

If you believe that your skills and capabilities align with the job, don’t let not having a degree stop you, especially if having a degree is “recommended” or “preferred” in the job post. In fact, there are many corporate jobs that don’t require higher education.

However, if your skills do not align with what the job requires, or the job listing demands a degree (meaning they will not look at your application without one), skip applying and focus your energy and attention on jobs that are a good fit for you.

2. Explore courses that fit into your schedule and budget

Most of the time, you don’t need to get a degree to learn a specific skill or topic. In fact, there are many opportunities to learn about your job or industry of interest.

Not everyone has the time or money to enroll in a college course or expensive career bootcamp while caring for their family, holding down another job, or even two, but taking even small steps to increase your knowledge of a certain industry you are interested in can be one of the most important parts of landing a role.

For example, you may want to check out some of these free or very inexpensive online courses/platforms:

1. High-impact Business Writing, Coursera– to improve your business writing skills

2. Finance for Non-Finance Professionals, Coursera – to get a basic technical understanding of finance

3. Codecademy or Udemy – both have tons of programming classes on Python, Java, C++.

4. The Strategy of Content Marketing, Coursera – to learn core content marketing strategies

5. SMstudy Digital Marketing Associate Certification – a free digital marketing strategy course that you can complete in 2.5 hours

6. Certificate in Front-End Development with HTML, CSS and JavaScript from the University of Washington – learn coding basics necessary for web and app development

7. Everyday Excel Part I, Coursera– learn basics of excel necessary for most finance and accounting jobs

Find more free business courses here, where you can filter through specific job types, skills, and durations of courses, ranging from less than 2 hours to 3+ months. To read more about the best online courses with certificates selected by the NY Post, click here.

If you do have the time, budget, and interest to take college courses, most colleges offer courses you can audit or take part-time.

Lastly, include any and all education experience on your resume, even if you have not completed the degree. Be sure to not state you earned a degree if you did not (employers will check!), but feel free to include any courses or studies you undertook when you were trying to earn one.

3. Build your network

Abstract representation of a network of people
badproject /

During job search, your network could be your best friend. Connections, recommendations, and references can be a make or break to getting certain jobs, which is why it’s important to start building your network as soon as possible.

While the idea of networking may seem intimidating to many, it’s as easy as sending a message on LinkedIn when connecting or reaching out to an acquaintance over email. Building out a good LinkedIn page is key here, as it’s the first impression you are making when reaching out to a potential connection.

Components of a Strong LinkedIn Profile

  1. A clean and friendly headshot – Having a professional headshot is really important to your LinkedIn as it is typically the first thing a connection will see. When taking or choosing the photo, remember to have a clean and simple background, a professional shirt, blazer, or jacket, and most importantly, a smile.
  2. An impactful headline – LinkedIn automatically fills your headline with your current job title and company, but you can change it and make it more personal and impactful. Consider listing one experience, specialty, or skill that may be relevant to your job search. Also, optimize your headline for searching by recruiters by including something like “Seeking New Opportunities,” “Seeking Entry-Level Opportunities,” or “Looking for Full-Time Opportunities in XYZ.”
  3. A filled-out profile – Fill out as much of your profile that you can, including any relevant education, experience, projects, skills, volunteer work, and your current role.
  4. A concise summary – Make a bulleted list or short paragraph of any key accomplishments or skills you’d want recruiters to know about you. Also, you can use this space to highlight your interests, and speak about why you want to break into a specific industry, make a career switch, and more.

To read more about creating a great LinkedIn profile, click here.

Once your LinkedIn profile is set up and you start making connections, you can start interacting with your network more. It’s a great idea to try to get on a call with people in your network if you are interested in learning more about their role, industry, company, etc. Make sure when you reach out you are respectful of their time, are flexible around their schedules, and are prepared with questions to facilitate good conversation.

Another tactic is attending job fairs or information sessions where you can speak directly to employees of a company of interest, pass them your resume, and even follow up to set up a time to chat further.

Lastly, don’t forget to utilize your network’s networks, asking friends, colleagues, or acquaintances you are familiar with to connect you to others that may be helpful in your job search.

4. Focus on what you can offer

Instead of spending time trying to explain why you don’t have a degree in your applications or cover letters, emphasize skills and experiences you have that would offer value to the employer and make you a great fit. Use the keywords in a job listing to guide what you focus on in your application. For example, if the listing asks for “experience in public relations,” you should strongly emphasize any previous experience and studies within the topic in your resume and cover letter.

Better yet, prove to your employer that you can offer value above and beyond what is expected or what other candidates have. Do this by highlighting relevant skills (i.e. coding, accounting knowledge, marketing acumen, etc.), and connecting them to skills or traits the job may not list as required but that would make you stand out (i.e. great interpersonal skills, collaborative, strongly analytical, etc.).

Additionally, make it a point to show how your skills would offer value to the specific corporation you are applying for. The more you demonstrate your interest and understanding of a company/firm and emphasize why you would be a strong fit, the more of a chance you have to impress HR and get an interview.

5. Be prepared for interviews

Don’t wait until you have an interview to start preparing. The best time to start is while you are applying, with the assumption that you will get an interview. Although it may not pan out, a “better safe than sorry” attitude will put you ahead of other candidates who may not be as prepared when the time to interview comes around.  

Interviewing only gets better with practice. Many of the tips in applying for jobs also apply to interviewing, such as focusing on your experience and skills rather than your lack of a degree, demonstrating how you will offer value to the company, and being confident.

However, to prepare even further, be sure to run through many common questions and have an idea of what angle you will take on each question to best craft your story and impress HR. Some likely questions are:

  1. Walk me through your resume.
  2. Tell me about a time you faced a conflict working on a team and how you dealt with it?
  3. What are your strengths? Weaknesses?
  4. Explain a time you had a difficult interaction with a client and how you handled it?
  5. Tell me about an accomplishment? A failure?

Of course, there are many more, and quick internet search will find you plenty to practice with.

Lastly, be prepared to explain why you don’t have a bachelor’s degree. There are many ways to tackle this question, but in any case, be sure the focus is not on what you are lacking, but what your qualifications are despite not having a degree, and the value you bring to the table that they didn't even realize they needed.

Overall, be confident, and don’t get discouraged. With a strong mentality, dedication, and following these few steps, you are one step closer to getting your dream job. Good luck!

To read more about different industries and skillsets, click here.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

Leah Musheyev


Leah works on content creation, project management, and digital strategy on the Digital Team at Nasdaq.

Read Leah's Bio