Do I Need a College Degree to Get a Job in Tech?

No. You don’t NEED a college degree to get a job in tech.

Does a college degree help? Yes.

Let’s unpack this:

At the end of the day, hiring managers want to know the answer to 3 questions.

Question 1: How quickly can you learn everything you need to know to do this role well?

Hiring managers want to hire folks who can learn quickly, learn independently, and learn effectively. Different employers will provide different levels of training and they want to see that you’ll be able to succeed with the training they provide. In addition, most employers have an onboarding timeline in mind. During the interview, they’re assessing how much of the skills and context you already have so they won’t have to train you.

The faster you can learn, the faster you can begin “adding value” to the business. The more independently you learn, the less time other employees have to spend training you. Employers want to spend less time training you.

Here are some ways to prove you learn quickly:

  • On your resume and in your interview, discuss the hard things you’re currently learning. For example, we highly recommend taking free courses on Salesforce, Zendesk, and SQL to get into customer support and customer success roles. However, be ready to talk about the course and prove what you’ve learned during the interview.
  • In your resume, talk about how long it took you to onboard before you were independently doing your job on your own.
  • Provide examples of skills you learned on the job or on your own and how you used those skills.

Question 2: Once you’re fully up to speed, what level of judgment, intelligence, and grit will you bring to this work? Or, what will the quality of your work be?

If you don’t have a college degree, make sure you provide clear examples of when you’ve done excellent work. If you can, provide business metrics that prove you can achieve hard goals. Here are some examples:

  • Your customer satisfaction score
  • Whether you were in the top 5 or 10% of customer service agents
  • How much revenue you brought in in sales
  • How much time you saved when you developed a new process

Question 3: Will you be an enjoyable-enough colleague to work with?

Your employer will spend 8 hours a day (often more in tech), 5 days a week with you. They don’t expect you to be their best friend but they expect to have a respectful relationship where they look forward to interacting with you. Show how you would make their workday enjoyable by being respectful, engaging, curious, and proactive.

Why do many employers prefer a college degree?

  1. Most hiring managers and recruiters in tech have a college degree. They or their parents probably spent a lot of money on that degree. They might have a somewhat misplaced feeling of justice: “If I did something hard to get here, you should have to do the same hard thing to get here, too.”
  2. Network Validation: When hiring managers know what college you went to, they might be able to see if they know people in common to backchannel to ask how quickly you learn, about the quality of your work, and whether you’re an enjoyable enough person to work with.
  3. Quality Grouping: If hiring managers have hired or worked with others who went to the same school as you and were awesome to work with, they are likely to be biased to think that you are similarly awesome. This is especially the case for quantitative and technical roles or roles where the employer will have to trust you to make good decisions about how to work with customers, how to build a tool, or how to design a new process.

College can be an incredible educational experience where you’re surrounded by smart and experienced people of all ages who give you a perspective on the world and how to make better decisions. A great college education can give you foundational knowledge that makes it easier to learn new things throughout the rest of your life. In a college setting, smarter and experienced people are structuring your information diet in a (hopefully) optimal way.

But, with free resources like EdX and Khan Academy, podcasts, colleges posting their syllabi online, and even free training resources offered by the software platforms themselves (Mode Analytics, Salesforce Trailhead, and Zendesk), you can replicate much of the educational experience on your own.

If you don’t have a college degree, here are 5 things you can do to help you break into tech:

  1. Take online courses for in-demand skills like SQL, Salesforce, HTML, Zendesk, and Excel.
  2. Use those skills in your job, volunteering, or freelance gigs to have an impact on your business. For example, use those tools to save time with automation, pull data to make recommendations to your boss, or create new content.
  3. Aim to have measurable results in your job. For example: earning the top 5% of customer satisfaction scores on your team, bringing in 5% more monthly revenue each month, reducing the time it takes to execute a process by 50%, or addressing customer concerns for 50 people a day. Metrics show employers that you can work under pressure and drive impact and overcome any reservations they have about your pedigree.
  4. Take every opportunity to communicate the quality and quantity of your achievements. Showcase your impact on your resume, be clear about how you achieved that impact in interviews, and bring it up (naturally) while networking.
  5. Remember, even a perfect candidate will only get 1 interview for every 20 jobs they apply to. 

Not sure how to showcase your impact in your resume?

Still worried about the fact that you didn’t go to or finish college? JobStep helps talented people, regardless of pedigree, get into tech jobs. 

JobStep writes your resumes and cover letters–and get you interviews with employers who will measure you by your skills and impact — not your pedigree.