7 Interview Responses to: “Do you have a degree?” (When you don’t)

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You hope that this question doesn’t come up in an interview. You might even dread it. “Do you have a degree?”

But it doesn’t have to be scary if you are prepared to answer it. You may even leverage a great response to this question in your favor.

Expect to answer it if you are applying for a position (or contract work) that explicitly mentions a degree-requirement or preference in the job description or RFP.

When responding to this inquiry, approach it as an opportunity rather than an obstacle. Take this moment in the spotlight to highlight your practical experience and skills. DO NOT try to move past this question quickly. And remind yourself:

It is NOT A DEAL-BREAKER to be a non-degreed applicant.

However, you must have a prepared response to this question that makes the interviewer feel confident in what you have to offer. Knowing what to say and how to say it in this situation will play more of a role in landing the job than the credential itself. If you have been invited to interview, they have already considered that you might be a good match without a degree!

What to say:

Remember that you should customize these suggestions to your own circumstances and skill-sets. But the examples below can help you craft a thoughtful, confident response which is specific to the job you will be interviewing for.

AskAManager.org offers the following suggested response:

Interviewer: Do you have a degree?

You: “I’ve thought about going back and finishing it, but I’ve found it hasn’t gotten in the way of my building a successful career.”

This response can benefit you in your interview process, especially if you have extensive, relevant experience. If you choose to customize this response, it’s a good idea to have over 10 years of work under your belt in the field for which you are applying. That way, when you use it, the response will hold weight.

Similarly, if you have already found success in the specified field, Liz Ryan at Forbes offers that following response:

Interviewer: Do you have a degree?

You: “I’m not a classroom learner — I learn best by doing things, and I guess that’s why my boss at Acme Heating and Cooling promoted me from a plumbing tech to an inside sales job back when. I got lucky because I landed in the right profession!”

This response says a few things about you.

First, it shows that you are aware of how you best acquire knowledge. Someone who is in touch with their learning style is intuitive; they will be effective in putting their job-knowledge to work in the quickest way possible

Second, it tells the interviewer that you excel with hands-on training. On-the-job training is beneficial for both parties as it provides information and practice to the employee while giving the organization productivity and value.

Third, it gives you an additional opportunity to speak about your progress and achievements in your career. In this response you can also substitute the sentence about being promoted, with another relevant success that you achieved early in your career.

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Martin Yate, in his book Knock ’em Dead 2015: The Ultimate Job Search Guide offers a different kind of response:

Interviewer: Do you have a degree?

You: “My education was cut short by the necessity of earning a living. However, I’m currently enrolled in classes to complete my degree”

You don’t need to be pursuing a degree in order to use this response, however you should change it if you are not pursuing a degree. In place, you can mention any continuing education opportunities that you have, or are currently pursuing. For example, “My education was cut short by the necessity of earning a living. However, I’m currently certified as an expert graphic designer through Degreed.

This is a great response to use in an interview for an organization that emphasizes the importance of continued education. It speaks to the fact that you are committed to your personal education and haven’t given up on it in the face of adversity.

It also says that you are proactive. You have anticipated the need for continued education in your career. This will go a long way with many interviewers.

Martin Yate offers another suggestion to his previous in Knock em dead: With great answers to tough interview questions:

Interviewer: We normally find that applicants with degree usually do best in this position

You: “I appreciate your viewpoint. It was necessary that I start earning a living early in life. My past managers have discovered that this is no way speaks of my lacking of processing power”

This approach is a great way to respond to an interviewer who has verbalized that the position normally requires a college education. It may be a way to redirect the conversation and put the focus back on you and your skills.

This is an answer that portrays confidence and conviction while also remaining respectful to the interviewer. Make sure that you have former managers who will give you an awesome reference if you use this example. You may also let these colleagues know that they may receive a call for a reference.

A Quora contributor, Wesley Long, suggests going this route:

Interviewer: Do you have a degree?

You: “I didn’t feel the time spent acquiring a degree would have been spent better than the time I spent learning on-the-job and acquiring industry-relevant certifications.”

This response emphasizes the importance of real-world experience and certifications specific to the field. While a degree can be desired by an interviewer, industry-relevant certifications are much more specific. A bachelor’s degree is very broad and rarely teaches students HOW to do a job. While you shouldn’t debate this topic in the interview, this response is a great way to highlight the advantages of alternatives to a 4-year degree that you have personally pursued.

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Thenest.com suggests a response that appeals more to companies that may offer tuition assistance or reimbursement.

Interviewer: Do you have a degree?

You: “After high school graduation, I didn’t have the opportunity to go to college. Now that I’ve gained work experience in the health care field, I focused my job search on companies that will help me build my career through professional development and formal education, such as tuition assistance.”

This is a great response to use if you are open to or are planning on pursuing a degree in the specified field. Many companies offer benefits that help employees start or return to a formal college education.

This response appeals to companies in three ways.

First, all companies are aware of the high-cost of tuition so this may appeal to their humanity. It paints a picture of growth and perseverance.

Second, it says that you are already committed to your continued education.

Third, it may flatter them. This response show their company was researched and carefully selected before applying.

Finally, Answering Tough Interview Questions for Dummies offers a response that may help them down if they seem on-the-fence about the issue:

Interviewer: While we are impressed what you have achieved without a degree, it’s something we normally require.

You: “Let’s say that you were to make me an offer and I accept, what can I do when I start to further compensate for my lack of [requirement] as I work hard to relieve your immediate workload?”

This is a brave response and probably shouldn’t be the first one you use. It can be a powerful move to use toward the end of the interview – if they seem to like you but aren’t sure about your lack of degree. It can be a great way to push for additional consideration or a second interview.

How to say it:

When asked questions about your lack of a degree, respond with confidence. If you feel ashamed or regret not having a degree, the interviewer will pick up on it.

Do your best to project confidence and pride in your career path. Try not to seem defensive about your circumstances. You should strive to change the interviewer’s mind about the importance of a degree.

Conclusion:

There are different ways you can respond to a question about your degree (or lack-there-of) during an interview. With some preparation, you can develop a response that is right for you and circumstances.

When you respond, project a positive perception of yourself and your skills to win-over the interviewer.

Let us know how it goes and what phrase you decided to go with when responding to “Do you have a degree?”

If you need helping finding jobs that DON’T require 4-year degree, be sure to check out our Jobs Without a Degree search tool!

Good luck.

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