Photo by Hunters Race on Unsplash


Over the past decade, we've helped thousands of young adults with no college and limited work experience land awesome jobs (many jobs that listed degree requirements).

The real secret is that many employers don’t care about degrees. At least, not as much as job postings suggest.

Outside highly regulated industries (law, consulting, medicine, accounting, high finance), employers care more about your capability than your credentials.

During the hiring process, employers look for three things:

1) evidence of your ability to do the job or quickly learn how (capability)

2) a high degree of confidence said evidence is reliably (credibility)

3) the likelihood that you’ll contribute to the team in a positive way (culture)

None of those criteria require a college degree.

*(Unless the culture is more meritocratic/elitist, by nature. Which good chance, it’s not the kind of place you want to work anyway. Unless your goal is to play office politics rather than do actual work. In that case, you’re probably in the wrong corner of the blogosphere.)

The best thing you can do to stand out the job hunt without a degree is to manufacture the strongest signal possible. Here’s how you do that across each of the three core criteria:

How to Build Evidence of Your Capability

Don’t rely on a résumé. Build a portfolio, instead. Whatever skills you claim to have, build evidence around them — and do it publicly. Create your own website. Publish regularly. Get active on social media. Share original content related to your skills/areas of career interest. Engage others who are leaders in the space you want to work in.

Start building evidence long before you’re on the job hunt. How long? At least a few months. But the longer, the better.

A quick litmus test, Google yourself. What do the top results say? Does your name appear in the first few results? What’s the impression those results give? Is it positive? Is it relevant to the types of jobs/industries you’re trying to break into?

The best evidence you can build is a robust, verifiable digital identity that screams “This is the person we should hire.”

That requires consistency and longevity — i.e. you’ve been thinking about and working on this particular problem/skill for a long time, uninterrupted.

Which brings us to the next criteria, credibility.

How to Develop Credibility

Third-party endorsements will increase your credibility. How many people have referenced you work? Linked to it? Engaged with it? (How many social followers do you have? How many newsletter subscribers, etc.)

Are you seen as a contributor in the area of your interest/industry? Are you seen as a leader? Are you well-connected online to people in the industry?

Building an audience around your skills and area of interest is an infinitely more valuable signal than a degree.

Getting personal references or endorsements from people seen as leaders in the field/industry you want to work in are also useful.

Better yet, if you can get a warm referral from someone in the industry (or someone working at the company you’re trying to get hired by), then you’ll dramatically increase the likelihood your application gets moved to the top of the pile.

But it’s not enough for your application to get seen and demonstrate capability. The last part — culture — is also huge.

How to Demonstrate Cultural Alignment

Cultural alignment is an often overlooked aspect of the job hunt.

When you’re first starting out, it’s not as big of a deal. You need experience — by any means necessary. Even if it’s with a company you’re not very excited to work for. It’s okay if you treat your job as transactional — so long as you’re comfortable with that.

So at the very minimum, first, you want to avoid demonstrating glaring cultural misalignment.

For example, when I was in my early 20s (back when I still thought I wanted to go to law school), a friend of mine was friends with a state senator who urgently needed to hire a new staffer. So he made the introduction and I got the interview.

The senator was an outspoken democrat. I hand-picked a brand new democrat-blue tie for an extra touch. Except it didn’t matter. Because I all but had it in the bag until the very last interview question, when I lit the opportunity on fire.

“What’s your favorite book?” he asked. Without hesitation, “Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand,” I responded. “I’m a big fan of Rand.”

My response was a glaring indication of cultural misalignment. I had a strong referral. I had solid experience. I performed well in the interview. Except the last question. So I didn’t get the job.

I could’ve flown under the radar and probably had a better chance to win the job. (I would’ve hated it. But the experience could’ve been useful in the direction of my goals at that time.)

Still, it’s a good example. While demonstrating cultural alignment is a powerful way to increase the likelihood you get hired, when you’re first starting out it’s just as important that you avoid demonstrating cultural misalignment.

**Of course, you can ignore all of this if it’s critical to you to work at a company where you’re aligned. In that case, go all-in on sharing how you’re aligned.

But don’t forget, when you’re just starting out, you need experience first. Even if it’s with a company you with a mission you don’t align 100% with.

You need the experience. So get it. Even if it’s purely transactional. They hire you, they pay you, you do the job. It doesn’t have to be more than that. Once you gain experience, if it’s important to you to work at a company with an aligned mission, then pivot. You’ll be better positioned to win your second job hunt once you have experience anyway.

I know that’s a lot. But if you can demonstrate those three things: Capability, Credibility, and Cultural Alignment, then no one cares if you have a degree. You’ll be well-suited to win plenty of opportunities.

Don’t sweat not having a degree. Seriously. It’s not the passport to the good life it once was.

You can win the job hunt without one. (And if you ever want help figuring out how to navigate your career without college, then check out our program here at Praxis. That’s kind of our whole thing.)

Mitchell Earl
Post by Mitchell Earl
February 15, 2024
COO @DiscoverPraxis: I mentor young adults to take agency over their lives, careers, and money. | Career Bound Podcast | Author of Don't Do Stuff You Hate