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It turns out that people applying for a job care more about their own credentials than the people who are hiring them.

You’ve been on the job search for a while, sending out resumes and cover letters to a few positions here and there that pique your interest, but nothing that has really made you excited.
Then you find it.
You find the one posting that is exactly what you want to do. It’s got some of this, some of that, and some of what you really love doing. Best of all, you have all the skills the company wants.
This is exciting, you think.
Then you look further. The credential required isn’t something you have (e.g., BA, MA, MBA, etc.).
“Well, back to looking for less-exciting jobs,” and defeatedly you go.
You just made a mistake.
Believe it or not, save for major firms, credential requirements are amazingly flexible. Why do companies use them if they can be flexible? They’re used because a company or hiring manager just assumes that the person with the other traits they are looking for (e.g., skills, experience, etc.) probably also has a BA or an MA or an MBA. They imagine their ideal candidate and that candidate has experience and skills first — but for them to get those skills and experience, they think, they must have gotten a credential first.
But if they can find that ideal candidate without that credential, chances are they’ll bite. Why?
It’s really, really, really hard to find good help.
Since it is so hard to find the right people, why would a company pass up on the right person for the right position just because of a petty credential requirement? If they’re smart, they won’t. They’ll at least give you a second look.
Here’s an easy way to get an interview without the credential for the job:

1. Apply

If you don’t apply, you can’t be in the running, so go ahead and apply.
If you can’t apply through the online portal because of a degree requirement, then look up whoever is in charge of hiring at the company. This is usually listed in the listing, but if it isn’t, then it’s somebody under Human Resources, Operations, or the CEO themselves (depending on the size and structure of the company).
Send them an email, or, if you can, give them a call.
Explain that you are applying for the position and you would like to send them your portfolio (more on that in a minute).

2. Put Together a Portfolio

Remember that it is really, really, really hard to find good help. Remember that the credential is just a heuristic for most companies to figure out who is more likely to possess the skills they’re trying to track down.
So what is a good way of figuring out if somebody can do a job?
Showing them that you can actually do a job.
Your portfolio should showcase a few things:

  • Your ability to follow instructions and go above and beyond your employer’s expectations for you.
  • Your ability to back up your resume, ie., if your resume says “digital design” or “copywriting,” then your portfolio should show off digital design or copywriting.
  • Your ambition, ie., it should show off projects that you had to go out and discover for yourself. School projects are fine if that’s all you have, but a freelance project here or an internship your snapped up there say much more than your ability to follow instructions in the classroom.
  • Your desire to be part of their team, ie., your projects should show some kind of connection to the job for which you are applying. It should tell them something about you and about the story that brings you to their team.

This sounds like a lot, and it can be. It’s a lot more than the traditional resume and cover letter.
Why don’t most people get the job?
Because they just submit the resume and cover letter.
If you have to submit those, do that, but don’t fret over them. All the time you spend fretting over crafting the perfect resume (tip: there is no perfect resume) could be spent building an impressive portfolio. While you are doing what everybody else is doing, you could be doing something to set yourself apart.
If you don’t have a portfolio, start small. Look to do some freelance work, pick up some slack for your friends, or try out an unpaid internship. These are all opportunities for you to build a portfolio and the projects that come with them.

3. Be on the ball

This should go without saying for any application for a job, but generally be on the ball. If the interviewing company emails you, respond within an hour. Know their phone numbers (or at least the area code) so you know whether or not they are calling when you get a new incoming call.
If you don’t have the credential they are looking for in the posting, then you have to meet and exceed all the expectations they have for somebody who would have the credential. Why exceed?
Like it or not, in the minds of many people, especially those in HR departments, anything you fail to impress on can be blamed on your lack of the credential.
“Typo in the email? Shows why you shouldn’t hire a dropout!”
“She took 2 days to get back to me! I can see why grad school didn’t work out.”
It’s unfair. It’s annoying. It’s something to be prepared against.
Meet and exceed expectations in every way. Dress well for your interview (well for the company’s standards — don’t wear a three piece suit in San Francisco, but you might not wear a hoodie in Boston).

4. Be Prepared

Even if you have a nice portfolio that shows off your ability to create value outside of the classroom and even if you are constantly on the ball with your work, you will probably receive questions about why you applied for the job without the credential.
Be honest, but be prepared. Don’t allow yourself to be caught off-guard by this question or else you might look entitled or presumptuous.
Consider the following two situations:
HR: “So, why don’t you have a [CREDENTIAL]? Why did you apply for this job despite not having it?”
You: “Uh…I thought I was qualified elsewhere, what does the credential really mean anyway?”
Not a very compelling answer. Instead:
You: “Although I don’t have the credential in the listing, I applied for the job because my skills have been verified by my experience and your mission resonates with me. I believe I can add value to your organization and I’m dedicated to making sure I do, with or without a credential.”
That signals ambition and drive and communicates that you are confident without sounding arrogant.

I learned this firsthand with my experience around our Praxis business partners. They know good talent is hard to find — that’s why they come to us.
Contact me if you are a business owner looking to find ambitious young talent to improve your team.
Apply to Praxis if you think you are this young talent!