Dear Evil HR Lady,
I love your blog.
I work for a small entertainment company (25 people). I was hired as a production manager, and was expecting to be mentored by the producer who hired me. Unfortunately, the company lost a bid and the expensive producer was the first to go. I was suddenly thrust into a role far above my qualifications. I’ve managed to get the knowledge I need (your blog has helped immensely for HR matters), and the company gave me a 31% raise a few months ago after winning a different bid. Here’s my situation:
Due to the circumstances of my childhood, I left home early and didn’t know how to get into, nor could I afford, a regular college education. I went to art school until it became too expensive, dropped out, and took job as a letter carrier. Eleven years later, after buying and selling a few houses and getting myself together, I quit work and went back to vocational art school. I only hold an associate degree from a small, regionally accredited private school. I moved to the big city and have managed to climb the ladder in production management very fast. I’ve held jobs in a few major studios and have some nice volunteer work on my resume. I also have a pilot’s license. Now I’m 42. I’m worried about retirement and am wondering how long I can run the rat race in a youth filled industry. This job will probably end when the movie contract ends, and there are no retirement benefits here. I want to transfer my PM skills over to a stable industry, perhaps in internal publications or training videos at a finance corp. However, with just an AA degree, how am I going to get past the first glance? Is there a way to skirt the issue? Does self-education and experience count for anything? I admit that even I give preference to employees with college degrees when I’m recruiting…If the answer is “go get a degree”, well, I’m struggling with the idea of having enough energy to start from scratch while working 12 hour days, plus it will take years and years going part time. Any other suggestions for older people like me?
I’m going to be brutally honest with you. Does it matter that you don’t have your degree? Yes. It does. There are some companies that will not so much as read the rest of your resume if you do not have a 4 year degree. Do I think those companies are wise? Well, no…and yes.
The HR department I work in will not consider you for a professional job unless you have a degree. Just flat out will not. Doesn’t matter how many years of experience you have or what your knowledge base is. No degree, no dice. Now, your degree can be in vocal performance or underwater basket weaving (both only incidentally related to Human Resources as a whole) and we’ll look at you, if you have the requisite experience.
There are some good reasons for this. A degree is a “proxy” for patience, endurance, knowing how to follow stupid policies and procedures that have no functional purpose. (Hey, it’s all becoming clear now! This is why HR requires a degree.) It also says, “This person has accomplished something.” And what that is is very defined.
Now, on the average resume it will say, “5 years project management experience.” I don’t know what that really means. But Bachelor of Science, Mathematics. I know what that means.
Now, does this mean we miss out on some quality people? You bet. Would I change the policy if I were Queen of HR? You bet. 20 years of experience in the working world does not equal 4 years at a University, that mom and dad funded where you spent most of your time doing things your mom and dad still don’t know about.
So, you have experience and no degree. Are you sunk? No. You have one big advantage–you have experience on the creative side. Creative work is generally recognized as not requiring the strict structures that, say, accounting does. People tend to be a bit more lenient on the degree requirement on that side.
You are either creative, or you are not, and no number of “How to write a screen play” classes is going to change that. (Not that such a class isn’t valuable. It is. It will teach you how to write a screenplay. Really. I, myself, took playwrighting (and yes, that is correct, you “forge” a play, you don’t “write” one, although both spellings are correct) and learned how to write a play. Which I did. Would you like to read it?) There are tricks and requirements that you need to know.
However, you can learn that sort of thing on the job as well, which you have done.
My advice for the resume. Experience, first, education last. (Actually that’s my advice for everyone not straight out of school.) Don’t bring it up randomly in conversation, (“oh, I hope you’ll consider me, since I don’t have a degree…) and don’t worry about it.
You will probably be automatically disqualified from some jobs, but not for all. Not everyone has the strict requirements that my department has. Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve accomplished (I’ve produced a movie, managed a production team, written winning proposals but it’s all worthless because I never took Biology 100). Be confident, be honest and if asked, say, “I have an associates degree and a pilot’s license.” And then talk about your pilot’s license. My husband has one and boy, do people think that is cool.
Good luck with the job search. Nothing more fun than a good job hunt!