Ask LH: Can I Apply For A Job Without A Degree?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m looking at applying for an IT service desk position. The problem is, I don’t have a degree in IT (one of the selection criteria) and have never worked in the field before. Many have told me to go for it anyway, including some colleagues from the IT department itself. IT has been a hobby of mine for years and I’m confident I could do the work. But how can I convince the selection committee that I’m worth the interview? Thanks, Eager To Get In

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Dear ETGI,

Your colleagues are right: you should go for it anyway. The worst that can happen is that your application is completely ignored. There are, as you mention, two factors that might lead to that: your lack of a formal IT degree, and your lack of directly relevant experience.

In my view, the lack of a degree isn’t a major problem. IT-related degrees don’t have a heavy emphasis on knowing particular platforms or technologies; they aim to teach general principles that will apply in a wide variety of circumstances. That’s incredibly useful background knowledge to have, but in a service desk context, specific knowledge is what counts. If you can demonstrate your skills and experience with a wide variety of platforms, you may be able to make a case.

In doing so, be very specific. Don’t say “IT has been a hobby of mine”; say “I have set up servers running Windows Server 2008” or “I have deployed multiple WordPress blogs and designed the themes from scratch”. Find out as much as you can about the technology used at your potential employer and place the emphasis on areas where you have related skills.

The lack of direct IT service desk experience is arguably a bigger problem. In this context, any existing work experience you have in customer-service related fields is perhaps your best bet. Service desk work requires you to be friendly and efficient in solving problems; those skills can be demonstrated in a variety of fields.

Even with those tweaks, you might not score an interview this time around. If you’re keen to pursue a career in this area, there are two things you should do. The first is to keep applying. Support roles have a relatively high turnover rate, so the chances are another vacancy may appear soon. if you continue to show enthusiasm, you’re more likely to be remembered.

Secondly, you need to enhance your relevant experience. The formal way to do that is to take a course in helpdesk work (or in the technology that you’re particularly keen to work with). The less formal route — but one that may be more practical if you already have a full-time job — is to spend time on support forums online and offer assistance to people seeking help. That will give you a set of links you can share with future potential employers to demonstrate your enthusiasm and skills. Taking it to the next level, consider setting up a blog around the topic.

Good luck! If readers have additional advice to share, we’d love to hear it in the comments.


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