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.

Cheers Lifehacker

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    I'm having trouble finding work because I HAVE a degree.

    I need basic admin experience to apply for anything worthwhile, but I won't get any interviews (according to serveral HR people) if they know that I have a degree since they think I'll just move on after 6 months.

      Nobody should be assuming you will move on in 6 months in Australia at the moment, lol.

      Last edited 21/01/13 10:49 am

      From experience as a service desk team leader, the guys with degrees using the job to get experience on their resume are hard to keep on task, make follow processes, and actually harder to train as they question everything and think they know best.

      The majority of them most definitely expect to move up within 6 months, whether that is realistic or not.

      For general first level helpdesk roles it's easier to train up someone with customer service background and problem solving skills to do the job and stay there than it is to keep someone educated in IT interested and teach them customer service skills.

      We hire far more IT hobbyists with retail or hospitality experience than single minded IT guys fresh out of uni.

        Its nice to here that because I've been a Chef for eight years, but in the early 2000's worked as a onsite PC Repair guy for a company, myself and now I design websites for small businesses on the side of being a Chef.

        Since trying to get into the roles mentioned here recently, I have had no luck, not even a phone call. What gives?

    I have several friends who are either IT Service Desk Managers or Team Leaders.

    I can tell you right now that they are going to be WAY more interested in your customer service and problem solving skills.

    Technical Knowledge can be taught through on the job training and most Service Desks already have a training regimen designed to do just that.

    Knowing how to handle a customer (especially an irate one) and being able to THINK are much more valuable as they are damn near impossible to teach...

    Alternatively, why not study up and sit an exam like CompTIA A+ so that there is something on your CV that specifically applies to the service desk role? If the hiring manager actually knows what they're doing, an industry specific qualification rather than a degree in IT would rank more highly for that position.

    Savy tips and Indeed. I got a certificate 3 in network admin from TAFE and was able to get my first IT job off that. It's a very low investment option and can give the edge for those having problems getting a foot in the door.

    One of the best things about IT is that unlike being a doctor or a lawyer you can create your own experience and demonstrate your own ability. And with that ability you can get through the door without a degree.

    It is a longer road for sure....but if you take the appropriate attitude you can go far

    One thing a lot of people tend to overlook is even with a little bit of experiance and no formal degree under ones belt, you can usually obtain some modules or certifiactes via RPL (recognised prior learning). Tafe's & Uni's tend to be the places to go to get these. Drawing heavily on your experiance to obtain certified recognition, rather than the time wasted sitting in class. Essentially fast tracking you towards getting a degree sooner.

    I started off in my IT career doing an IT support traineeship back in 2006. That enabled me to land a job at a prominent university where one of the pre-reqs for any higher level job was to have a degree. I have since gone up several levels and am now a senior systems engineer. I still don't have a degree. What I have recently (2013) done is enrol into a graduate certificate course using my work xp as the equivalent of an undergraduate degree. The only reason why I have done this is that I am planning to move OS and have heard that a piece of paper may be a good supplement to my xp when applying for jobs over there.

    My advice is definitely go for it! Apply for a job even if it states that it requires a degree. Employers are looking for someone who is enthusiastic and keen to learn. My theory is that someone who's been studying for the past 3 - 4 year or more may be over absorbing more information. When I started my role I was keen and ready to learn everything there was to do with my job.

    I'm not knocking those who have gone through the hard work of completing an IT degree, but IT is an always changing thing and my opinion is that the skills you pick up on the job are far more valuable than anything you could learn at Uni.

    You can apply, but, if like me, your degree isn't in an IT field, you'll likely be unsuccessful. Of course, it could just be me personally, and I'm totally wrong. Either way, I have pretty much given up on IT as a field I could move into, despite 30+ years of computer experience, 20+ of those providing practical support to people in my workplace.

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