When a College Degree Will Make or Break Your Job Search

Last Updated Aug 13, 2010 11:14 AM EDT

The Government Accounting Office is getting tough with for-profit colleges, institutions the government claims have made a killing off of mid-career people going back to school.

The GAO report found evidence of deceptive or aggressive marketing techniques at every one of 15 for-profit schools it surveyed, including Westwood College, Corinthian Colleges, the University of Phoenix, Education Management Corp. and Kaplan Higher Education.

The Washington Post reports that Westwood, a career college company based in Denver with 17 campuses, has announced it will "implement a compensation policy more restrictive than the current regulations permit by converting its admissions representatives' compensation to fixed salary effective August 21, 2010, thereby eliminating enrollment targets as a component of compensation." The move is intended to assuage the accusations that the school is trolling the unemployed.

What will that college degree do for you on the job hunt? In a story titled "Finding a Job Without a College Degree," Debra Donston-Miller talked to job seekers and career pros about the obstacles you may face without those letters on your resume.

Bruce Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, said he sees this issue come up regularly. "Every time I have tried to get a client to waive the college-degree requirement in light of the candidate's exemplary work experience, I have been refused," he said. "They almost always say that it is their policy that all employees have at least a college degree."

Such jobs now account for most of the economy. Nearly 60 percent of American jobs now require at least a bachelor's degree, according to "Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018," a June 2010 report released by the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University. That number jumped from 28 percent in 1973 to 59 percent in 2008 and is expected to rise to 63 percent over the next decade, the report said.

So should candidates without degrees give up the chase? Not necessarily, experts say.

"I believe that employers want the right person for the job," consultant Karla Porter, director of workforce development and HR for the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry, told Donston-Miller. "They're not looking for a certificate, a degree, a piece of paper; they are looking for a solution provider. If there is a person who can do that for them and has a proven track record and can show what they've accomplished for other companies, I believe they will be considered."

The key is structuring your resume to highlight your real-world accomplishments. "To replace the college-degree situation on a resume, the person needs to stress the results they have been able to achieve due to their extensive experience," according to Dianne Durkin, president and founder of Loyalty Factor, a consulting and training firm.

Porter agreed: "Make sure the resume is very, very well done. "If it's not, it will go to the 'C' pile."

  • Matthew TheLadders

    Matthew Rothenberg is editor-in-chief for TheLadders, the world's leading online service catering exclusively to the $100K+ job market. In addition to traditional job search services, TheLadders.com also provides a host of specialized career development resources. Previously he worked at Ziff Davis Media, ZDNet, CNET, and Hachette Filipacchi.