How to Make Up for a Lack of Education

No Education? No Problem: Use What You've Got to Get the Job

Unsure of what resume format to use when you have a lack of education? Learn how to highlight experience on your resume and downplay a lack of formal education.

Is your lack of education posing a problem in your job search? Getting a job without education and training can be tough, but it's not impossible. Although you can't replace the value of a formal education on your resume, you can downplay the lack of one.

Resume Format: Which One is Best?

The resume format you use will determine which areas you can highlight and which ones you can downplay. So, which resume format is best to use when you have very little or no training and education directly applicable to the job you're applying for?

Kathryn Troutman is a leading expert in resume writing and author of Ten Steps to a Federal Job and Creating Your High School Resume. She says you should use a resume format that focuses on skills, interests, volunteer work and school activities.

The functional format allows you to put most of the focus on your skills rather than your education. Pat Kendall is an author and a nationally certified resume writer. She says, "In most cases, a skill-based (or functional) resume is best when the training or education is weak. In short, the strategy is to focus on related skills and contributions, downplaying education."

Work with What You've Got

Instead of focusing on what you don't have, use what you've got to your best advantage. Maybe you don't have the education, but you may have life experience, work experience and educational plans that relate to the job you're applying for. Highlight these and it could be just what's needed to fill the gap on your resume and get the job you want.

Kendall says to leverage your skills and experience to get the job. Include accomplishments or "success stories" that demonstrate your ability to do the work. And focus on your hands-on experience, as well as other related attributes required to do the job.

Life Experience

Just what type of life experience is appropriate to use on your resume? Applicable life experience encompasses many areas, such as volunteering, family involvement, hobbies, sports and much more. Troutman says, "A job applicant can write about their high school or community activities and sports."

She says, "Life experiences can involve babysitting, lawn mowing, volunteer work with the senior citizens and others needing special assistance.... church activities, parks and recreation programs, sports activities."

It's all in your perception. For example, your participation in sports can show off skills you've acquired in many areas. Troutman elaborates: "Activities in sports are valuable to demonstrate teamwork, ability to meet schedules, learning game policies and procedures, acting as team leader, being responsible as a team member...and working out to stay fit for games."

Kendall advises that when life experience is relevant to the job requirements, it can be included on your resume. She suggests putting the information under one of the following headings:

  • Related Activities
  • Other Experience
  • Volunteer Work
  • Community Involvement

So look through your past and consider every activity or life experience as a potential selling point to use on your resume.

Work Experience

Your work experience is valuable when you have a lack of education, but only if it is written professionally and completely on your resume. Troutman explains, "If the skills relate to your future objectives, that would be excellent to demonstrate your past experience."

She also suggests that you "include the title of the job, name of the organization, city, state and dates. Describe the position and be sure to write about the skills and knowledge you gained while working in the position. List your work experience before education."

In addition, be sure to note any technical or communication skills you've acquired on the job. Kendall suggests writing about your computer skills such as Internet research, using Microsoft Word, Windows and other basic PC skills. Keyboarding skills are often important as well, even if the skills are 25 wpm.

Kendall says that past experience can, when relevant, be leveraged to add to a candidate's perceived value. Although, she warns, "If an employer requires a specific degree, nothing can realistically take its place." She also notes that many employers who search resumes by keywords search for specific degrees, such as B.Sc. in chemistry.

Your Educational Plans

You may not have that degree yet -- perhaps you're working on it or plan to go back to school in the future. But can you use your future educational plans in place of actual education and training on your resume?

Troutman believes so. She says future educational and training can be listed in the EDUCATION section of the resume. The employer can then determine your future training objectives.

Kendall offers this bit of advice. "Job seekers can say 'MBA in progress' or mention in their cover letter that they plan to pursue an MBA." But she warns that one should be careful about this. Some employers may be wary of hiring someone for a full-time job if they're going to school part time.

Putting It All Together

So you don't have a formal education, but you do have skills, experience and educational plans that can translate into great selling points on your resume.

The resume itself, plus the cover letter and application, can all be used to demonstrate to a potential employer your professionalism and ability to communicate. Each item should be meticulously written and proofread.

Kendall adds, "Focus on your skills and interests. Get help with your resume by studying resume samples and having someone review your resume. Make sure you proofread carefully and make the resume look great. Get help with your cover letter also. Good luck!"


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