We're taught from an early age that there is really only one acceptable path through life: Get good grades in high school, go to a good college, and get a good job at a good company. Not only is this not the only viable path through life, but for many people it's just not the right path.
Once upon a time, this "must have a degree" mentality made perfect sense. Before the rise of the internet there were relatively few ways to become an expert in a chosen field, and college was by far the most straightforward.
Today, with the wealth of knowledge and training available for free to anyone with an internet connection, the game has changed dramatically. These five tactics can quickly take you from "degree required" to "no degree, no problem."
1. Build a network.
In almost all walks of life, who you know is at least as important as what you know. A large part of college is building out your peer network, but college is by no means the only way to do this. The quickest way to network is to attend events relevant to your interests, so I recommend using a site like Meetup.com to search for events in your area that meet your criteria.
Remember, a large percentage of job openings are hired via internal referrals, so having a solid network is critical to finding those roles before there's a ton of competition from the general job market.
Not only is volunteering another great way to build your network, but it's a fantastic way to build out a portfolio that you can point to later. For example, if you're learning web design, offering to do work for free for a few local businesses can help you to get referrals for more work, build case studies, improve your skills, and on and on. Local chambers of commerce or educational institutions are a great place to start.
At the end of the day companies are looking to hire people who can get the job done. If you can show them relevant work experience and results, paid or unpaid, that goes a long way.
3. Become an autodidact.
This word is just a fancy way to say "self-directed learner"--and you absolutely must become one if you want to get ahead with no degree. You need to learn a valuable skillset in order to get ahead, and if you aren't going to learn it in school, you'll need to learn it somewhere.
Read books, go through online courses on sites like Khan Academy or Udemy, or watch relevant videos on YouTube or iTunes. With internet access, there are few things you can't learn to do online at this point.
4. Master soft-skills.
I've found that there are a handful of soft-skills that schools rarely address, but that are absolutely critical to success in business and in life. The ones I would consider most important are:
While there are plenty of others, if you can master just this set of soft-skills, you'll have a huge leg-up over your peers.
5. Stand out.
Recruiters see the same cookie-cutter crap day in and day out: the same boring resume, the same brown nosing cover letter. If you want to bypass other candidates for a job, or to seize an incredible opportunity, you need to clearly rise above the herd.
Whether it's creating a beautiful resume or portfolio site, or picking up the phone and using your new found soft-skills to wrangle an interview, just make sure you take an unorthodox approach.
At the end of the day, a degree is largely a filtration system for recruiters and hiring managers. It doesn't help them to find the best candidate, but rather helps them to shorten an overly large pile of potential candidates.
College is just a means to an end, and if you know the end you want to achieve, you can always find another path to reach it. A huge number of people have become tremendously successful without a degree, so don't let the traditions of others limit your potential.