Stop looking at me… on paper

Originally published November 21, 2018

For years I’ve been blessed to land jobs along my career track, whether or not I seemed qualified on paper. Every time I change jobs, though, the journey to land the next one has been riddled with struggles to help prospective employers see past what one outright called “your lack of degree”, as if it were a disease or other contagious condition that could spread if allowed in an organization. A savvy recruiter, upon meeting with me, once told me, “I have to get you in front of clients because on paper, you’re a hard sell. If employers meet you, they’ll want to hire you.” There are traits and characteristics that are hard to express in a résumé or cover letter, and his desire to get me to the interview stage reflected that we both want(ed) the same thing: for employers to stop looking at the paper version of me.

A little twist of irony is that I’m writing this just after submitting all my assignments for my first week of studies with University of the People, where I’m enrolled in the Bachelor in Business Administration program. And though it’s early in my four- to five-year journey toward that goal, I’m already preparing myself for making a decision about pursuing my MBA. With 20+ years of work experience and high achievement in the nonprofit accounting arena, I’m reaching deeper within myself than ever for the strength, resolution and faith that I’m on the right track at all by pursuing a degree.

The irony is that I still want prospective employers to recognize the value of my background and experience and to consider it in lieu of a degree… while I’m pursuing the degree. I’m hoping against hope that some hiring managers will get me into the office for an interview so they can know me, not the “me” on paper that screams, “No, I don’t meet your job description’s academic requirement”… while working toward the piece of paper they so desperately want to see. By looking for work that potentially makes the most of all I have to offer, I’m acting in faith that some employer will behave as my previous employer did in hiring me over degree-carrying candidates because she sensed in me what those others couldn’t evidence.

That’s not to say I know everything. Surely, I don’t. I don’t pretend to either. What my résumé tells prospective employers is that after high school, I didn’t go on to complete a college degree. In some ways, it tells them that I didn’t stop learning, though. Between on-the-job training, independent and self studies, and certifications, it should be evident that I believe in introspection and personal and professional growth. Whether or not that message is clear is subjective.

Because of the struggles associated with convincing people on paper that I’m worth an interview and possibly even the job in question, I’ve come to recognize that the piece of paper over which employers have their britches in a bunch could be a worthwhile endeavor for someone like me, committed to growth and development, eager for opportunities to gain and demonstrate new knowledge. I’ve enrolled in school primarily to add a slice of formality to my information-absorbent nature. The intended degree is a mere byproduct for me. In the world where my résumés and cover letters get lost in a sea of job descriptions whose only requirement I don’t meet or exceed is the academic one, the degree is the thing, and whether or not I’ve learned anything in the process of getting it is the byproduct. 

I want employers to stop looking at and judging me on paper. Still, I’m willing to meet them where they are and pursue a degree – and maybe a higher one still – over the next few years. Whether it makes any difference in my employment outlook in future is irrelevant to me because this new journey pays off for me one way or another. In the end, though, I look forward to giving prospective employers a piece of paper worth judging. Maybe then they’ll stop looking at me on paper and bring me into their offices to discuss me instead.