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How to Get a Promotion Without a College Degree

David knows some keen ways on how to help you save money or learn how money works.

Learn how experience, certifications, participation in special projects and a unique skill set can set you apart—even if you don't have a degree.

Learn how experience, certifications, participation in special projects and a unique skill set can set you apart—even if you don't have a degree.

What Can I Do Without a College Degree?

In the United States, over 45% of adults have an associate's degree. That means that approximately 55% of adults don't have a degree at all. So, not having a degree is somewhat common in the United States. The same could probably be said for many other regions of the world.

The general assumption is that if someone has a college degree, they may be favored over someone who doesn't, especially when it comes to promotions within an organization. However, a lack of a degree shouldn't stop someone from being promoted. In fact, I am willing to bet that, in some cases, individuals without a degree can be far better suited for certain promotions.

This article covers what you need to do and say to better your chances of obtaining a promotion, even if you don't have a college degree.


  • What to do at the workplace
  • What to do outside of the workplace
  • What to do at the interview
  • My success story

What to Do at the Workplace

The best place to show off your skills and demonstrate your value to your organization is at the workplace itself. Here are some things you can do to boost your chances of getting that promotion.

  • Show off your certificates. Obtaining certifications is covered later, but if you have skill certifications, show them off. Put them in a nice frame and hang them up in your office or cubicle. People will ask about them, and it may make it stick that you have specialized skills.
  • Participate in work activities outside of your own area. Volunteer for tasks in other areas, even agreeing to complete your own duties and their own at the same time. Sit in on committees, but make sure you actively participate. You want to show you are expanding your knowledge and experience with the organization on a global level. This is something some college graduates may miss.
  • Learn all you can. Even if it's not part of your job title or duties, learn all that you can within your organization. Become a subject-matter expert in your area and a generalist in other areas. Show that despite not having a college education, you learn as well as someone who does have a degree.

By the way, intelligence to me isn't just being book-smart or having a college degree; it's trusting your gut instincts, being intuitive, thinking outside the box, and sometimes just realizing that things need to change and being smart enough to change it.

— Tabatha Coffey

Outside of the Workplace

The activities you do outside of the office can be just as important as what you accomplish in the workplace.

  • Obtain certifications in specific areas. For example, obtain a certification in a supportive role in the medical field. Some certifications take only a few months. Or obtain a Lean Six Sigma certification, which can provide a benefit in almost any type of organization or role.
  • Self-educate. Even without obtaining an official certificate in a skill, you can teach yourself something new on your own. For example, learning a second language that is prevalent in your area or used in your organization could help you stand out as long as you make use of it.
  • Engage in non-paying activities. If your organization holds an event after hours, such as a sports league or charity event, participate in that event. Don't disclose you are doing it to be noticed, but do what you can to be involved so it's clear that you are willing to put in the extra effort.
The job interview can be the most important part of demonstrating why not having a college degree can be an advantage.

The job interview can be the most important part of demonstrating why not having a college degree can be an advantage.

Job Interview Tips

Most interviews have one question in common: "Tell us about your education and work experience." This is where you need to show that your work experience is a far greater asset than a degree.

  • Acknowledge that you don't have a degree. After doing so, state what advantages you have because of it. Maybe you entered the workforce at an earlier age, or you were able to specialize in more areas that affected your position within the organization directly. Also, ensure you highlight at the end what education or knowledge you may have received in the meantime.
  • Focus on your years of experience. As you discuss your time in your career or with the organization, always highlight your years of experience. Keep in mind that even though someone went to college, they may have lost many years of work experience in obtaining their degree. Your years of experience, especially within the organization, are an advantage that you want to highlight.
  • State your accomplishments. Provide copies of glowing evaluations. Discuss critical projects you worked on, even early in your career, to show that you were accomplishing important things despite entering the workforce earlier than someone going to college. Demonstrate that you were working hard from the get-go and getting things done while your peers were still in college.

Below is an example of what could be said at a job interview when asked, "Tell us about your education and work experience."

For the majority of my career, I have worked for this organization. For 10 years, I worked in the Finance Department, processing payroll, cutting checks for contract payments, and assisting in the entry of budget information into the main computer system.

From there, I moved on to the Records Department. Using the financial knowledge I gained in the Finance Department, I was able to learn the records process and help streamline it. I assisted in the overhaul of the filing system as well as scanning in paper documents into a digital format for quick and easy access.

As for my education, I only graduated high school, but that allowed me to start my career with the this organization at a young age. I am self-taught in many areas, such as designing Microsoft Access databases. A couple years ago, I completed my Green Belt certification in the Lean Six Sigma process, which I have utilized in the Records Department. Additionally, I have become fluent in Spanish, which I have used to interact with customers when there weren't any Spanish-speakers available within the organization.

My Success Story

In 2014, I applied for a promotional position within my agency. It was a long shot, to say the least, as the position required either a bachelor's degree or many years of experience. This was considered to be a top-of-the-line position for me.

I had one interview and was passed over. Luckily, another interview came up. I prepared my materials and attended the interview. As part of the process, I disclosed my education and work experience. However, what set me apart was that I provided previous evaluations showing what others thought of my hard work in my long career with the agency. Additionally, I expressed my talents based on what was communicated to me about what they needed during the interview.

I was offered the position. Shortly afterward, my new supervisor advised me that someone else had interviewed who had very much impressed her and who had a college education. However, the individual wasn't the right fit, as they didn't have the skill set needed for the position. This demonstrated to me that my years of experience allowed me to win out over someone with a college degree.

As I write this article now, I am about to be considered for an even higher level position, which requires a college degree or equivalent experience.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 David Livermore