Our recent UX hiring manager study found that people hiring for entry-level roles see degrees and certificates as “a positive signal, but not a deciding factor” for candidates. So what does that mean for folks without degrees from traditional four-year institutions? How do you tailor your job search, optimize your resume, and build your network without a formal degree?
To get some tips, I chatted to Louise Ogilvy, founder of the recruitment agency Develocity. Her agency specializes in hiring for roles at developer tools companies, so she’s worked with hiring managers from across the industry (including software engineering, UX, and developer relations).
Research companies before you apply
The obvious place to start is by limiting your search to companies that prioritize skills-based hiring. That way you aren’t doing things on hard mode! “Job adverts quite often will specify whether a degree is preferred or essential,” Louise says. “There are some great AI search tools that can match you to jobs based on your background and preferences.” (Talentprise, for example). So you can try to narrow your focus to companies without strict education requirements. (While you’re at it, check out some other ways you can use AI to streamline your job search.)
Of course, you can’t know how those companies are weighing skills vs degrees in practice. While unfortunately there isn’t a single source of truth for which companies are more open to candidates without a traditional degree, you can narrow down the list yourself before you submit your application.
“If there’s a company you’d like to work for, view the list of their employees on their LinkedIn page and have a look at the employees’ profiles,” Louise says. “Does everybody there have a degree? Or, if there’s a real mix, that tells you the company is probably a little bit more open-minded.” Pro tip: As you’re browsing people at a company on LinkedIn, you can also search “Codecademy” in the schools section to see how many team members also learned with Codecademy.
Make LinkedIn your super power
Louise is especially passionate about the power of LinkedIn as a networking and job search platform, so her number one piece of advice is to make sure you set up a profile there. Your LinkedIn profile should mirror your paper or PDF resume, says Louise. If you don’t have a formal education or relevant work experience, you are probably wondering what on earth you put there instead.
Craft a skills-based profile
What does having a degree signify to hiring managers and recruiters? Often it’s not actually about the subjects you studied, but showing your skills, motivation, and commitment. So how can you replicate that with your own profile?
“Think back to your previous roles,” Louise says. “What are some of the same skills that you developed and put to use? If you’re looking for a software engineering job, can you think of examples from a previous role where you really had to pay attention to detail?” These are all examples of transferable attributes and skills that will serve you well in a tech role. Even if you’ve never had a job, there might be skills and experience from extracurricular activities and clubs you’ve participated in that you can highlight. Don’t assume that a hiring manager or recruiter will pick up on these — make it easy for them to see why you’re a good fit for their role.
“LinkedIn can be your personal sales tool to highlight projects that you’ve done,” Louise says. “Use the Featured section on your profile to draw attention to side projects or an app you might have created as part of your studies.” Don’t have anything to share? Check out our catalog of projects you can use to practice and showcase your skills.
Grow your network
Now you’ve built out your LinkedIn profile, it’s time to make the right connections. Luckily, you don’t need to go to college or a coding bootcamp to build a solid network.
“There are some fantastic groups you can join on LinkedIn around early stage careers, in just about every industry you might be interested in,” Louise says. These groups can be helpful for sharing advice and growing your peer network. (And if you want to meet other Codecademy learners, don’t forget to check out our local chapters, Forums, and Code Crew.)
You can also take a more targeted approach: “If there’s a company you particularly want to work for, find a couple of people who work there, send them a connection request and say, ‘Hey, I’m new to [your industry], and I’m trying to build up my network,'” Louise says. “Human beings have an innate desire to help other people. Particularly as they advance in their careers, you do find a lot of people are very willing to support others who are just getting started.” Feel awkward cold messaging folks? Read these tips for exactly what to say in a LinkedIn message.
Contribute to open source
“Open-source contributions can help show your dedication and commitment to follow through from the course you’ve completed,” Louise says. There are a lot of companies that actively build their products on top of open-source software or even run open-source projects, in which case, that experience will actually be far more relevant than a computer science degree. Those hiring managers are almost certain to check out your GitHub profile to see how you engage with the open-source community. The maintainers and contributors you collaborate with are likely to work for the kinds of companies you’re interested in, so becoming a regular contributor is a great way to build your network.
Code contributions aren’t the only way to get involved either — contributing to Docs can showcase your commitment and interest, and give you valuable experience with Git and GitHub. October is a great time to get started with open source because it’s Hacktoberfest, the tech world’s month-long celebration of open-source software. Beginners are encouraged to participate in open-source projects during this time.
If you’re still in need of some inspiration and reassurance that a formal degree is not critical to your success, take a look at all the people who launched their careers using Codecademy. You’ve got this!