10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree

I know this will work for you, because it worked for me and I’ve seen it work for dozens of others.

Warning: I gave these tips to a co-worker when she asked how she could get off the factory floor and into cubicle world. She listened to tips 5-8, and interrupted me saying, “But I don’t wanna do all that.” To which I replied, “then you better get back to school.”

  1. Make a list of small to medium sized business in your area. Start by calling the local Chamber of Commerce and asking for the names of the fastest growing small to medium sized businesses. Remember, you don’t want companies that are too large – above $250 million in revenue. Large corporations rarely hire or promote non-degreed people. I’ve seen it happen, but it is so rare, I wouldn’t count on it. Small to mid-size companies will promote anyone with ability and allow them to learn any job in the company.
  2. Remove all retailers, restaurants, and hotels (really most of the travel industry) from your list. Retailers, restaurants, and hotels of all sizes are likely to exploit you, promote you to assistant manager, pay you less than 20K, burn you out, and never promote you. Find a fast growing business in the technology, manufacturing, construction, real estate, or transportation sector.
  3. Research the companies on your list. Read every page on their websites. Look for bios on the founder, president, executives, and other people that work for the company. If the leadership bios stress educational achievement above business achievement, cross them off your list. Rate the companies on your list numerically.
  4. Go get a job at one of these companiesany job. Start with the company you like most. First memorize their website, their products, services, history, leaders, and then apply for any open position, even if it is – beneath you. But apply for the best job you qualify for. If they don’t have any openings, go to the management bios on their website and find a manager or executive you can identify with, then stop by the company in person and ask for that manager and tell her how much you love the company, what you can do for the company, and how much you’d love to work there. Dress professional, and leave a cover letter and a resume. If she won’t see you, leave a hand written note. Don’t rely on email only. Do everything you can to meet them in person. Persistently pursue employment at your top choices for several months then continue down your list. If you follow these tips you will get a job, probably at one of the top companies on your list. But the job will suck and it will pay little.
  5. Learn to do your job better than anybody has ever done it before. Tell your manager you want to learn every job in your department because you want to backup anyone that leaves or takes a vacation. When another department is hurting, walk over to the department head and tell her that you are willing to help anyway you can. When you see a problem, never complain, look for a solution, and offer to implement your solution on your own time over the weekend – for free. Even if no one notices, keep busting your ass anyway. When you see a problem, question management only if you have better idea and are willing to articulate the solution. If you have a solution, good managers will love to hear it. If you don’t have a solution – it’s a complaint. Don’t ever complain.
  6. When asked to work late or over the weekend without pay, don’t complain. Volunteer for it and do it with a smile on your face… without exception.
  7. Volunteer for everything that you can. If a new team is created – volunteer. If they need people for a booster club – volunteer. If they need people for the safety committee – volunteer. Volunteer for every educational opportunity offered. Volunteer willingly at every opportunity.
  8. Never stop talking and thinking about how great the company is and how great its products are. Never go to the bar and sit around complaining about the company. Show your passion for the company, its products, and its leaders in everything you do.
  9. When you meet an executive say this, “I’m am so grateful to be here at Company X. This is the greatest company I have ever worked for. I want to know everything there is to know about this business. I want to know how you guys come up with new products and services. I want to know your sales processes; I want to know operations. I want to help this company grow. Will you help me learn more about this company? How can I be of more service and value? I have no problem learning and working at night or on the weekend. I love this place.” Make this speech your own and memorize it. Tell it again and again to the executives, the founder, and every manager. Plan to put in 70-80 hours a week because they will take your offer. Learn every valuable piece of information you can about your company.
  10. In 1-4 years you will be one of the most valuable employees in the company. In many cases you will know more about the company than most of the managers. When management openings arise, apply for every opening you are interested in, even if it requires a degree. If you are persistent, someone will eventually give you a management position, because you know so damn much about the company. This entry-level management job will likely pay 40-70K depending on your industry, company size, and geographic location. Congratulations! You’ve reached the entry point of a college graduate. From here you can try to continue to climb the corporate ladder and your soft skills and intelligence will matter far more than your educational record. Good Luck!

So you still think it can’t be done? Read about ninth grade dropout Guy Mingo.

Want more information…
Read the Go-Getter, a short story about succeeding in the corporate world. Peter B. Kyne wrote it in the 20s and it is timeless (if you can overlook the political incorrectness).

These tips will work wonders for your career even if you have a degree.

Note: These are tips to acquiring a management position without a college degree. These are not tips on how to acquire a management position in the company of your choice, in the industry of your choice, at the best salary. If you want to do that…
Get a degree.

Read the 10 part series on the 10 things I wish I had never believed:

#1 Why People Believe Money is the Root of All Evil
#2 Why Getting a Good Job isn’t the Best Way to Earn Money
#3 The Secret Great Leaders Know About Emotions
#4 Success is 99% Failure
#5 10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree
#6 Always Question Your Doctor – Three Stories Why
#7 How the Public School System Crushes Souls
#9 Give Me 3 Minutes and I’ll Make you a Better Decision Maker

13 thoughts on “10 Tips to Secure a Management Position without a College Degree”

  1. I do not have a degree and most would consider me poorly educated. From the age of 20, every job I have ever had I got by going to a company I was interested in and asking them for a job doing something. I would then work my way up never failing to reach atleast Vice Pres. By the time I was 35 my reputation in the industries I worked in brought in many job opportunities. The final one being Vice. Pres and general manager of the largest independently owned electronics distributor in the country.

    Early in my time with that company I grabed a warehouse clerk from behind her order bench down in the basement of the headquarters. I needed somebody to replace the worthless secretary they had provided me. This young girl had not finished high school but was able to answer every question I had about anything to do with the new business I was now involved with.

    Three years later I left the company and by then she had redesigned over half the internal controls for the entire company. Had developed an order system to replace inventory that she could operate in her spare time, replacing a room of workers. Had set up a core of vendors to design, produce and install booths for all the companies trade shows. In a very short period of time she had become the Go To person for the companies top management and they rewarded her by setting her up in the corner office at the apex of Executive row on the top floor of the headquarters building. All this at a company whose culture considered women just barely capable of menial secratarial duries.

    So I give you two examples that prove your point and would like to add this comment for those that are looking for hope and guidance. Companies use education as an indication that a person “should” be able to do the job. The bottom line is they are looking for somebody that “will” do the job. Put yourself in a postion to show them you CAN and WILL. You will reach your goal very soon.

  2. Thanks Dolf,

    I know what your stories are honest. I’ve seen it many times. From the feedback I’m getting on this post, many people don’t want this story told. I don’t know why so many people are against this story.

    It makes me wonder sometimes if many people are just comfortable believing they can’t get ahead. Or I wonder if other people just don’t want them to get ahead.

    Dolf – this is dead on accurate. All you need to do is convince the hiring manager that you CAN and WILL do the job. That’s all any hiring manager wants.

    Companies use education as an indication that a person “should” be able to do the job. The bottom line is they are looking for somebody that “will” do the job. Put yourself in a postion to show them you CAN and WILL. You will reach your goal very soon.

  3. There are actually so many graduates these days that this post is a good tip on how to get a top job even if you DO have a degree.

    I’m about to finish law school (with a so-so GPA from a so-so institution) and I used tactics like these to get myself a job offer as a corporate attorney–begging for a job as a part-time intern making crap money, and mastering a few key tasks so that I became indispensable.

    The toughest part, of course, is hearing just about everyone say “no” and still sticking it out. It helps if you’re willing to sacrifice your personal life, dignity and checkbook for a little while.

    To me, the keys are:

    1) Stay awake, and jump on opportunities when you see them

    2) Make people trust you, which is largely a matter of having a professional style (invest in some nice clothes, keep your hair cut, your breath clean and your armpits deodorized)

    3) Make friends with your boss. This is more than sucking up: you have to get inside your boss’s head to learn what their problems are at work. Once you understand those problems, you can help solve those problems in a way that makes your boss happy. Then they’ll love you, and you’ll never have to worry about your job. (This is an incredibly important skill even when you become the boss, because then you have to do the same thing with respect to your customers.)

  4. The reason why people don’t like this is because , for most, the price is too high for the benefits they would give. Most people do not want to work 70-80 hrs per week (or 16hrs/per day for 5 days a wk).

  5. Anon,

    The long hours are temporary. Look at the hard work as an education. You are learning the business. Learning to be valuable.

    I know a guy that went for making 10K a year to 50K by working like this for only 18 months.

    I know another guy that did it for 3 years and went from 30K to over 100K.

    Learning that much about any business will make you tremendously valuable. Once you have the value you won’t have to work so many hours.

    If you don’t want to work hard to get ahead, I don’t know what advice anyone can give you. For most people getting through college is 4-6 years of working a job and studying which adds up to 40-80 hours a week too depending how efficient you are with your time.

  6. Great post Steve! I am SO adding you to my blogroll! And yes, education is a nice plus to have under your belt. I would never say “Don’t go to college, son”. But I truly believe that there are indeed things that can be more important than education — with the exception of a few industries such as brain surgery and rocket science — but I digress. I believe people skills, communication skills, (both writing and speaking), persistence, a positive attitude, self confidence, and a willingness to learn from others are crucial to success, regardless of how much formal education one possesses.

  7. Wow! This should be required reading for anyone, degreed or not, who wants to know how to get ahead in the business world. When I was in a position to hire people, I always looked for people with energy, a positive attitude, willingness to be flexible, and who wanted the job. With those characteristics, I knew I could always train them on the “mechanics” of the work, but most people can’t be trained to have the right attitude.

    Great article! Thanks.

  8. I work in an engineering college as an Administrative officer and i am involved in all kinds of adninistration- academic as well as general. As I dont hold the relevant degree of a Ph.D in any technical field I am restricted to be designated as the Principal of the college as per the norms which govern the engineering colleges. As i am working in the institution for more than four years the Principals who come also take my advice on most matters. The management trusts my capacities and appreciates my capabilities, yet do not designate me in a positio which will place me in a higher salary slot. Ultimately inspite of all my positive attributes i still remain a n administrative officer just because i do not hold a degree.

  9. I have a job offer and have good skills but do not have a college degree. I told the recruiter I do have an “AA” degree and all the company wants to see is my resume faxed to them and then the company will pick the best resume. This is a temp to hire job. I really need this job and it finally will pay what I need. “Administrative” position. Will start tomorrow….but I lied about have a college degree. I should find out in 2 hours if the company picks me…….

  10. Wow, very inspiring. Right after I finished my 2-year computer programming course, I applied for a job in a call center and got hired because I wanted and proved that I could do the job. Sometimes what becomes a stumbling block is our own mind-set that we can’t do it. The moment we decide to succeed and GRADUALLY work towards it, we sure will.

  11. Yeah, this job search process is a nightmare. I agree totally,and was glad to hear it said that the degree requests serves two purposes: 1) to determine that you “should” be able to do the job and 2) to get a desperate graduates with student loans to work for cheaper than they should….(last part mine).

    What advice for those 40+ (is it still a picture tells a 1000 tales) or have they loosened their ties…?

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