My degree is in criminal justice. Sounds odd now, but in college my dream was to go to law school. After internships and seeing the bill for law school though, I changed my mind. The thing was, it was too late. I had a degree that had very limited use and I was uncertain where I wanted my life to go from there.
Then, I had babies, my husband deployed twice (for a year each time), and we moved halfway across the country. Life had been turned topsy-turvy and I was trying to hold on and find who I was at the same time. I knew somewhere in there I wanted to be a writer and I was interested in marketing but I continually heard the same thing,
“You don’t have the right degree.”
After staying home with my kids for 3 years I was ready to go back to work. I knew I had to get a job that paid for daycare and that I enjoyed or going back to work was useless. I started applying in June and by the end of July I had a full-time job as a writer.
Nine months later I became the head marketing director for an insurance company – all without the right degree.
Getting a degree that ultimately is unhelpful is almost an epidemic in our country. We grew up being told we just needed a college degree. It didn’t matter if it was in underwater basketweaving– if we had a degree we could get a good job. In our parent’s and grandparent’s world, this was absolutely true.
Today, not so much.
Washington Post writer Jeffery J. Selingo recently made a strong argument that today’s college degree is the new high school diploma and I agree with him.
How do we work around this though? I did and you can too.
My Degree Does Not Define Me – How to Land Your Dream Job When You Don’t Have the ‘Right’ Degree for It
Start with Practical Experience
I wanted to write, so I found ways to do it. I had a newborn and a husband in Afghanistan at the time, when I heard about a new blog for moms in my city that was looking for writers. It didn’t pay, but that was OK at the time. I also ordered a book on WordPress so I could learn how to build my own website and write my own blog.
Sure, sometimes in the beginning I would go more than a month without writing something. I was pumping every 2 hours and taking care of a newborn. It began as a hobby but it was important experience.
Move on to Professional Experience
When we moved I stopped writing for free. If I was going to be a writer, I was going to take it seriously.
I submitted my writing samples to several different websites and companies. I wrote short stories and poetry and started submitting it to magazines.
I began building a social media presence and learning the ins and outs of professional social media. I began making professional contacts and references.
I started reading books on writing and working in creative industries.
I got a small writing job of 5 articles a month and I wrote those articles when the kids were asleep.
After doing that for a year, my daughter turned 3 and I decided I was really ready to start looking for a job.
It took me a week to write my resume. Somewhere between feeling like a phony and not having written a professional resume in more than 4 years I would falter every time I sat down at the keyboard.
I found help for resume writing at Military OneSource. I also found that Indeed.com and HireMadSkills.com have guided resumes to fill out. I finally sat down one night and determined I was going to do this and get it done. If what came out of it was bad, that was OK. I could edit it later.
I applied to every job within a 45-minute drive that included the words, “writer,” “social media,” and, “marketing.” I even applied to a few in NYC (a bit too far to drive every day) for the fun of it – just to say I did.
When they asked for 3 writing samples I sent 6. When playing outside with the kids I would browse through Indeed.com and click, “Apply from Phone,” every time I saw something interesting. Within a month I had an interview and I got the first job I interviewed for.
This job didn’t pay much, but it covered daycare and it was the extra in-office experience I desperately needed.
In the 9 months I worked there, I learned what I needed to know to become a competitive applicant. When this job ended because they decided to outsource, I was able to get a new job as a marketing director the very next day.
My Experience Is Not Limited to the Writing or Marketing Industry
There are specialized jobs like doctor, nurse, vet and engineer that require a specialized degree.
Most jobs do NOT fall in this category.
Office Manager, secretary, vet tech, insurance/car/retail sales, interior decorator, even fashion designer, and so many more – If it’s what you want to do, you just need to get your foot in the door.
7 More Tips for Landing Your Dream Job
- Read books about the industry and become an expert. Just because you’re not taking a class doesn’t mean you can’t read textbooks.
- Become proficient in the tools of the industry – whether it’s a shovel or a sewing machine.
- Get experience. Volunteer for a dog shelter or on a local farm, look for apprenticeships, write blogs, ask a friend or family member if you can help around their office, and apply to every job in your area that piques your interest.
- Don’t put everything you’ve ever done on your resume, just the things that are relevant and recent.
- Don’t hide your role as a military spouse. Many companies have initiatives to hire veterans and military spouses and many CEOs have great respect for the military. Use it as an asset instead of seeing it as a disadvantage.
- Get good references that have authority in the industry and make sure they will write a letter AND answer the phone when an HR person calls them.
- Be patient. Landing your dream job takes time and hard work.
My dad always said,
“Who do you want to hire, the guy that read a book on building boxes or the guy that has been building boxes for 20 years?”
You can’t get 20 years of experience in the beginning, but you can get experience AND read the book. When you do that, you become more competitive than the student straight out of college. Also, by continuing to do my dream job as a hobby, I only have 6 months where I was on a career break instead of going back into the workforce with 3 to 4 years of career break.
My college degree will always be an asset, but it does not define me, nor what field I can work in.
Going back to school was not an option for me, but learning on my own and gaining experience was. If you have a dream job, you should make that your goal and follow these steps to work for it.
Life is too short to work in a career field you aren’t happy in.