What's your problem? Lack of degree

I didn't go to university. Will it hold me back?

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Q: I work for a green energy company in a sales position and, since joining three years ago, I have been promoted into management. However, I'm worried that I will be held back because I didn't go to university. Nothing has been mentioned but all the senior executives have degrees. Should I try and embark on a part-time degree in my field? I'm embarrassed to raise the issue with my manager.

A: For a great many companies, degrees are important only when they're recruiting. For some professions, of course, they're absolutely essential; but, for many, the requirement that applicants should be graduates serves mainly as a time-saving filtering device. A good degree, almost irrespective of subject, is seen as rough-and-ready evidence of intelligence and application.

But after three years of actual experience and your recent promotion, it's clear that your managers no longer have need of any such reassurance. They've seen you at work and know you can do it. I'd be surprised if the fact that you're not a graduate plays any part in their assessment of you. So by suggesting that you might embark on a part-time degree, you risk revealing your own - quite unnecessary - insecurity: which I sense is anyway more social than professional.

A more important question to ask is whether you have the specific knowledge you need to do a management job with confidence. Far too often, companies expect their people to become instantly effective managers with absolutely no formal training or even the benefit of a mentor's friendly advice. If you think you might be in need of something along these lines, do some careful research into what might be available - and then raise the subject with your manager. That's evidence not of insecurity but of maturity and conscientiousness.

There's little or no chance that your further advancement will be prejudiced by your lack of a degree. Nothing will matter other than delivery: and that's exactly as it should be.

Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99.

Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@managementtoday.com. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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