Office jobs can seem appealing when you’ve worked in restaurants and retail. Perhaps you’ve even rolled your eyes when you hear people complain about working in a cubicle as you think about all of the ANGRY customers you’ve serviced, the times you’ve “clopened” (worked a closing shift followed by an opening shift), or the public restroom toilets you’ve scrubbed.
I’ll admit that I’ve been in the same position- working in restaurant and retail jobs as I dream about a job where I can sit down at a computer peacefully. It might seem like a nice thing to dream about, but there can be some hurdles to leap if you want to make that transition. For many people, the biggest hurdle to leap is a lack of college degree.
The Big Predicament
It’s been said that a college degree is a like the new high school diploma, and speaking from my own experience that can very much seem true. Many employers won’t even LOOK at your resume if you don’t have a degree.
In fact, according to Pew Research, a greater percentage of people in the U.S. workforce have college degrees than ever before. In 2016, 40% of U.S. adults aged 25 to 29 had a bachelors degree or higher whereas in 1985 that number was 26% and in 1964 it was only 16%!
This means that if you don’t have a college degree you are at a higher disadvantage than either your parent’s or grandparent’s generation. On top of that, the cost of attaining a higher education has skyrocketed. If you attended college in the 1987-88 school year at a public four-year university, the average cost of tuition was $3,190 per year, not including room and board plus other living expenses.
Fast forward to the 2017-18 school year and that average tuition price has increased to $9,970 for the year. For many people, it is impossible to afford college without either financial aid and student loans. In fact, over 44 million adults now owe over $1.48 TRILLION dollars of student loan debt. That’s hundreds of billions of dollars more than all credit card debt in the U.S. combined.
It should be considered that college often does pay off in the long-run. In fact, college graduates make up to 67% more money than non-college graduates. Plus, they have a lower unemployment rate, so something seems to be working for them.
Still, if you don’t have the money up front to pay for college you might wonder what the heck you should do. Fortunately there are some alternatives.
Many successful people have had FANTASTIC careers and contributed to the fields of arts, science, business, and culture in profound ways without ever attaining a college degree. Take for example Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Ellen DeGeneres, Anna Wintour, or John D. Rockefeller.
Who knows? You might end up being the next great success story, particularly if you find a way to make money on your own as an entrepreneur. It still doesn’t hurt to keep your options open, however. Keep in mind that many office jobs offer a form of tuition reimbursement, which could end up being a win-win situation for someone without a college degree.
Here I’ve compiled a list of ways you can get hired to an office job with NO college degree.
1. Gain a Skill That’s In-Demand
A college degree can be a great resource that provides you with the theoretical background you’ll need to enter a chosen job field. For certain types of jobs, however, real-world experience that isn’t necessarily taught in school can be MORE helpful in gaining employment.
Take for example computer programming. If you know how to code and have experience in working on commercial projects. that could potentially lead into a career with a company that is looking for someone with those specific technical skills. There are lots of resources online, including some that are completely free, that will teach computer programming.
Some resources where you can gain that or other in-demand skills include:
Udacity– This website specializes in tech skills like coding, web design, digital marketing, and even flying cars. They work with top technology companies to develop their programs and offer “Nanodegrees” which are certifications in specific areas. This website is much more pricey than the other sites on this list, but you get what you pay for and they even have hiring partners that recruit graduates of their programs.
Udemy– This site offers a wide range of courses from subjects that include business, technology, creative design, teaching, and personal development. They currently have over 85,000 classes and you pay for each class you want to take, although many classes are free and they frequently have sales. Take note that pretty much anyone can become a Udemy teacher so some of the classes are a bit on the amateur side.
Creativelive– If you are looking to gain skills in areas like video production, music production, or web design this can be a great resource to check out. What’s more they offer classes for FREE whenever they are “on-air” live. To gain permanent access to a class you have to pay money, but the classes are taught by a curated team of experts and you get what you pay for.
Skillshare– You’ll have a choice of either a free option or a premium paid subscription with Skillshare. What’s nice about them is you don’t have to pay for classes individually but you can have unlimited access to whatever classes are available at your tier (free or premium). They also cover a wide-range of subjects from technology, business, creative, or lifestyle classes.
Language Apps- It’s no secret that learning a second language gives you an edge in the business world. In fact, research has shown that people who speak more than one language or an average of 2% more in annual income. That might not sound like much, but it all adds up in the long-run. Fortunately there’s plenty of free to low-cost apps out there than can help teach you a second language. Duolingo, Babbel, or Rosetta Stone are all good choices.
Continuing Education Programs- You can check with your local community college to see what continuing ed programs they have. It might not be a “degree” per se, but the certifications and knowledge you can from these classes could help you land an office job.
2. Network With the Right People and Get References
If you’ve ever heard someone say that it all really comes down to who you know, they weren’t kidding.
In fact if you can get a reference from a friend, research shows that you are about 7% more likely to get a job offer after interviewing.
Provided your friends are reliable people that have made a good impression on the powers that be, employers might presume you are responsible by association with your high-performing friends (assuming they haven’t snooped on those boozy Facebook photos from last summer!).
An important skill to gain contacts for potential job offers is networking. Social media can be leveraged to help build contacts through networks like LinkedIn and Facebook. Keep in mind than anyone you come in contact with could be the person that eventually helps you land a job, so always try to make a good impression on people and don’t burn any bridges- you might need them someday!
3. Consider Entry Levels Jobs That Hire Based on Customer Service Experience
As I mentioned before, sometimes gaining specific skills can be helpful if you are looking to land an office job. However, if you have customer service experience from restaurants and retail, there can be certain types of jobs that will hire based on the skills you already have.
Two job fields that tend to hire people from the restaurant and retail industries are call centers and entry-level sales.
While call centers are largely either being outsourced to countries outside of the United States or are being replaced by automated phone systems, they still remain a reliable means of employment for people looking to make a living from an office cubicle.
Take note that call centers tend to have high turn-over rates (meaning employees quit frequently and stay for short periods) and many Call Center Agents report being extremely stressed out by having to talk with irate customers. That being said, they usually offer flexible hours, plenty of overtime opportunities, and (depending on the company) really good benefits such as paid time off and retirement plans.
In a similar way, sales jobs have high turn-over (and often high amounts of stress) but they can hire people that might not necessarily have college degrees.
Sales reps may work in a variety of capacities from telephone sales, door-to-door sales, or by traveling to visit with different companies and trade shows. Sometimes sales reps make either an hourly or yearly salary but often their pay is based, at least in part, on commissions.
If you’ve worked a retail job that involves suggestive sales or any time of commission-based work, this could potentially help you land a job as a Sales Representative.
These aren’t the only office jobs that hire people who don’t have degrees, however. Other positions can include data entry clerks, administrative assistants, or bookkeepers.
Be sure to use your critical thinking skills when applying for jobs. Scammers exist and they prey on people that are desperate for work. Do your research and see what people are saying about the companies BEFORE you submit your resume. Consider that many jobs that hire entry-level employees might SEEM to good to be true, and, in fact, are.
4. Be Willing to Work as a Part-Timer, Intern, or Temp
Lots of companies actively recruit entry-level workers NOT as full-time, permanent employees but as interns, part-time workers, or temp-to-hire staff members. This kind of sucks if you are expecting to find a full-time career immediately and if you are strapped for cash this likely means you’ll need to work at least one other part-time job to supplement your income.
Traditionally many internships are covered by college students and while some companies may ONLY consider students as interns, there are a growing number of non-students seeking internships. According to Forbes, there’s a trend of Baby Boomers seeking “midlife internships” when they decide to change career paths.
Always check and see if an internship is PAID before you apply, though. While an unpaid internship can spruce up a resume or help a student gain college credit, statistically speaking, unpaid internships give you a nearly non-existent advantage in gaining permanent job positions over people who never worked as an internship at all.
Temp agencies can be a good place to look for entry-level office jobs that are in serious need of workers. It’s never a guarantee that a temporary or seasonal job will lead to anything permanent, but it can at least help you build a resume.
5. Find Freelance Work to Build Up a Resume or Portfolio
There is a bit a catch-22 when you’re looking for work. You need a job to get experience and you need experience to get a job. Thankfully it’s easier than ever to find freelance work which can help fill that “experience” void.
As I’ve written about previously, the “gig economy” has opened up a lot of doors for anyone to find freelance work and work on their own schedule. Once you’ve identified a particular skill you want to work on or build experience with like audio transcription, data entry, bookkeeping, or language translation you can find outlets to gain some experience while you earn some extra cash.
Particularly if you can find some references that will put in a good word for you after you’ve done freelance work, this can be a way to get some real-world experience that could over time lead to an office job.
An important thing to consider is the “why.” WHY do you want an office job? As someone who has worked BOTH in the worlds of retail AND office cubicles I can tell you that what is going to fulfill you the most depends entirely on who you are as an individual.
I’ve known people that have gone on to management positions in retail and are completely happy doing what they do, plus they actually make a decent living wage. On the flip-side, I’ve known people that work in office settings and hate every minute of it.
While it’s true that an office job can look better on a resume and will typically have better benefits than a retail or restaurant position, only YOU will know over time what is going to work out best for your situation.
Follow your inner GPS and go with what your gut tells you. If an office job is really what you want don’t let a lack of college degree hold you back.
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