How to Climb the Career Ladder Without a Degree

If you haven’t gone to college and are looking to get a new job or move up, don’t fret. Finding a proper, high-paying gig is totally doable. And bonus – as a non-grad you have the added advantage of not being weighed down by student loans, which frees up your mind, efforts, and available income to make a foolproof game plan.

Find Your Strengths and Cross Off Options

Everyone is good at something, including you. Whether it’s designing PowerPoints that don’t induce sleep or people skills that could sell a backpack to a kangaroo, there’s a place for your interests and skillset. Make two lists: one of things you’re willing to do, the other of jobs/job requirements you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole. Even if you’re not exactly sure at this time what you’d like to move toward, eliminating the “no go’s” can be a huge time saver. If you’ve already been down the customer service path and found it rocky and lined with complaints, then maybe you’re more of a behind-the-scenes type. If your lower back hurts after reading, maybe manual labor won’t be your thing. No worries—there’s a place for everyone.


You know people, and they know people, and somewhere in that pattern you might run into Kevin Bacon. The first step is to reach out to your happily employed friends, family, acquaintances. Ask questions. What were their steps to job satisfaction? Odds are they were once in your situation and found a way to advance or make a change. A good mentor can help fill the potential educational void and act as a compass/personal-Google on your journey to not hating your job, self, and future. If you know someone within a company, they might be able to get you an interview for a job that you might have otherwise been overlooked for because you don’t have a specific degree.


A certificate is the Shetland pony of degrees: cute, but powerful. Much cheaper/shorter than four years in classes, a good certificate program can drastically increase your viability to employers and strengthen already-existing abilities. There’s certification programs out there for everything from typing and translation to underwater welding, so once you’ve narrowed your search down to a specific skillset, consider investing a few months into making your greatness official. It will help you get your first clients and start a portfolio that could land you that dream gig.

Consider Relocation

Different places allow for different types of jobs: you won’t easily be able to reach your dream of being a reality television producer if you’re currently shacked up in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. Once you narrow your focus to a particular field or type of gig, it won’t hurt to spend some time considering which locale might provide the best return on your job hunt. Checking job search websites like Indeed or Glassdoor for availability by area might give you a taste of where you should focus your efforts.

Create a Website for Yourself to Showcase Your Talents

Having a website or digital portfolio is important even for the Mastered and Bachelored, let alone for those without a degree. Adobe Portfolio, Squarespace or Wix are simple and affordable programs that can help you showcase your creative talents and quickly provide employers with proof of your marketability—the “look” in the phrase, “See? Look.”

Start Your Own Business

Nothing says “personal actualization” like hiring yourself. If you combine identifying your strengths with some of that tactful networking we discussed before, you may be able to find a way to keep yourself afloat on your own efforts without having to convince someone that there are other ways to learn besides college. This is the toughest (but ultimately most rewarding) path, requiring up-front efforts and financial investment. There’s a ton of books and websites on the subject, and it’s worth considering that the reason you haven’t found a satisfying job or path as of yet is because you haven’t created it yourself.

Whatever your strategy, don’t let your degreeless status stand between you and proper employment: it’s out there and if you are, too, you’ll run into each other sooner or later if you start heading the right way.

The materials on this blog are provided for informational purposes only and do not reflect the opinions of ChimpChange LLC or Central Bank of Kansas City, Member FDIC. Several of these blog posts may contain links to content on third party websites which are provided for your convenience, please note that linked sites may have a privacy and security policy different from our own, and we cannot attest to the accuracy of information. ChimpChange LLC and Central Bank of Kansas City do not guarantee nor expressly endorse any particular product, service or third party content.