Ask Ralph– Malena's problem: How to get promoted without a degree

Does education automatically guarantee job success?
Does education automatically guarantee job success?

Our latest letter-sender is Malena from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.  Here is her letter:

Hi Ralph, I am 29, I have no diploma or degree but mind you that I achieved good result back at the schools day. Being an unfortunate, I encourage myself to never stop learning. I studies by myself all the degree’s book and reads at least 4 newspapers a day.

In fact I really think that I am way better and much capable than the university graduates-co-worker. Inevitably, comparisons were made with the universitygraduates-co-worker and you can see where do i stand now. With my qualification, I could never be promoted even though with most discipline record. My immediate superior had been promoted me for 3 times, but when the appraisal letter reached the top management, they gave excuses that someone else deservedmore. I was dissapointed and i changed job, but crucially, the same happenned to me anywhere… I am a loser..



Hello, Malena.

You’re my second letter-sender from Malaysia! Thank you so much, and hello to everyone in Malaysia. It’s a beautiful country I would like to visit one of these days.

I do understand your problem. It truly is a reality that companies would look at the educational background of a person as basis for hiring or promoting him or her. This can be sometimes sad. There are times when it is not fair, especially if a company will look at education as the sole basis for making a decision. There are many individuals out there who did not finish school, but ended very successful. On top of the list would be Microsoft’s Bill Gates.

Still, there is reason why companies look at education in hiring or promoting an individual. First and foremost, it gives a better assurance that a person really is qualified for the position. For example, if a hospital is hiring a doctor, it can be disastrous if they hire someone who did not graduate from medical school, or does not have a license and could not practice medicine. If a law firm is hiring a lawyer, they cannot hire someone who did not graduate and could not handle court cases. So to a large extent, the educational background of a person gives the company the assurance that they are hiring a person who can do the job. It means that an educational institution has given the stamp of approval that the person can has the potential to do a good job. That is why, most companies make education a requirement. It is very costly for a company to hire the wrong person and need to replace him later on.

Now, this does not automatically mean that you cannot qualify for the job anymore. In fact, without a degree, I congratulate you for making the effort to do self-study and to read up on books and newspapers. That is a very good initiative! I wish I had the time to do the same. I am sure that you learned a lot from reading, and you should continue learning.

Also, hiring a person with a degree does not guarantee that the person would be the best one for the job. A person’s degree only helps him or her get the job. In the long run, attitude and actual work experience and skills that would make a person successful. That is why, between a lazy Harvard graduate and a hardworking, disciplined, persistent non-degree holder in the same job, it is the non-graduate who will most likely be successful.

So what am I saying? You may still be qualified and there is hope for you. You will just need to work harder and smarter.

Ask yourself first: what are the real qualifications and requirements of the job? Find out. Are you able to meet the qualifications of the job in terms of the skills needed? Go through them point by point.

Check: did work experiences in your present and previous jobs prepare you for promotion? What makes you say that you are now prepared for a promotion?

These are questions we need to ask and answer ourselves first, before we go to an interview. If we are not able to answer these questions, then it may be hard to convince our interviewers to promote us to a higher level.

Find out: was the other person promoted or hired only because of university degree? Find out if there were other considerations. I say this because it is possible that the other person has more on-the-job training. It could be also that she has more years of experience in the organization. It could also be that the person shows more leadership skills. Ask yourself if you have these qualifications as well. See what work skills you have that make you better than the other person.

See also if you can talk to your employer as well. Politely explain that you have been working for the organization for year and that you would like to continue growing in the organization as a professional. Find out what you can do to improve so that you can meet the qualifications for promotion. You will discover so much by talking to your employer. Politely ask: what made the other person more qualified for the job? Check if you have these qualifications.

Check your resume or bio data. Oftentimes, we are tempted to just put everything to impress the employer. And in the process, we have a 5-page resume. This can be counterproductive. Remember that a long resume will not necessarily get you the job. Check if each entry is relevant to the job you are applying for.

If you are applying for a job in marketing, focus on filling up your resume with details on marketing or sales, instead of accounting. Highlight your best work experiences. Ask yourself: if I am the employer, what do I want to see on the resume?

Ask your immediate superior if he can give you a recommendation letter. This helps too, especially since he promoted you three times. Your promotion only means that you are good at what you are doing!

To give yourself an edge, show your employer a catalog or portfolio of your past work. Show your best work to convince the employer that you are qualified.  Show evidence that you have already done a good job.

While it is not a 100% guarantee, do consider studying. If that is the only factor blocking your chances of promotion, then it is advisable to check the possibility of going back to school. Nowadays, we’re fortunate to have have as options distance education or online degrees. These may be less expensive than an actual degree. There are programs that you can attend for just a few hours a week and still allow you to work. If money is a problem, there are many scholarships you can avail of. Check if you could borrow funds in the meantime. Think of education as a good investment for the long term.

You may also want to consider attending short training courses that are conducted for only a few days or one week. Short programs may not give you a diploma, but they tell the employer that you acquired the skills taught by these programs.

Lastly, don’t lose hope. You already have the determination and drive to succeed. And even without a diploma, you already have the skills to be successful in your field. The fact that your immediate superior promoted you three times only means that you are a good worker. These already make you a real winner!

So don’t think of yourself as a loser because you are certainly not! You have what it takes to be successful. You will just need to promote and package yourself more efficiently.

I wish you the best, Malena, and do keep me updated with your work.




As always, my site is open to your comments and additional advice to letter-senders. Of course, I would still love to continue receiving your letters, whether these talk about professional or personal problems.  I enjoy being able to help in any way I could.  Need advice? Ask Ralph. To send letters, click here.

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