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NO DEGREE? APPLY ANYWAY

Regardless of your level of education, nothing can be more disheartening than stumbling upon a job possibility that sounds just perfect for you - and then noticing that you don't meet the degree requirements spelled out in the job ad. Before you give up, though, pause for a moment and think: Is this really a job you would love to do? Would you be good at it? Does your track record and work experience demonstrate that? If so, it's a good idea to apply for the position anyway. Consider these tips.

1 Dwell on what you bring to the table. This isn't the time to get hung up on what you're missing. It's the time to focus on what you've got. Say, for instance, that an employer is seeking someone with a master's degree in business administration. Maybe you don't have an MBA, but you have years of relevant business experience. If you know in your heart that this is an ideal job for you, tailor your application materials to stress your appropriate strengths.

2 Speak the same language. If you're applying for an advertised position, pay attention to the desired skills and characteristics mentioned in the ad and then incorporate the same or similar words and key phrases into your resume and cover letter. These phrases - sometimes referred to as "keywords" - can help get your materials reviewed by an actual decisionmaker. This can happen even if your precise degree or certification keywords don't match up.

3 Stress your learning speed. If a would-be employer would like you to know a certain software program - and you don't know thatprogram, but you know something similar - then either emphasize your successes with the similar program, or emphasize how quickly you pick up new programs. Be armed with specific success stories to back up your claims.

4 Reflect on your accomplishments. The principle mentioned in Tip No. 3 also applies to certifications and degrees you may not have. If you have valuable work experience despite the lack of the certification or degree, get those success stories ready. To get in the right mind-set, ask yourself these sorts of questions: Did you really shine in certain ways in your last job or jobs? Did you make money for the organization or save the organization money? What noteworthy results can you cite? Were you singled out for awards or promotions?

5 Know where and when to shine. Your resume can - and should - be prepared in the most flattering light, but your biggest opportunities to share your success stories and strengths are in your cover letter and on your job interview. Prepare concise talking points that show in concrete ways how your job history and experience have prepared you for the position you're seeking.

6 A mole can make all the difference. Hiring managers love to hire people they already know and trust, or people recommended to them by people they know and trust. Do you know anyone at the place of employment that interests you? Or do you know anyone who knows the hiring manager in question? Getting in the door that way can actually give you more credibility than a degree or certification in many cases.

7 Have that same person review your resume and cover letter. If you do know of someone who is willing to put in a good word for you, ask them whether you're presenting yourself in the right way for this situation. Request specific interview tips as well.

8 Adaptability is highly prized. Another way to overcome the degree or certification requirement is to highlight examples of how you've reinvented yourself, upgraded your skills or otherwise evolved significantly over the course of your career. If appropriate, ask references - and your mole - to mention such details about you as well.

9 Follow instructions to the letter. If you're missing a degree or certification that an employer wants, compensate for that deficiency by doing everything else just so. Submit your application materials exactly the way the employer wants to see them. For instance, if a business specifies that e-mail is preferred but attachments are not, don't send any attachments.

10 Be a class act. If hard copies of your resume and cover letter are desired, send a polished package. Opt for high-quality white or off-white paper, and use a professional-looking, nondecorative font. Never fold your resume. Address your cover letter to a specific individual if you can, and remember to sign it.

Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@tentips.org.

Sources: Monster.com (www.monster.com); National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.jobweb.com)

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