Career Guide

Dear Careernomers: How do I succeed without a degree?

We have four experts on career management, HR and office issues who will address your questions weekly. We refer to them as Careernomers - experts in career matters who will help you in your career journey. So if you have any burning questions to ask, send them to dearcareernomers@leaderonomics.comand we will get the panel to answer your questions.

This week, Johan Merican, CEO of TalentCorp, and Claudia Cadena, director, strategic human capital management at SapuraKencana answer Vas’question.

Dear careernomers,

I am a 25-year-old that has never completed a degree. I gave up university to start my own enterprise, a convenience store, which unfortunately failed, and now I face the difficulty in getting hired, as most employers look for people with paper qualifications. I was never brilliant at studying; however I feel that I carry myself and speak well, I am sociable and I can “sell” many stories quite easily – an opinion supported by many of my friends and relatives. Could you suggest how I should approach potential employers to get them to put aside the fact that I do not have any paper qualifications?

Warm regards,


Dear Vas,

Do not be discouraged by not having a degree. Less than 25% of the Malaysian workforce has tertiary education. You’re therefore clearly not in the minority. Furthermore, consistently the top reason for graduates not securing a job is the lack of communication skills, including proficiency in English. In this respect, by your own description, you have an edge over many graduates.

Granted there are many employers who look for qualifications and would state it as a requirement in job advertisements. However, this certainly does not apply to all employers and all jobs. You will need to focus on looking for jobs that do not require a degree and yet offer the opportunity for progression. Given your ability to carry yourself and speak well, you should leverage on your abilities and aim for front line or customer facing roles, such as in sales and marketing, communications or in shared services call centres.

Many sectors in Malaysia are growing strongly and with that organisations are actively expanding their sales and services functions, from financial institutions selling insurance or credit cards, to telecommunication companies offering voice and data services. Beyond sales functions, the shared services and outsourcing sector is a major growth industry in Malaysia with AT Kearney consistently ranking Malaysia as the third best global services location in the world. This is an area where your ability to communicate can lead you to a career with large multinationals with international exposure.

Hence, the good news is that opportunities are in abundance. You will need to seek out the right one. Your experience of giving up university to start your own enterprise is not typical. I expect that in going for interviews, you will be asked about it. Interviewers may probe to assess whether you lack resilience. You should be prepared to answer and how you can turn it to your advantage – in terms of what you learnt from the experience and how it will help you perform for your future employer.

Paper qualifications often just serve to determine entry level into a job. Beyond that, it comes down to your performance. In this respect, you will need to be patient and resilient as you may find yourself starting off at a lower level than a degree holder. However, it will be up to you to prove your value.

Speaking from personal experience, in TalentCorp, we had recently promoted a couple of colleagues who do not have degrees. They did well in exceeding expectations by going the extra mile, being pro-active in performing their work and proving they could deliver as well if not better than others with a degree. You may start off at a lower level but with the right attitude to work and by delivering performance, you will progress and advance in your career.

I know of CEOs in Malaysia without a degree. It comes down to you. You must have self confidence that you can do it – securing a job and building a career of your dreams. Too often, we are defeated in our minds even before we begin. Put aside your perceived disadvantages and use your strengths to your advantage.

All the best,

Johan Merican

Dear Vas,

Looking for a job can be a stressful experience. However it can also be rewarding if approached correctly. You currently believe that not having a professional qualification is putting you at a disadvantage and will prevent you from securing a good job. This does not need to be the case. I would like to make a few suggestions that will hopefully help you to succeed in your search.

1 Identify your strengths. Start by clearly articulating the value that you can bring to a potential employer. People believe that you talk and carry yourself well, that you are very sociable and can sell many stories easily. This indicates that you have strong interpersonal and communication skills and that you are persuasive. In order for you to have a full list of your strengths, go over your past successes and achievements. It does not matter how big or small they are. Then ask yourself: how did I manage to succeed? What skills, knowledge and abilities did I apply? This simple exercise will enable you to fully understand and articulate your strengths.

2 Match your strengths to potential jobs. Different type of roles require different things from potential candidates. Some jobs require professional qualifications and defined years of experience. Some other jobs expect candidates to have hands-on experience. Understand what type of jobs require the strengths that you possess. This will enable you to focus your efforts and energy in applying to jobs for which you will be a suitable candidate, thus increasing your chances of securing a suitable job.

3 Prepare a professional cover letter and CV. First impressions are extremely important. Now that you know your strengths and have an understanding of the type of jobs that you are suitable for, you need to put together your CV. Remember, this is the one and only chance that you will have to show the potential employers how you will add value to their company. The quality of the CV is not measured by its length. Don’t list down everything that you have done since you were born. Identify outcomes achieved which showcase your strengths, qualities and abilities. The objective is to show potential employers that you have what it takes to do the job.

4 Cast a wide net. The employment scene is a competitive one, therefore you must ensure that you explore a variety of options when applying for a job. Talk to your friends and business contacts. Ask them if they know of potential job opportunities in their companies that suit your strengths/experience. Check the job advertisement section of the newspapers regularly. Get in touch with and forward your CV to suitable employment agencies. By doing this you are increasing your visibility in the market and you are also gathering information which will enable you to further understand what is available and what are the specific requirements for the job.

5 Prepare yourself. The fact that you don’t have a professional qualification, does not mean that you can’t be well prepared to perform a job. As you understand the type of jobs that you are suitable for and the type of skills, knowledge and abilities required, seek information and learn further. Go to the internet, read relevant books, talk to people that do similar jobs. Learning never stops and it is not confined to the classroom or formal degrees.

6 Lastly, have a positive attitude. No matter how stressful the situation may be, it is always important to remain positive. Each time that you get a negative reply from a potential employer, it can be used as an opportunity. If you have the chance, ask your potential employer why you were not successful. This will enable you to understand the reasons behind the negative response and will also allow you to improve further and understand what else you need to do in order to increase your chances of securing a job.

I hope that with this advice you will be able to move forward in your quest to securing a job that allows you to contribute, add value and use your talent.


Claudia Cadena

The opinions expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of