I was excited when Proving You’re Qualified: Strategies for Competent People Without College Degrees showed up on my desk.  Unfortunately, the book fell far short of my high hopes.  You have to read over half the book before the author, Charles Hayes, really begins to offer any of the promised strategies.  And when he finally gets down to business, his suggestions are underwhelming.  The best he’s got:

1. Write a glass-half-full resume.

If listing the details of your education will not support your objectives, as in the case of having dropped out of high school, then find a way to state the information in the most positive light possible, or leave the education section out completely.  For example, you could list the year you passed the GED test or simply elaborate on practical (experiential) learning you’ve acquired, independent workshops you’ve attended, or hours of college credit you may have accumulated.

2. If the last clause seems like a slip of the pen, Hayes repeats it.

Another way to combat negative response to your not finishing high school is to change the focus from not having finished high school to that of having some college.

Yes, but what if your whole problem is that you hate school?  If your antipathy was severe enough prevent high school graduation, how is skipping straight to college supposed to help?

3. Consider vocational school, but talk to people already in the industry first:

Ask if a certificate from the training school you are considering is really a respected credential.  Find out if there are opportunities to learn what you need to know as a trainee or apprentice, is which case you could earn while your learn…

4. Consider correspondence school.  Hayes approvingly quotes Bear’s Guide to Earning College Degrees Non-Traditionally:

If, for instance, a Bachelor’s degree is required for a job, a promotion, or a salary increase, then the accredited degree of the University of the State of New York, earned 100% by correspondence courses, is exactly as good… and the cost would be less than 5% as much…

This is probably the most intriguing – and non-obvious – suggestion in the book.  But would it really work this well in practice? 

5. Be awesome.

One of the best ways to fight credentialism at a practical level is to rise above it by developing genuine expertise in your own field and in your own life.

Plan the layout and development of your own storyboard production to deliver overwhelming evidence of your ability to rise to the occasion of any likely work situation.

Fine as far as it goes, but I thought the book was aimed at “competent people without college degrees” not “genuine experts without college degrees.”

6. Buy more copies of the book.

If you have minds to change, a good way to broach the subject is to give the people involved some written material such as this book.  If you can’t get them to read a whole book try for a chapter.


Hayes is firmly in sociology’s “pure credentialism” tradition.  According to this tradition, educated workers are not, on average, better workers.  Not only does school fail to teach job skills; school isn’t even a signal of job skills.  But if this theory is correct, here’s a great strategy Hayes overlooks: Start your own business, and staff it entirely with high school drop-outs.  Just offer, say, a 20% premium over typical wages for drop-outs.  Then pocket the difference between your labor costs and the competition’s.  If pure credentialism is true, this should work.  Anyone want to give it a try?