This position with our company requires a college degree and I noticed on your resume you only state that you attended college but it didn't say you graduated? Why did you quit?

This question goes to tenacity or staying power, and so is another way of determining whether you'll stick around. The way to answer is by saying, "I realize that most companies look for a degree in this position. I didn't get a chance to complete my degree because _." Explain why you didn't finish college—and it better be a good reason, like a death in the family, I was married with a kid and I had to go to work, or I was putting myself through college and the money ran out and I had to go to work. Don't list anything like: I was bored, college and I didn't get along, I was so busy partying, I flunked out, or I just didn't value the chance I had enough and I regret it. Even things like, "Well, I just wasn't mature enough for college and didn't appreciate it" don't work. It has to be a good, palatable reason that doesn't signal a lack of steadfastness.

Then the candidate has to say: "I do wish I'd finished. But, every job I've ever had has required a degree on paper, and I have performed well at every job. In fact, when you analyze my background and check my references, you will find that not having a degree has never negatively affected my performance."

Say no more; don't make it a bigger deal than it is. If there is a corporate policy about not being hired without a degree, you may not get hired, and there is not one thing you can do about it. So, putting up a big stink like, "Well, it is ridiculous for company's to require a degree. A degree doesn't mean people will perform. It's stupid" and on and on will just make your perceived "deficiency" more pronounced. Even if it is stupid (and I believe it is—no one ever asked me about my Ph.D. before they hired one of my candidates), your protest will not change things, and you will embarrass yourself.

So, just stick to the "I don't have a degree. It might be better if I did, but it hasn't kept me from being a performer" type of answer. Answer calmly, somewhat briefly, and then smile and shut up! If companies really want to hire you, i.e., if you establish enough of a value for yourself, they will overlook this kind of thing no matter what the policy is.

This position is one or two levels below the ones you have had in the past. How do we know we won't hire you and then in six or seven months someone calls you with a position like that and you leave?

This is one of the biggest fears that any hiring manager or hiring authority has. To hire somebody and then have him or her leave, for whatever reason, is a big risk. Other candidates may stay a short period of time and then leave for all kinds of reasons, but the issue of having held higher positions is so glaring, at the onset of the relationship, that the hiring authority is very afraid.

This is esoteric and "graduate level" stuff, but I will tell you the reality of this fear. It is groundless! Here is the truth. If people are reasonably happy in the job that they're doing, they're not going to think about leaving the job, even to interview for a better one on a whim. I personally call to recruit people who are supposedly happy in their jobs on a daily basis. When people are genuinely happy, even reasonably content in their jobs, they really don't want to interview, and they really don't want to leave, even if the job that I describe or might have for them is better than the job they've got. The reason is simple. People really don't like looking for a job. If you have been paying attention, you probably know by now that looking for a job is a pain in the butt, and nobody really likes doing it. So, the idea that a reasonably content employee will get a call six or seven months, or even nine months, into a new job to interview for the level of job that he or she used to have and run off and leave isn't realistic. Most people just are not in a situation where they have nothing better to do on a Tuesday morning than think about changing jobs and interviewing. It's just too emotionally stressful, and rarely does anybody do it unless there is just cause.

Reasonably happy employees usually don't have to leave to look for another job. It's just too stressful to do that, so as long as they are reasonably content with the positions they are in, they have a tendency to stay where they are. Of course, to complicate matters, the only way that a hiring authority can prove or disprove the theory is to take a chance on hiring someone in this situation. I have placed enough people over the years at levels far below the positions that they held before, ones who went on to be very happy and content over many years, that I have proven the stereotypes to be unfounded.

Now to make matters more interesting, you as a candidate can't explain this to a prospective employer. The problem with this truth is that it is predicting the future, and the hiring authority simply isn't going to try what he or she believes to be a great risk just to prove a theory. And the problem with this theory is that you can argue both sides of the myth and be right.

So, here is your answer: "Mr. or Ms._, in every company in which I've ever worked, I've always started out at a position one or two levels below what I eventually attained. I realize exactly what I'm getting into with this job and the opportunity that you have outlined for me. I have no intention of wasting anyone's time, money, or effort—mine or yours. I wouldn't be trying to get this position if I didn't think that it would be challenging, gratifying work, and I wouldn't have a really good future with this organization. In the past, when I have been in the lower level positions with the companies in which I worked, I would get calls from time to time about interviewing at other organizations or other companies for higher level positions. But I was very happy where I was. I enjoyed the work, I was challenged and, frankly, the compensation followed my being happy, content, and challenged in the job. If we can make this opportunity happen, I can assure you that I know exactly what I'm getting into and the idea of leaving, or being recruited away for a position one or two levels above it, just isn't realistic for me. I've been in the 'shoes' of this kind of position before, and I know exactly what I'm getting into. I like the job, the people, the company, and if we can work out the compensation, I am more than confident that I will make you an excellent employee for a long, long time."

 
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