The Truth About Winning with a Non-Traditional Background

Jalen Carter
8 April 2024
4 min read

In the tech industry, landing a new role can feel like an intimidating process. This feeling is heightened if you do not have a “relevant degree” for the role you’re interested in pursuing.

Having a degree helps, but it’s not the most important thing hiring teams look for. Most companies are pivoting to hiring talent that has hands-on experience, like bootcamps, certifications, and impactful side-projects. Let’s dive into some tactics that will help your application stand out, regardless of your degree status.

Best practices for non-traditional candidates:

1. Develop a comprehensive work portfolio

Portfolios are not just designers; they’re for any professional who does digital work (i.e. HR, Software Engineering, project and product managers). We’ve written about the limitations of resumes, but in short, they allow you to show off how you work in a more visually-engaging way. If you are on the job search today, you can stack the odds in your favor by having a stellar portfolio. In the words of Jennifer L.,

My portfolio pushed me over the edge to have them want to hire me.

It set her apart from the 6 other finalists without portfolios.

2. Highlight relevant experience and skills on your resume

Focus on showcasing practical skills and experiences that are directly applicable to the job you're applying for. Even if you lack formal education, highlighting your abilities and accomplishments can significantly boost your candidacy.

Pro-tip: try to use as many of the keywords in the job description that you have in your resume.

3. Explore alternative education and certification options

Companies love lifelong learners. Build your tangible skills while signaling to employers that you’re a proactive learner. Research affordable and flexible educational programs or certification courses relevant to your desired field. Platforms like CareerKarma offer various resources to help you acquire valuable credentials.

4. Build a strong professional network

Joining professional organizations can be a game-changer. Not only do they expand your network, but they also offer opportunities to tackle meaningful projects. These projects not only beef up your resume and portfolio but also provide valuable hands-on experience. Consider joining organizations centered around craft (e.g. ADCOLOR, AIGA, ) or identity (e.g. Blacks in Tech, Latinas in Tech, Society for Women Engineers).

5. Be open to entry-level opportunities

Accepting entry-level positions can provide invaluable experience and insight into your chosen field. Sure, it might not pay as much as you'd like right now, but it's an investment in your long-term growth. And here's the thing: chasing a bigger paycheck right out of the gate might seem tempting, but it could hinder your progress in the long run. It's like planting a seed and expecting a tree overnight. Sometimes, you have to start small to grow big.


At its core, success in the job market hinges on convincing hiring teams on two things:

  1. That you have what it takes to excel at the job
  2. That you’re going to be pleasant to work with

Your educational background plays a small part in these two conditions.

By adopting these best practices, anyone can improve their odds of getting more interviews and building a fulfilling career. Remember, each journey is unique, and some of the most successful people in every field  had "non-traditional" paths.

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If you're seeking a seamless way to showcase your accomplishments, consider leveraging Pearl, a portfolio platform designed to highlight your projects and experiences, providing a comprehensive overview of your skills and expertise to recruiters and industry professionals alike. Click here to create a free professional portfolio in 3 minutes!

Jalen Carter
8 April 2024
4 min read
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