driving 12 hours to a job interview, is there hope for college dropouts, and more

It’s seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. Is there any hope for college dropouts?

I am a mid-20s college dropout who is quickly learning that to most employers, “some college” is the same thing as no college. My situation is a bit unique because I did complete the number of credit hours required to earn a degree, but because I changed my major so many times, none of it counted towards a degree in the end. About 75% of my coursework fulfills a STEM major that I settled on in the end, but I ran out of money and had to leave to pursue full-time work in order to save up enough to finish undergrad.

Since then, things have not gone as planned. The only jobs I qualify for are low-paying retail and clerical jobs at companies where there isn’t much room for growth. I do not feel above these jobs, and I take great pride in my work, but I do feel like a failure sometimes. This is because I went through the college experience but have nothing to show for it in the end. My lack of a degree has closed many doors and I am now trying to push forward and figure out what steps to take to get back on track.

Is there a way for a job seeker with some college to still be competitive in this market? I would love to find a challenging job that pays a bit more so I could save up quicker for college while still building a strong resume. Is this possible with the right approach? I’m currently working two jobs to support myself and save for college as I have given up on finding anything better without a degree. At this rate, it will be a while before I am financially able to return. I just want to make sure that I have not given up too soon. Is there any hope for a college dropout?

Ugh, I’m sorry you’re dealing with that. There are some employers who will look at what you accomplished, regardless of degree, but it’s easier to find them when you have more experience to point to. (Those are the employers who are smart enough to know that a degree is really a quick way to screen for some basic education and the wherewithal to stick with something at least minimally challenging for four years — but that once you’re dealing with candidates with years of experience, their track record in the real world says much more about what they’re capable of than a degree can say.)

But when you’re early in your working life and don’t yet have a track record to point to, you’re right that this can be a real obstacle. One way around is to try to find a job in a smaller company where you can work your way up once you’re in. But I’d also talk to your school about what financial assistance might make it possible for you to finish the degree sooner. Good luck.

2. Should I tell a prospective employer that I was laid off after I originally applied?

I applied for a job in July and was contacted two weeks ago to set up a interview in mid-September. Within days of scheduling the interview, I also completed and returned a 10-question pre-screen form, asking questions about whether I’d be willing to relocate, when I would be able to start if offered the job, etc. I indicated that I would be able to start two weeks after acceptance of a written offer.

Fast forward to this week: I was laid off Monday. Should I contact the prospective new employer and let them know that I was laid off and my availability is more flexible? Or do I wait to mention it at the interview?

I actually wouldn’t mention it at all, unless it comes up naturally. You don’t want to lie or misrepresent your situation, but you don’t need to go out of your way to proactively update them either. Employed candidates tend to be the most attractive candidates, and so there’s no need to take the risk of lowering your value in their eyes, however slightly, unless you have to. (And for most jobs, being able to start sooner than two weeks isn’t going to be a significant selling point.)

3. Should you really avoid “I” statements in a cover letter?

I have a clarifying question about advice I have heard that seems to go against the examples of good cover letters on your site. The advice was to “avoid peppering your cover letter with ‘I’ statements” and touting your own value and to instead focus on the company’s needs. This confused me because I thought the point of the cover letter was to talk about yourself and use active voice. Is this advice sound, and if so how do you focus your letter on the company?

No, it’s not sound. The cover letter is about you — and how you can meet the company’s needs, of course, but it’s very difficult to talk about how you’d meet their needs without, you know, talking about yourself. Plus, letters that really do just talk about the company’s needs tend to end up (a) sounding salesy and (b) sounding naive, since you can’t possibly know all that much about their needs from the outside.

4. Forwarding an email someone says they didn’t receive

Email is a standard form of communication in my workplace and is often used more frequently than the phone for interoffice/interdepartmental communication. If another manager or my boss claims to have no knowledge of information or a situation, and I know for a fact that they received that information in the form of an email, is it unprofessional to forward them that email at a later date if the topic resurfaces and he/she claims “I was not informed”?

Not unprofessional at all! But you want to do it politely so it doesn’t come across as adversarial. For instance: “Hmmm, you should have received that email, but maybe it got lost somehow. I’m forwarding it to you here so that you have the information.” (Note that this assumes technical error, rather than incompetence on their part … even when you secretly think/know it was incompetence.)

5. Should I drive 12 hours to a job interview?

I am a recent graduate and have been applying for jobs since May. I just got an email from a hiring manager from a firm that I applied to in a different city. He asked if I was planning to visit the area anytime soon, and said that if so we can set up an interview. What should I do? I have a friend who lives there, and I’ll just have to pay for gas and food. However, it is a 12-hour drive and no guarantees. I already went through a similar experience, but it was very expensive since it was in a different state, and I did not land the job. I would have to ask friends/family for help because I am unemployed right now.

I really want to go and take the risk, but don’t know if I should. Any advice?

If you’re applying for work outside of your geographic area, this is often part of the deal — especially for entry-level jobs, where they just have no incentive to cover your travel expenses, because they have plenty of qualified local candidates — which means that if you want to be considered, you have to get yourself there. However, you always want to keep in mind that there’s no guarantee that it will lead to something … so you have to balance your interest in the job, your interest in moving, your other job prospects, and what your finances will allow. That’s not a calculation I can make for you, but those are the factors to weigh.

6. How to know what’s motivating an overqualified candidate

I will be assisting in interviewing people for a position which will work closely with (and eventually directly for) me. It is an entry-level position in an engineering company, but the job is an analyst position, not an engineering position. As such, it will pay significantly less than an engineering position. One candidate is a contract engineer at our company who is just starting his career. He does not have experience in the type of work the analyst will do. The other candidate is an engineer with over 20 years of experience, only a little of which is on point for the position we are offering.

Other than asking straight out: “Why are you interested in this job?”, can you think of how I can get to what would prompt two candidates to apply for a job that will pay so much less than I am sure they could get in other places. I can’t help but feel that they see this job as a stepping stone to get into the company, then start looking for a job that is a better fit. How can I find out if that is the case? And should I worry if this is the case?

Second, my boss appears to want to hire the more experienced person, even though we haven’t spoken with him yet. If (and this is a big if) neither applicant appears to be a good fit for the job, what is the best way for me to approach my boss with this assessment. I am concerned that he will want to fill the position even if we don’t find the right person, just to fill the position. I am worried about that.

Be straightforward with the candidate about what you’re wondering: “This position is designed to be entry-level, so it’s a much lower level of responsibility — and really, skill — than what you’ve been doing. Why are you interested in making that kind of move?” … “Are you comfortable with the fact that they pay range will be an entry-level pay range — something around $X to $Y?” And then really listen to the person’s response. Does he have reasons that make sense to you, or does it sound like he’s deluding himself into thinking that the job is higher level than it is or that he can quickly mold it into something higher level? (And make sure that you’re very, very clear about exactly what the job does and doesn’t entail, so that he can self-select out if he didn’t realize that stuff.)

As for your boss, be straightforward there too: “Joe’s answer convinced me that he doesn’t truly want to do this type of work and is hoping to use it as a fast springboard into something else here. And Jane just doesn’t have the qualifications of X and Y that I need for the person in this role. Since I’ll ultimately be managing this position, I’d like to look at more candidates so that we don’t invest in someone who won’t excel in the role.”

7. Company can’t stop seeing me as the receptionist

I have worked for the same company for many years, gaining very strong admin, numerical, and analytical skills along the way. Currently, I manage the reception desk, and over the last 3 years I have improved procedures and service levels, etc.

Recently, the company I work for has had an opening for an executive assistant, which I think would be a perfect step up for me. I have all the required technical and personal skills and experience – but I interviewed for the job along with some external candidates and they didn’t award the job to anyone! The hiring manager told me that she couldn’t get them to see me as more than just “the girl on the front desk,” despite me having the required skills and experience.

Another similar role has just been posted up on the notice board and I called the hiring manager for advice on whether I should apply – she said that she would check out the role a bit ( her colleague is dealing with it) and get back to me. Is really that unusual for a receptionist/administrator to move into an EA or PA role? Is it wrong for me to have ambition? What is their problem? Is there anything I can do to change their perception of me?

I don’t know what their problem is, but that manager gave you some valuable information — they only see you as the receptionist. That might mean that you’re never going to advance in this company, at least not in the way you want to. If that’s the case, why not look at jobs somewhere else? You say you’ve been at your current employer for many years, so it might make a lot of sense to begin looking at what other opportunities are out there.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #7: The hiring manager couldn’t get WHO to see you as more than the girl at the front desk? Does he/she not see you that way? Is there any way you can get a little more feedback on why? It’s very, very possible that this is just embedded prejudices about your age, or the inability to let go of maybe some immature things you did at the start (I was forever the “intern” at my first job, for years after I came on full-time). However, there is a small chance that it has to do with your appearance or behavior, so if you could get more info, it might help you to know before you look elsewhere.

    1. WWWONKA*

      I agree with the above to a degree. Have they pigeon holed you for some reason? As AAM said if they have you permanently in that position move on.

    2. abby*

      I have been there and agree with the above. I am currently an administrator (one small step above assistant in my organization) and will start my new position as a manager on Tuesday. The way I did this was to provide top-quality work product and customer service, and to earn the trust and respect of my co-workers. Note I have over 10 years of management experience and this was a career change due to the rotten economy. Luckily for me, a director took an interest in me, saw my potential, and began to mentor me. This was invaluable as many saw me as the “department assistant” only. It took about a year of hard work slowly changing perceptions, and I don’t think I would still be with this organization if not for her. So I would suggest you really focus on how others might perceive you, and to also see if you can find a supporter or mentor in your organization.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        In my (administrative) experience, smaller companies will have one person who acts as a combined Receptionist/PA/Office Manager Role. However I have seen Receptionists moving to become (Personal) Assistants in larger companies.

        And about it being “wrong to have ambition”? Sometimes I get the impression that administrative positions are not seen as roles where wanting career progression is bizarre. This could be related to the “You’re too valuable to lose” topic which came up earlier on the blog.

        1. Ava*

          I agree Chocolate Teapot, sometimes staff in support roles become too valuable to management and they don’t want them to move on – I think this is what could be happening to me.

          1. Bea W*

            BTDT. This is exactly what happened to me. Luckily I had a manager who went to bat for me with HR. Even when I had spoken to HR, I was told outright that I was too good at what I was currently doing and was only 1 of 2 employees to have what was the upper most title, Admin Coordinator II. My own manager wanted hire me for a different position that I was interested in that was open on her project, and it was the company that gave her a hard time! They would not even allow an official role change until annual review time while in the meanwhile the position remained open and she was expected to keep interviewing for it. :-/

            Had it not been for my manager standing up for me, I would have had to move on. It was really short-sited of the company, because I was even better in the new role well respected outside of my own project, and I stayed another 7 years.

            1. AP*

              Tottttalllllyyy been there too, but at a tiny company where there’s just one person who makes the ultimate decision, and your fate is in his hands, and he really did not want to lose me as the office manager (there had been a string of terrible hires before me, and I think he was worried that he would never get anyone decent again).

              Luckily, I had a great immediate boss and I was really upfront with him that I was going to move on if I wasn’t able to move into the area that I wanted, and he realized that would be categorically worse and convinced the CEO.

              I will say, it’s a tiny bit grating that the CEO will occasionally tell people on the outside “Oh, AP in my office will send that over to you.” Particularly when it’s something the receptionist could easily do. But on the whole that has just made me work harder to prove myself, which has been a good thing for my career overall.

          2. Jazzy Red*

            This happened to me, too. I had to leave the company to find a better job (and it was the happiest day of my life when I gave my 2 weeks notice!)

            OP, you have real accomplishments that you can put on your resume, where many admin assistants don’t. This is a big advantage for you, in both your cover letter & interview. Make sure you don’t apply for a receptionist position, though. Go for the Exec Assistant role. Good luck to you!

        2. SB*

          I am an admin with ambition. After deciding it was time to leave my previous company (because I had been there three years and learned a great deal, including the fact that I would never advance) I went job hunting. I got several interviews right away because of my strong experience, but every interview seemed to be the same thing over and over. No room for advancement. They wanted assistants who would be happy being assistants for the next 20 years. Not that there’s anything wrong with being an assistant, but in my previous job (with a small and high powered office), I got the opportunity to try on a bunch of different hats that assistants don’t normally get and I really wanted to continue pursuing those challenges. It’s hard to move up or break out. I’m lucky that I found a position that recognized the skills I’d demonstrated with my previous position and was willing to take me on as an assistant with a career path to move into a different role and department.

        3. Mike C.*

          I don’t understand this either. Unless you are paying them extremely well (which they’re not), how can they expect to keep someone in the same role forever without any further development?

          1. doreen*

            They want to hire people who aren’t interested in further development and will be happy doing the same job for the next 20 years. I’m not one of them , but I know plenty of people like that.

            1. LMW*

              We just made the mistake of hiring for that and sincerely wish that we’d hired someone with a desire to learn and move up. Three years with someone bright and eager and then having to start the search again would have been much better than 20 years with the person we ended up with.

          2. Chinook*

            I have to agree that companies need to learn to pay and give respect to those administrative positions that they wish the good people would never move out of. I would have been happy as a receptionist at one job if the pay would have looked like it was going up with everyone else’s. But, it wasn’t so I looked elsewhere internally. Heck, if they could have figured out a way to ensure they would cover the front desk so I could take a vacation without being made to feel guilty or given me the benefits that were the same as everyone else (i.e. “right to light” applied to everyone but the receptionist as my desk was in the darkest corner on the front room and had plenty of soft mood lighting that was difficult to work in, everyone else got to go to company events but the only way I could would be if I convinced someone else to cover the desk, and everyone else got to leave early on Christmas Eve but no one would officially close the office and let the receptionist go home).

            If you want someone good to stay in a job that can be quite thankless, then you need to ensure that they are treated as a peer and not a servant!

            1. Mike C.*

              Respect, consideration and good pay really go a long way in these situations. I’ve found as I’ve progressed that things which used to bother don’t anymore because I’m respected and well compensated.

              Too many people think that because you don’t need a college degree to answer phones or greet people means that you don’t need to pay them well, and that’s incredibly stupid. Not only are you paying them to be the first voice or face anyone sees, you’re paying them to be there with a regularity that is expected of almost no one else in the company. Not only day to day, but year over year.

          3. Jane Doe*

            One possibility is that they expect women taking receptionist or administrative assistant jobs to be providing “supplemental” income to a family where a man is the main income earner, and assuming they don’t have an ambition to advance their careers or move into different jobs.

              1. Jamie*

                Yes. And it makes me twitchy.

                For the record, in case anyone is still confused, yes – even those of us with employed husbands want to earn fair market wages for our work. We’re not working to earn money for the new hat Ricky won’t let us buy, and we’re not working because we’re bored.

                1. A Bug!*

                  “We’re not working because we’re bored”

                  Isn’t that why we’re all here commenting?

                  (She said, ducking thrown objects…)

              2. Marie*

                Yup. Still a thing. At my previous job my manager told me that he had to make sure that my male coworker was scheduled to work his full 40 hr week because he was “the sole breadwinner.” Yes, this happened a few years ago, not in 1958.

            1. Job Seeker*

              As a recent grad who is also an ambitious young woman I had been advised by mentors to stay away from receptionist and personal assistant roles if I could. They said I would get pigeon-holed and have a hard time moving up. I had doubted if that was still true, since a lot of my mentors were older and getting jobs in the 70s and 80s. But from the discussion here, it seems like that was pretty sound advice.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          I hate this. So many people think that you can start on the front desk and move up and it’s a total lie in many companies, either because it’s too small or in many ways, they see it as a monkey job. They also say “Oh, you’re the most important person in the office. We couldn’t function without the receptionist.” If you’re good at it, you’re just a good monkey, no more. Maybe they think that if you wanted the higher level job, you’d already be doing it?

          This sounds like one of those places. Either they’re thinking “monkey can’t handle the big time,” or they don’t want the OP to leave that position precisely because she’s has made herself invaluable. I think she’s better off looking elsewhere.

          1. CEMgr*

            At my company, we have several EAs (to VPs) who started out on the front desk. We are a 2100 person wholly-owned subsidiary of a Fortune 50 retail giant that is a household name. We tend to hire very experienced, accomplished receptionists. Just a data point for you.

          2. Chinook*

            I have always admitted that a monkey could do some of my jobs but they would do it very badly (banging of telephone on desk when it rings one too many times, flinging poo at rude clients and eating the gift baskets being deliver just some of the problems that will occur). If they want it done well, then they need to hire someone competent and pay them more than bananas.

          3. A*

            Not always though. I started at my company as a temp receptionist and after a few weeks HR told me they wanted to retain me as a permanent full time employee and that if I didn’t want the receptionist position full time I could what department or location I wanted to work in and they’d figure it out.

            I chose a department and they created a position for me that allowed for a bridge between the basic admin work I had been doing, and more intensive responsibilities. After a few months in that role I was promoted to my current position. I know this is not the norm – but it is important to note it CAN happen. In one year I went from temp receptionist, to lower level specialized admin work, to specialized exec.

            While I will admit that I certainly got lucky, I also was very purposeful in my pursuit of this level of career progression. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew I wanted to go up. I chose a medium sized company in a small industry, which I think offered me more opportunity for this type of movement than a much larger company would have.

    3. Ava*

      Hi Pebcak, the hiring manager for the role is new to the company and she was as surprised as I was at their attitute. It was two accountants/senior execs who had to make the final decision and they were surprised that I had the required skills and experience. I have a very professional appearance and I behave very professionally – I think its a case of snobbishness to be honest they don’t want their PA to be someone who worked on the Reception desk.

      1. College Career Counselor*

        “the hiring manager for the role is new to the company and she was as surprised as I was at their attitute. It was two accountants/senior execs who had to make the final decision and they were surprised that I had the required skills and experience.”

        Then she wasn’t really the hiring manager.

        1. Chinook*

          I disagree. I have worked in places where the office manager hired me but the partners she reported to had veto power over her choices. Plus, my experience in an accounting firm leads me to belive that the senior partners definitely can influence hiring decisions when it comes to the general office staff.

          OP, if this is an accounting firm, my sympathy goes out to you. the only thing that opened the eyes of the partners that eventually took me from receptionist to AA was having one of them accidentally end up walking by when all “h-e-double hockey sticks” was breaking loose with phones, couriers, and clients. I actually remember seeing his mouth drop at how busy things could get and then overheard him mention to the Office Manager that he never understood what a recepionist did until that moment.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I think you hit it right here. Upper management can have such a disconnect from the front desk that they have no clue what skills are involved. Makes it really difficult to get out of the monkey classification.

            1. Jamie*

              I’m glad I started at the front desk way back when – because nothing else would have taught me faster how freaking hard that job is.

              I see some people handle it with grace and ease and that’s an amazing feat. It’s all about fit – I’m good at a lot of things but juggling a million calls and visitors and constant interruptions isn’t one of them. My worst day in IT doesn’t stress me out the way a bad day at the front desk did.

              I think it’s because no matter how buried I am now, I know what I’m doing. I always felt like I was over my skis at the front desk and then having to remember to smile at everyone…

              Suffice to say I am a champion of good receptionists every where when I have the power, because it takes a lot of poise and professionalism to do that job well.

              (I believe my time at the front desk has given me a tech block on postal meters, copiers, and label makers. Won’t touch them if I can help it.)

    4. Grrrrrrr*

      Not being taken seriously has absolutely killed my morale at my current job. Despite 14 years of progressive professional experience at some pretty reputable places, they seem to have mentally lumped me in with other much less experienced or qualified employees. Because I look young and am female? I don’t know. But they refuse to give me a decent desk to sit at, exclude me from important conversations, and one boss condescendingly tells white lies to me (he makes stuff up), just because he assumes I am too stupid to know better.

      After being given a big increase in responsibilities, I requested to have a brief meeting with the other financial people so I would be aware of all the critical items we are dealing with. My boss agreed, and invited the finance people…and the admin assistants, and someone who coordinates activities, and someone who does training…. So it turned into a pointless fluff meeting where he had to explain mortgages to the non-finance people. Total waste of everyone’s time.

      This has not happened at any other places I have worked, so I assume it’s just the culture here. And I can’t wait to leave!

  2. Terra*

    #7, I am troubled by your boss’s use of language, referring to you as “the GIRL on the front desk.” In my experience, male bosses that refer to grown women this way may indeed display further and maybe worse examples of gender bias. Are they seeing and giving a real chance to other female applicants to this and other jobs?

    AAM, any advice on how to recognize the line in the sane whereupon gender bias crosses over into discrimination?

    I really I may be reading too much into this and maybe even the women in the office see her as just the “girl at the front desk,” too. But it just reminded me of more than a few oldschool chauvanist types I’ve worked around in the past.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      It’s not discrimination. Pathetic and short sighted maybe, but not discrimination. It has to be really pervasive to be discrimination and calling someone a girl is so far down in the noise that it’s almost worth ignoring in order to get along. If you feel that you must challenge it I suggest questioning the person – Hey George, why do I get called a “girl at the front desk” instead of the “receptionist”? He may hem and haw, but if you do it nicely he may even start thinking about it.

      1. Ava*

        Hi Engineergirl, I agree that it’s very short sited but I don’t think they are being descriminating – they really just think I should be happy to stay where I am. I’m good at what I do so maybe they just don’t want to replace me, and I guess its just them looking after themselves and not giving a toss about me and my career!

        Many thanks for answering my question Alison – I agree that I was given some valuable information but quite frankly I find it depressing. I guess it is time to move on.

        thanks again

      2. Mike C.*

        It’s discriminatory language because such a thing would never be said about a man in a similar position. I’m not saying call the lawyers or anything like that, but given the history of women in the work place, such a phrase is incredibly troubling.

        Even if it isn’t, they’re telling the OP she’s not valued nor is she worth future investment or advancement – after all, why waste money on “just the girl at the front desk”?

        Whether it’s worth ignoring or not is a personal decision, but if I heard that used in front of me I would have immediate problems with it.

          1. Chris80*

            I had a boss once that called me Kiddo. He was a good boss, but this one thing pretty much cancelled out all of his good characteristics.

        1. Chinook*

          “after all, why waste money on “just the girl at the front desk”?”

          My problem is not with being called “the girl at thefront desk” but the use of the modifer “just.” To me, that is when it goes from “innocent but poor word choice” to “condescending.”

          But, then again, having a representative of a group I am part of recently be condescended to in a public forum with perfectly polite words and tones, I have recently come to believe in more firmly that it is not the word choice or even tone but the actions that count. That and I have a new respect for groups that follow Roberts Rules of Orders because we discovered that, when someone is out of order and this affects a vote on something, you can take them to court! It won’t change how we were treated but it atleast we can force an apology for breaking the rules.

        2. Bea W*

          Exactly, you wouldn’t hear “just the boy…” in reference to a man. No one says “The boy at the front desk can take your coat.”, but if it were a young woman, it wouldn’t be shocking to hear “The girl at the front desk can take your coat.”

      3. KellyK*

        Would they call a male receptionist the “boy” at the front desk? If not, it’s discrimination. Not in the sense of being legally actionable or horribly severe, but in the sense of treating women differently than men.

        That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s worth doing anything about, but in this forum, it should be okay to call a spade a spade.

        1. Anon*

          Well I would call a male at the front desk the “guy” at the front desk.

          For me there are:

          boys, guys, and men
          little girls, girls, and women

          When I say “girl” without adding “little” “cute” or some other term… I tend to mean women who are in their late teens up to late 20’s. I just do not see the words “boy” and “girl” as being the same – and I know a lot of people who don’t.

          Granted “Gal” would be on even footing with “Guy” but that feels to… southern? I feel like it’s really an English language shortfall that there’s no way to distinguish between a woman in her 50’s or 60’s and a woman in her 20’s or even 30’s. And I don’t think it’s really disrespectful to want to distinguish – as this is done in other languages.

          I could say “young woman at the front desk” but that would make me feel old. And I suppose I could ignore age entirely and call her the “woman” at the front desk but when I speak I want people to have a mental image of what I’m talking about and that requires some sense of age. Soooooo I call a younger (<30) woman a "girl." And I just don't feel discriminatory about this because I wouldn't call a male at the front desk a "man".

          It does make me pause and wonder if if this has something to do with my age… perhaps I will always call people within 10 years of myself girls or guys. I know older women who call everyone "girly." *shrugs*

          1. Bea W*

            Sometimes things are so ingrained in our language that we don’t realize the hidden meaning or the origin behind them.

            Maybe it’s just where I’m from, but I do hear “boy” and “girl” as the same thing. “Guy” is used to describe an adult male, never a boy. When I hear “guy”, I picture an adult. When I hear “girl” I don’t picture an adult, not even when I was still using “girl” instead of “woman”.

            Just to be clear, I am not referring to “guys” which can be either a group of adult men (normally friends) as in “I’m going out with the guys.” or a group of people of any age. “Do you guys want to get take-out?”

            I had a hard time transitioning from “girls” to “women”, but now that I’m older and further away from being a “girl”, I can’t even see calling someone in her 20s a “girl”. It doesn’t feel right. Girls are children. The 20-something female earning a living behind the desk is a woman.

            1. Jessa*

              I’d like to unpack this one further step. I bet that if there were three people at the front desk of equal age, experience etc. (I mean exactly equal for this test.) And one was a woman and two were men, I bet they’d call the woman a girl, but they’d stop at calling EITHER man a boy if one of them was a POC. Because in that case BOY has a HUGE amount of societal load behind it. The problem is that we haven’t gotten them to learn that GIRL also does. The only time boy does not carry the same down vote of “lesser status person” is when it’s directed at someone of privilege IE a white man.

              So calling a man a boy is not the same as calling a woman a girl. Because unless the person is intending to be racially insulting (IE directing it at a POC) the man in question has way more than enough privilege in the workplace to overcome being called something that indicates him as so very young.

    2. Elizabeth*

      Sometimes it can be an age thing with women. I worked for a woman once who refused to see me as an adult. One night I gave her a ride home and she got all mother hen on me, fretting about whether I’d make it home safely. (She lived in a slightly rural area and I guess worried I’d somehow wind up in a ditch because there weren’t streetlights, or that I’d get lost or something.) She actually insisted I call her when I got home to let her know I’d survived. I was 25 years old, not 13.

      1. Jen in RO*

        My coworker (2 years younger than me) asks me to text her when I’m home safe from a night out with the team. I see it as thoughtful, not as treating me as a kid.

        1. Anonymous*

          It’s all about how they said it I think. Frankly, it is good practice when, for instance, you and your coworker may both be living alone and have no one to realize you didn’t make it home if something happens.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          If you’re going out on the town, it’s absolutely a good idea to have a buddy to check up on you. This is true whether you’re with a group of friends or with coworkers. In your case, it is totally thoughtful and all about personal safety.

      2. Job seeker*

        Elizabeth, be glad this woman cared. Too many times bad things happen and no-one knows until too late. I am one who frets if someone doesn’t let us know they arrived safely. It is not a matter of age, it is a matter of being safe in a unsafe world.:-)

        1. Chinook*

          Let me adfd a voice to pointing out that it is good she cared. Especially when you live alone, it can take a few days to figure out if someone is “dead in a ditch.” I know this for a fact as my cousin’s best friend was missing a week because he had a new roomate who didn’t know this was odd behaviour and th profs at university don’t take attendance. The only closure the family has is someone found. His backpack with an uncashed birthday cheque in it floating in an inlet (they suspect a hit and run while on his bike and he ended up in a river that flows to the ocean).

          Ever since then, I make it a point to “mother hen” those who don’t show up when expected or drive in the middle of nowhere and don’t know the area.

        2. Nikki T*

          Yep, my friend and I always text each other if we stay out late for dinner. I have a much longer drive than she does, we both drive through a bit of countryside so we just feel better about it.

        3. Colette*

          I understand that it’s coming from a good place – but frankly, it’s not my coworkers responsibility to make sure I get home safely, and I wouldn’t appreciate her making her anxiety my problem.

          Sure, you could run into issues, but it seems like the chances of a coworker overreacting and panicking that you didn’t call are greater than something happening to you that she could help with.

          As a child – one of my friend’s mom’s always wanted me to call when I got home. I never remembered – my family was more of the “we’ll worry when you don’t show up when you’re supposed to” type, and so this woman (who meant well) would worry for nothing, and eventually call and find out I was fine.

          1. HR Competent*

            Good for you Colette. When I’ve been asked this I smile and say, “nope, wont do it. “

    3. Stevie*

      Depending on the age gap, I wouldn’t think too much about being called a “girl.” If a 55 year old male calls a 22 year old female a “girl,” it’s probably just because she is young in his eyes. And she will still be young when he is 75 and she is 42.
      My grandparents and great-grandparents would refer to younger generations in the family as “kids” even when they were parents of teenagers! But I never saw it as a disrespect thing…

      1. esra*

        That’s fine in your personal life, but I’d be pretty unimpressed if someone 20-30 years older than me at work called me ‘girl’.

        1. Y*

          Exactly. I am a software developer, usually the only woman in whatever meeting or group I am in and no, I am not a girl. Yes, even if the other people are 15 years my senior. And yes, that still applies even if the men are called “boys” – which I also don’t like, but they are usually not worried that they won’t be taken seriously because of their gender… We’re at work, and we are all adults.

        2. fposte*

          And it tends to stick more to women in lower-paid jobs–a workplace will have a thirty-year-old woman as an account executive and a thirty-year-old “girl” as a receptionist.

      2. Del*

        It’s one thing when it’s family, but quite another when it’s a coworker, someone you expect to treat you professionally, not parentally. Everyone in the office is an adult and deserves to be treated and thought of as an adult.

        1. Bean*

          I did not see an issue with them calling her the “girl on the front desk”, but more that they see this as a low-level position that couldn’t possibly be promoted. I’m from Canada, and a lot of companies prefer receptionists to take an Office Administration course which is two years of schooling.

      3. A Teacher*

        Um, no. My dad a few years ago referred to someone my age that he works with as ” a girl” an another as a “little girl.” Let’s just say that my sister and I ripped him a new one. It would only be okay if you want the younger generation to walk around and say “hey, old geezer” which I don’t think most people want to be called.

    4. Mike C.*

      Women can be sexist against other women as well. When you live in a system where these sorts of biases are normalized and accepted, it’s understandable that even those being harmed follow along.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I’m okay with ladies, as in “Ladies, let’s get this meeting started.” In figure skating, female skaters are referred to as ladies because their ages are all over the place, anywhere from 12 to 30. I guess they figured that was the most polite way to refer to everybody.

        1. Jamie*

          Discrimination has an actual impact.

          I.e. if someone in my office refers to me as a girl I can feel demeaned or belittled (I don’t, but I could) but it’s not discrimination because it doesn’t impact my position or salary or career in any way.

          Now if you call me a girl and pay me less or give me less power than if I had a Y chromosome as well…the discrimination is in the discriminatory behavior and not the name.

          1. Colette*


            I see “girls” as trying to make someone less than they are, maybe including making them seem non-threatening.

            I’m in high tech, which is male-dominated, and I don’t want someone trying to make it seem like my opinion is less important than my male colleague’s.

            However, that kind of language is not discrimination – unless it is paired with discriminatory acts, like giving my male colleague a new project and sending me out to get coffee (which would not end well, since I don’t even drink coffee), or giving my hypothetical male colleague a raise because he’s seen as the breadwinner and I’m not, even though I did better work for the company.

            1. Job seeker*

              Gosh guys, being called a girl never never would bother me. Hey, I am not a boy. Maybe some people consider this discriminatory behavior but I would not. I am far from what one would call a girl, I am a woman. I am a wife and mom and middle-age.

              I have had people call me young lady before. This is usually older gentlemen or ladies and that doesn’t bother me any in the least. I look young for my age but maybe that is why. There are just too many other important things in life to get upset over. No one can make you feel inferior or put down unless you let them.:-)

              1. Mike C.*

                No one can make you feel inferior or put down unless you let them.:-)

                Uh, no this isn’t true in the slightest. If it were true then no one would ever feel things like pain or heartbreak or embarrassment or suffer from things like depression or PTSD.

                Look, I’m a guy that went to a hard core engineering school, used to work in the lab sciences and now works in aerospace. Those are spaces that are dominated by men, and at times have very backwards views on women. It’s so ingrained that it took me years to begin to understand what my female classmates and coworkers were going through – things that were going on right in front of me, or worse, things I was inadvertently participating in.

                Most of the women I’ve worked with in the sciences were smarter than me and worked harder than me. Why is that? Because they had to overcome the bullshit attitudes that folks have about women learning math, putting on lab coats and becoming engineers. No one ever told me that “men aren’t good at math” or “men are keeping more deserving students out of graduate programs because they just get married, have babies and drop out” or my personal favorite, “you’re just here because you slept around”. No one judges me on how I look, despite the fact I’m overweight – they look at my work and reputation instead. Each comment alone is something that can be shouldered, but a lifetime of hearing that garbage from multiple sources? It becomes more than just a comment to be ignored. And to top it off, when a woman does speak out, she’s likely to be doubted, “Are you sure that’s what they meant? Could it be that you’re just over reacting?” And it’s not just men that would make these comments – I’ve heard them from other women as well!

                Referring to the letter writer as “just the girl at the desk” isn’t in an of itself a horrible thing to say. No one died, and people say mean things to others all the time. But lets unpack that a little bit. What does it say about her boss’s perception of her, her work and ultimately her value to the company? Not much I’d say, they refer to her work as just sitting there, and refer to her as a direct inferior – not even an adult, but a child. Someone who doesn’t do any important work that the company really values, that’s for sure.

                They don’t mention her specific contributions to the company, it’s obviously not even worth mentioning. Throw that in with how women have been historically treated in the workplace over the past few decades, and it really feels like a line out of Mad Men than something anyone should hear about themselves in 2013.

                1. Job seeker*

                  Mike, I can see a lot of your point. My son is a chemical engineer and graduated fairly recently. I am very sure he probably saw some of the same things you did. I just entered the job force at a different time and for me (just for me) being called a girl would not bother me as much. I know the front desk represents the face of a company and that in itself is a very important role. I am sure being a female engineer is a lot of work. But any engineering is something to be proud of yourself for.

          2. Job seeker*

            Gosh guys, being called a girl never never would bother me. Hey, I am not a boy. Maybe some people consider this discriminatory behavior but I would not. I am far from what one would call a girl, I am a woman. I am a wife and mom and middle-age.

            I have had people call me young lady before. This is usually older gentlemen or ladies and that doesn’t bother me any in the least. I look young for my age but maybe that is why. There are just too many other important things in life to get upset over. No one can make you feel inferior or put down unless you let them.:-)

  3. EngineerGirl*

    #1 – Don’t give up! A STEM career can span 3 to 4 decades, so taking a few years up front doesn’t mean it is over. Allison’s advice is sound. Not only will a small company be more likely to give you a chance, but you will also get a broad skill set which will make you more competitive in today’s environment. Think of this time as a “season” of your life, which means that it will eventually change for a new season. But don’t wait too long getting your degree – many universities have a limit on how long they will accept your class work toward your final degree. Ideally you could work part time and take 1 or 2 classes. Hard, but do-able.

  4. EngineerGirl*

    #3 Nothing wrong with “I”, especially if it is about how you can help the company achieve its goals. Really, think about all the ways you can help the company and the “I” part becomes “we”.

    #7 – A prophet is without honor in his home town. Sadly, you may have to leave your company because they can’t see you beyond what they see right in front of them.

  5. Lily*

    #6 Is there also a good question to ask in order to figure out if they will be picky about what they do (like try to avoid the lower level tasks in the job description)?

    1. SC in SC*

      Sure…there’s lots of questions that need to be asked. Ask about what motivates them, what they like the most about past jobs, what they liked the least, what their ideal job would be, give them example situations and ask them how they would approach them, etc. For that matter, I agree that you should just ask what interested them in the job in the first place. What you want to avoid is leading questions where the obvious answer is just to agree with whatever you say. Just like all good interviews, open-ended, reality based questions.

  6. Anonymous*

    #1: Are you absolutely sure you couldn’t use your credits towards some sort of interdisciplinary or “general studies” degree? Even from another university? (Some have very generous transfer credit allowances) It’s a shame that you have so many credit hours but no degree to show for it.

    1. Dawn K*

      I did this. I had 120+ credits over 20 years from several different schools. I was able to mush them all into a liberal studies degree at an online state school for adult learners and take just one additional online class to get my bachelor’s degree. Now I’m working on my Master’s degree.

      1. fposte*

        Can I ask how they handled the payment on that? Did you just have to cover the one additional credit?

    2. Wubbie*

      This is something I have struggled with as well.

      Unfortunately, most of the time, higher level science and engineering credits simply cannot be transferred to liberal arts. He can get credit for a freshman level math survey course, but once he hits calculus very few non science or engineering programs will accept those credits, not even as general electives.

      I left college while pursuing an engineering degree, and when I looked into returning for a liberal arts degree just so I could get the magic piece of paper, it turned out I would only have enough credits to be about halfway through my 3rd semester.

      Also, Alison said: “Once you’re dealing with candidates with years of experience, their track record in the real world says much more about what they’re capable of than a degree can say.” That might be what it says for good hiring managers, but unfortunately, despite being in my low 40’s and applying for jobs with requirements of 8-12 years in my field (event planning, not exactly the most academically rigorous profession) I find I am still being rejected due to a lack of a degree. In fact, some online application forms do not even have an option to enter “no degree”. “Year of Graduation” is a required field and the lowest level educational option is an AA degree.

      1. periwinkle*

        There are ways to use those STEM credits! Check out Excelsior College (excelsior.edu) and Thomas Edison State College (tesc.edu). Both are low-residency programs geared towards non-traditional students who have amassed a lot of credits (possibly from multiple institutions) but no degree, and both offer a bachelor’s in Natural Sciences. TESC’s program requires 30 natural science credits in at least three different subjects (comp sci, bio, chem, physics, math, geology, and environmental science). Excelsior is private non-profit and used to be run by the state of New York and TESC is a state university (New Jersey), and both have proper regional accreditation.

        I completed my bachelor’s in 2009 through Excelsior using new credits plus ones I earned before dropping out of college (mid 1980s). Quick, inexpensive, and entirely legit.

    3. TL*

      Also, a lot of institutions won’t accept credits that are more than X years old (5 is a common cutoff.)

      1. TL*

        And many institutes require the last 50-70 hrs (the last two years, essentially) or so to be at that institution to grant a degree.

      2. Nikki T*

        I have heard this assertion from people trying to transfer in, but I haven’t seen it in practice.

        I do know certain *majors* want certain classes to be less than 5 years old, but I haven’t encountered someone having trouble transferring a 20 year old English or music appreciation, this was just at my last two institutions.

        1. Kristi*

          I don’t think its an issue of credits expiring in most cases but I have found a limit of how many credits you can transfer towards the degree requirements. i too have15-20 year old credits that are still accepted. Some schools may do an “assessment” to see where you’re at if applied and accepted which is very helpful.

      3. periwinkle*

        Quick caveat to that – a lot of institutions won’t accept “old” credits in certain subjects, most notably computer science. I would expect that some business subjects like accounting have a shelf life, too. They may not have time limits on subjects like English lit and mathematics, though.

        1. Chinook*

          I can see it mattering if your credits in a computer science course are old (after all my computer science course started with a slide show that went “This is a computer. This is the on/off switch” and then taught us how to use logos and move a turtle around the screen.

          On the other hand, my English course on Shakespeare really should be good even if I took it 20 years ago since, you know, he hasn’t written anything recently.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            after all my computer science course started with a slide show that went “This is a computer. This is the on/off switch” and then taught us how to use logos and move a turtle around the screen.

            This made me laugh really hard. I remember those days. Also Lotus 123. I haven’t seen that thing in YEARS.

            1. Chinook*

              “This is a computer. This is the on/off switch

              When I heard that in the first lecture, I almost cheered in delight! It was the only (mandatory) course that was after 5 pm, so I was able to skip the lectures. What was terrifying, though, was that the woman enxt to me was madly taking notes on how to turn the computer on.

              Ironically, the pictures was of a PC and the final lab exam was on a Mac. Combine that with a low grade fever and I actually had to ask the TA how to turn the computer on. We actually debated if this was a step of the test I would be graded on and if she was allowed to tell me. We decided she could.

              And so started my hatred of all things Apple.

              1. Audiophile*

                What was terrifying, though, was that the woman enxt to me was madly taking notes on how to turn the computer on.

                That made me laugh out loud.

                I think I work with the woman who was “madly” taking notes next to you. J/k.

                Seriously though, this woman does not understand computers.

                1. Jamie*

                  I was thinking I know which one of my former end users she was.

                  Nah, she wouldn’t have bothered taking notes.

                2. Chinook*

                  In defense of those taking notes on how to turn on/off a computer in my class, it was 1996 and computers weren’t that common.

                  Would you believe that we once hijacked an intro to library sciences class to have them explain this “netscape” and “internet” thing we figured would soon be used in schools for research? We figured that that might be more useful than a refresher course on how to use a periodical index (which, for you young folk, is a book listing every article in a magazine that year. The National Geographic one was very useful!

    4. Nikki T*

      Your school may have since launched such a degree, if one was not available when you were there. It’s worth contacting them to see if you have any options.

  7. Jessa*

    Regarding the receptionist to assistant path. That’s a pretty normal job trail. I don’t know how to describe this, but when I read what the OP has written it feels…it reads to me like the OP is broadcasting a large amount of insecurity. Instead of applying like a normal internal applicant (toning up the resume, submitting, getting one’s ducks in a row, etc.) it sounds like the OP is not presenting as a very strong candidate. I may be completely wrong here. And I may be totally reading things into the post that are not there. But asking whether one should apply instead of checking the job description and deciding? It just sounds …

    1. Ava*

      Hi Jessa, I totally agree that the Receptionist to Assistant path is a pretty normal j0b trail – that’s why I’m so surprised at their attitude! I have an excellent CV(resume) and and I did apply in the normal way initially – the reason I’m asking about whether I should apply for this new role is because I was totally rejected for the last one and I don’t want that to happen again.


      1. Jessa*

        Oh, okay. That makes more sense. One weird question, only because this was brought up by someone in a prior post/question, is it at all possible that you’re being held back by the manager you’re talking to because they WANT you in the reception job?

        1. Forrest*

          I think she means “why should I waste time if its going to be outright rejected ie I won’t be given a fair shot.”

          Which is a fair consideration to have, especially if the decision is up to people who are going to discredit her because she started as a company’s receptionist.

          1. Audiophile*

            I’m a contactor/receptionist for a major financial company. I’ve applied to several internal positions, with the encouragement of several people (supervisors and HR) at said company. I’ve been rejected every time. It’s certainly made me ask the same question Ava has. I’ll keep trying, but I’m now actively looking outside this company.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Ava, you’re going to face a lot of rejection when job searching. When I was looking for a job, it always hurt my feelings to be rejected, even when people would say not to take it personally, that it’s just business. I do understand why you’re cautious about going through this again.

        You do have to learn to accept it, and move on. Don’t let it hurt so much that you don’t apply for other good jobs. If you have more than one possibility going on at a time, that helps, too.

        I’ve suggested this many times and I’m going to do it again. Check out a professional organization such as The International Association of Administrative Professionals (iaap-hq.org). There is probably a chapter close to you that you could contact. You can visit with them before deciding to join or not. You will almost certainly get the support you need to advance in your career, as well as good advice and networking opportunities.

        1. TK*

          What she says is that she doesn’t want to be “totally” rejected again, which I take to mean rejected in the same manner she was for the first job– completely out of hand, for a reason that doesn’t seem to really relate to her ability to do the job. Applying for a similar position at the same company, she’s rightly afraid the same thing could happen again. If she had been told simply, “you weren’t the right fit for us at this time” or something like that– instead of such highly specific feedback that related to her current role– I don’t think she’d be asking.

    2. Miss Betty*

      It generally is a pretty normal career path but there are some fields where that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve worked at several law firms where no one ever got promoted. If someone was hired as a receptionist, that’s where they were stuck forever, no matter how qualified they might be or become for a secretarial position. Hired as a legal secretary? Stay there forever! If you earn your paralegal credentials while employed there, just count on having to leave the firm to get that higher position. I’ve seen very little internal promotion or hiring for support staff and para-pro positions in law firms.

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        I second joining a professional association. EUMA, which is the European Management Assistants association (www.euma.org) is something similar to IAAP but based in Europe.

        Having people to network with and bounce ideas off can be helpful, especially when you are looking to advance in your career.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t know; I think it really depends on the company. Some places won’t ever see her as more than the front desk, and others expect that to be the entry-level position and expect the person to use it as a stepping stone into higher-level admin work. In my experience, it’s usually the former, but most places I worked were smaller companies, so that may make a difference.

  8. Foam chick*

    #1 Talk to your department head at school. He might know of some companies that take students in on internships. It might get you an in somewhere even if you are not currently attending.

  9. Betsy*

    #6, I read a list of revealing interview questions a few months ago which included: “which of the duties of this job do you think you will find most and least appealing.” This one may be of some use to you here.

  10. Bea W*

    #1 – I feel for you! I was lucky when I was a mid-20s college drop-out (also a high-school drop out before that) First, two words: tuition assistance. Find an employer who offers it and take advantage of it. This is how I finished my degree. I had 3 classes left when I went to work full time, and assumed I would not get a chance to finish my degree very easily. You will have to pay for the classes up front, but you will get that money back at the end of the semester after you submit your grade.

    I took 8 years to finish college, but because the economy was going strong back then, it wasn’t so much of an issue as it probably is for you at a time when even college grads are having a hard time finding work. I was able to get my foot in the door doing entry level admin assistant type work at a company that was in the field I was interested in, and worked my way into a position more in-line with my interests. Like Alison suggests, look for a smallish company where you can be exposed to more things even at an entry level clerical job. The 2 companies I was at and where I saw folks grow out of those positions were around 150-200 people. I can’t imagine this happening at my current employer, a huge global corporation where there isn’t a need for folks to step into other roles to help out.

    Even if you don’t intend to work forever in the fields where you are now, make the most of it by taking on increasing responsibilities. Working in retail, you might be able to work into getting some supervisory type experience or experience training and mentoring more new employees. Showing that you can successfully take on greater responsibility and new tasks is something that will be valuable to highlight in your resume no matter what job you were doing.

    1. Yup*

      #1 – I second Bea W’s comment about tuition assistance. As a dropout, that’s how I finished undergrad. When applying to jobs, poke around the company’s website (if there is one) to see if they offer tuition reimbursement or other kinds of academic assistance like paying for textbooks. If you get to the in-person interview stage, after thoroughly discussing all the reasons why you’d be great at job X, you can mention, “And I was very excited to see that Company offers tuition assistance, as I’m actively looking to complete my ABC degree through part-time coursework within 2 years” to demonstrate that degree completion is tops on your to do list.

      Typically it’s really big companies that offer it. So maybe research the big local places that offer tuition assistance and set up some email job alerts for yourself? One okay-paying job plus tuition benefits might balance out to be equal or better than your current dual paychecks. Also, colleges and universities sometimes offer a certain amount of gratis courses to employees. So maybe do the same kind of research/email alerts for entry level or campus services jobs at local institutions? Good luck in your searching, I’m rooting for you. :)

      1. Jamie*

        Even smaller or mid-sized depending on the industry. We actually recruit college students in the programs where we need people while they are still in school and the tuition assistance is a huge draw….because they are in school anyway so when a company offers otj experience and offers to pick up a large portion of school it’s a pretty good deal.

        For us it’s for people in engineering.

    2. Anonicorn*

      And once OP gets the undegrad, some graduate programs cover tuition and pay a small but livable salary while you attend.

    3. LeeD*

      Also, check out jobs at colleges or universities. Many of them offer free tuition for employees, and those that do see hiring people working on their degrees as a completely normal thing. In addition, hiring officials at a college are likely to have a better understanding of what your 120 credit hours means in terms of your education than those who see it as simply “some college”.

      1. Dean*

        I second this. I know some people who paid for their first year or two of undergrad, then got hired by one of their professors as a research assistant and used the free tuition to pay the rest of the way. It has the added benefit of providing real research experience which may be valuable for landing that first job or getting into grad school.

        So reach out to your old professors and see if they’re hiring. (Hopefully you went to office hours and got to know a few of them).

        1. LeeD*

          And even if you can’t find something in your field, I know several people who have gotten their accounting/pre-med/English degrees while working as secretaries.

    4. Kristi*

      re: Tuition Assistance. Many companies do offer this but may have a waiting period before you’re eligible. Or company/school/university while have a limit on how many classes they’ll help with, usually two per calendar year.

      1. annie*

        My observation, as someone looking for this benefit specifically is that tuition assistance as a benefit has pretty much disappeared, for the most part, in this economy.

        But I definitely agree with looking into working at a university. I had a friend who’s dad quit his professional job to work as a low paid janitor at a university for over a decade – it was a better move than paying to put his large family of six or seven kids through school.

        1. Judy*

          I’ve certainly seen the days of unlimited tuition assistance gone away. Among my friends, the companies that have tuition assistance now require 2nd level manager approval that the courses lead to knowledge within the job or the stated career path on the development plan.

          It’s not the golden days of any course will be paid for.

      2. Bea W*

        They may also have a period afterwards which you have to stay with the company or pay the benefit back. It could be 6 months to a year. The places I’ve worked for did require an explaination of how the degree/class is relevant to your work or the company’s work, and will require approval, as well as achieving a certain grade, but I think all of that is reasonable given they are making the investment. It’s not just that employers are being generous when they pay tuition. Their hope is that by helping to educate you, they are also helping themselves by creating a better educated employees who can take on more challenging work and roles within the company.

        1. Kristi*

          +1 Excellent reminder, Bea. I had forgotten about this and it is extremely common. Eventually I’ll be looking to finish my undergrad and have scoped out a couple colleges/universities that offer some kind of assistance as far as reduced rates or limited tuition waiver but also include waiting periods and/or staying on 1-2 two years after. Ideally if its a big enough place I can transfer within every two years to continue gaining experience. I would also plan on paying my own tuition during the waiting period and adding more classes once it was covered. It can be a long-term planning process but it feels very empowering to have a handle on it.

  11. Bea W*

    #4 – It happens. People forget things or may have missed an email they were supposed to have read. This is an entirely normal thing to do, and as Alison suggests, word it in such a way that doesn’t assume or communicate incompetence. Technical error is always a safe fallback.

    1. Cat*

      I think this is a good way of putting it. People are usually not missing your e-mail to spite you, at least not if they’re asking you for it later. Definitely do forward it to show them that you sent it on time or as promised, but unless there’s really strong evidence of maliciousness or more wide-reaching incompetence, there’s no reason to be assume it’s anything other than a technical glitch or an honest mistake.

      1. Jamie*

        Who among us whilst deleting spam from our phones hasn’t inadvertently deleted a legit email? And externally it can happen with overaggressive spam filters…so even if you think otherwise always couch it as an innocent mistake because often it is.

        And when it isn’t…like when they claim not to have gotten an email to which they’ve already replied…still take the high road.

        1. Cat*

          And even if they have replied to it, that’s almost certain to be an especially boneheaded error. If it happens all the time, it’s a problem; if it happens once – they were probably just unwisely answering e-mail under the influence of cold medicine or something.

        2. Dan*

          I just tell people the cold, hard truth when I have to resend an email: “Moving this to the top of your inbox…”

    2. Ornery PR*

      I once had a confrontation with a coworker who was telling me we had discussed something I know I had never heard about before. He said I was responsible for a duty that was coming up, but started yelling at me and calling me a liar when I said it was the first time I was hearing about this. I was happy to fulfill the duty, but I know we had never discussed it. At that point, I had been working there for a year.

      After the confrontation, he forwarded me an email he had sent to me on my second day of work – 1 year earlier – that had one line item mentioning the task, in the middle of a list of about 30 tasks. Needless to say, he felt very justified (though we had never had an actual in-person discussion about it), and I just concluded that he was the world’s biggest ass.

      So OP, yes, if you have proof that something was mentioned in an email and your coworker needs that info to do her job, please forward it. But don’t handle it the way my coworker did.

  12. Brett*

    #5 I am starting out by assuming you already had some sort of phone interview. If not, that should be the first step so both you and the employer can get an idea if the in-person interview is worth the expensive.
    I think that most (not all) hiring managers are considerate of the cost involved in your situation. This goes two ways. If you are an average candidate, you will lose out on interviews that you would otherwise get if you are local. On the other hand, when you do get offered an interview, you have a good shot at the position.

    If you are sure you are willing to move to that location, it is probably worthwhile to do the interview after they have phone screened you. Just as a tip, make sure to compare the cost of a flight to the cost of your gas. Sometimes when going major city to major city, the flight can be cheaper (as long as your friend can help you as needed with getting around).

    I’ll be honest, when I have done interviewing I get excited about qualified out of state candidates willing to move. I know that the more people I can get to our region, the stronger our profession will be and the better crop of co-workers I will have down the road. (And the stronger my profession is in this region, the more likely that new firms will locate and build there resulting in more jobs in the long run even if there is more competition in the short run.)

    1. Green*

      I don’t think you can impose a phone interview on the process for your convenience.

      However, OP #5, you should not assume that just because the company is not offering to pay for your transportation to an interview, it means the company is cheap.

      Job interviewing expenses are tax-deductible (to the extent you have any income…) and someone’s willingness to travel at their own expense on short notice is a good indicator of their interest in the job and geographic area.

      I had two (very expensive) cross-country flights for different interview rounds back in my home state, and I assumed that the company not offering to reimburse me for the travel was a “sign” of their benefits/generosity with employees. But when I got the offer it came in 50% more than I expected, with incredible benefits, and with a very generous relocation package that covers everything I can think of (down to the pet fee on an airline) and then a generous stipend on top of that!

      I’m now very glad that I just sucked it up, paid for the hotels and the plane tickets, and didn’t try to nickel-and-dime them in the application process…

  13. Brett*

    #6 From the larger perspective of your organization, there is nothing wrong with springboarding candidates if springboarding results in quality candidates in higher roles.
    Or to put that as an extreme, if rehiring the analyst three times in two years results, instead, in three high-performing engineers in two years, then you would want to keep rehiring the analyst position as many times as it takes.

  14. Gilbey*

    Just as a tag-along question. I am laid off , do I put on my resume my employment date for the past job May 2010 to Aug 2013 and add lay off at the end?
    I can’t put present because I am no longer there. Do I just put the month with no explanation?

    1. voluptuousfire*

      Put down just August 2013. Leave off (laid off). You can explain that when asked why you “left your previous position” in an interview. :)

  15. LeeD*

    #7 – You are telling them that you have the skills to move up, but have you shown them? Have they seen for themselves the skills that would make you a good admin? Have you subbed for an admin on vacation? Have you volunteered to take on projects outside of your normal duties? Have you made suggestions or taken initiatives that would benefit the execs and/or company?

    In short, have they seen you do anything other than be a great receptionist? If not, that’s what you have to change. And I would start changing that now, even if you decide to go job hunting. If nothing else, it will give you a chance to talk about your admin-level accomplishments in application materials and interviews.

  16. College Career Counselor*

    OP #3:

    Alison is absolutely correct. “I” statements are not bad in a cover letter. Occasionally, they’re over-used, which can lead to a clunky and formulaic cover letter. “I did this at X Job.” “I was head of chocolate teapot sales.” “I am a proactive self-starter.” (ugh)

    Too many “I” statements can make your cover letter look like a narrative re-statement of your resume, which you obviously don’t want.

    1. Melina*

      Agreed. It should be more like:
      I love making chocolate tea pots. My greatest achievement with regards to chocolate tea pot making is that I figured put how to make them not melt even when used with really hot tea. Management awarded me a certificate of excellence for this achievement.

      Clearly badly written, but having every sentence start with I is not good. Shake up the sentence structure to make your writing more interesting and less of a list.

    2. fposte*

      A lot of that’s just about the tediousness of repetitive sentence structure. You can use the word “I,” just don’t start every sentence with it; ideally, as in Melina’s examples, you can even create sentences where “I” isn’t the subject.

    3. Charles*

      Too many ‘I’ statements can also sound self important. “I boosted sales”, “I achieved”, “I managed”, “I produced”. Naturally you want to tootle your own trumpet, but be careful how you come across.

      My boss once went through a cover letter and circled every use of ‘I’. I think it was over sixteen times. He didn’t interview her.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        That might have been your boss’s own odd pet peeve though — in general, you’re going to see a lot of “I” in cover letters, given their subject matter.

  17. Joey*

    #1. Absolutely. There’s hope. Some jobs care more about licenses than degrees like insurance and real estate. You’d also be surprised at what you can do in a blue collar industry. If you’re willing you can work your way up to being a manager and depending on the industry I’ve seen blue collar folks with a high school education work their way up to $50k in a fairly short amount of time and as much as $90k for someone whose youd never knew he didnt have a degree and who’s worked his way up over 20 years.

    1. Joanne*

      This is my father on law. I am insanely jealous sometimes, when he gets 2 weeks paid leave for christmas and triple time on holidays (too bad therapists don’t have unions).

    2. Jamie*

      Absolutely! With no more than high school you can easily make 60-90 K in manufacturing managing a department. Most start by paying their dues on the floor for a few years – but it is still a enclave where you can make a decent living without any college at all.

      1. A Teacher*

        My Dad just retired from one of the largest fortune 500 manufacturing firms (think construction) as “just a welder” as he calls himself. No college education required. He worked overtime but was making upwards of $90k a year as well.

        Maybe I shouldn’t say this as a teacher, but not everyone can or should go to college. We still need our carpenters, plumbers, store clerks, mechanics, etc…all of which require being smart and a strong skill set. I hate when my students set this ambitious goal to “become a doctor” and the parents just push them and push them when realistically they probably aren’t going to get there. The biggest thing I want to say to some (not all) students and parents is be realistic. Its great to set goals but don’t be so out of touch with reality that you fall flat.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          You and Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs. He says the same thing.

          Mike is mine; he just doesn’t know it yet. :)

        2. Chinook*

          I whole heartedly agree that not everyone shoudl go to college. In fact, the only reason I did was to earn the “blue collar degree” that was required to be a teacher. And, honestly, places where I am are crying out for anyone in the trades. In fact, if you don’t mind getting dirty, can manage to show up on time and are willing to learn, I know someone who would hire you to start tomorrow on a construction site who will groom you to be a project manager within a year.

  18. Job seeker*

    Whew! I am glad that you confirmed my suspicions that the advice was a little misguided. I understand varying sentence structure and not repeating your resume but avoiding I statements altogether seemed frustrating and silly.
    Follow up question: In my cover letters I talk about my skills and focus on those mentioned in the job announcement. One reviewer was concerned that, even though I mentioned (with examples) all of the skills in a posting, I didn’t “say how I could use the skills in this particular job.” Isn’t that implied? Or should I really come out and explicitly say “these skills would help your company in such and such a way”?

    1. Mike C.*

      Think of it this way, you want to make it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to see that you’re useful and to hire you. So be explicit, especially when there are skills that are useful to them but not exactly what they’re looking for. I have a bunch of math skills for instance, and it takes a bit of explaining as to why they could be useful in certain areas.

  19. AmyNYC*

    #1 – I second all the advice to look for tuition assistance programs and asking your college councilor.
    Some states let you substitute teach with X years of college (not a finished degree) I did this when I was on breaks at school and it’s decent money and flexibility if you need another part time job. If you’re in the school system long enough, you have a wealth of references to aid in getting another job.
    Good luck!

    1. Lisa*

      Depending on the major, big retail companies will pay for a portion of your schooling. Home Depot always paid for business majors and most in new england paid $10/hr to start.

    2. Chinook*

      My heart weeps and, if I ever can find a way to get past work visa requirements, I may end up finding those states in the US that are so in need of teachers that a sub doesn’t even require any university degree. Up here a B.Ed. is mandatory to even substitute teach (unless there is known shortage of certified teachers but, in that case, unqualified people are used as glorified babysitters and are not expected to teach anything.)

  20. fposte*

    On #5–I’m not clear on the surprise factor here. Is it that you were thinking prospective employers would cover travel for interviewing when they don’t, or that you thought that they might offer Skype interviewing to those far away? Unfortunately, you have to be pretty high-level in most industries before a company will pick up a tab for interview travel.

    It sounds like you’ve got a promising application if you’ve had two faraway companies call you in to interview. Have you thought about strategizing your targeted locations with interview travel costs in mind, so that farther away opportunities would need to be a lot more promising?

  21. Lisa*

    12 hours to drive? Have you looked at the cost of a bus / train / plane ticket? Gas alone could be the cost of a bus ticket, might as well save your car the drive and take a laptop with you to apply to more jobs on the way down / up / over.

    1. De Minimis*

      #5 At least it is only a day’s drive [although a very long day.] I would certainly do it, especially since you don’t have to pay for a hotel. I’ve flown and paid for hotels for job interviews that didn’t result in anything.

      I would probably stick to driving there instead of taking some other mode of transportation, you are better able to control your schedule when you drive yourself, also you will probably need to drive yourself to the interview.

      A lot of places are willing to do a phone interview–it’s probably a little late now but you might bring that up next time.

  22. former receptionist*

    #7: I would talk to someone senior at your job and ask their opinion on whether your think you have a good chance at moving up to another position in the office. At a former company, the receptionist position had been a stepping stone to a dept assistant or CSR. The receptionist that was hired when I was there was great at her job, but had a lot of attendance and professionalism issues. She honestly could not understand why she never even got interviewed for positions that opened up, but it was clear why, because she did not have a good reputation throughout the company, and her sup was a pushover who never gave her honest feedback about it.

    I’m not saying that you have any of the same issues as my former co-worker, but there may be something about others’ perception of you that is keeping you from moving up.

    I’ve been working admin roles for over a decade, and while an EA or PA role is admin-related, because of the nature of the role, hiring managers tend to want someone they feel a strong kinship or connection with, as well as someone who has strong skills and experience.

  23. voluptuousfire*

    Is it possible you could speak to your college about seeing if your first two years doing your liberal arts coursework? You may possibly be able to turn those courses into an associates degree in liberal arts. At least you would have *something* to show for your college career until you get back to school to complete your STEM coursework.

    I know an acquaintance of mine did so at our alma mater. Not quite sure how she did it though.

  24. Angry Writer*

    #7 My advice would be to look at your outward appearance. Perhaps you need to dress up a little more, start wearing suits or heels or jewelry, different hairstyle, something along those lines.

    Please don’t think I think this is fair, and they’re jerks for telling you that and not promoting, but sometimes people judge us on our outward appearance whether we like it or not. So I’d use the “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” advice and look for a job outside in the meantime.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point, actually. I’m not saying OP is dressing like a schlub, but depending on the company, lower-level employees sometimes get away with business casual when upper management is more formal even if it’s not required in the dress code (original boss-owner at Exjob wore a tie every single freaking day). From what I’ve seen, EAs tend to match their bosses’ level of dress.

  25. Calla*

    1. There’s hope! I don’t have any stellar advice, but I’ve been in this situation. I put college “on hold” (I won’t say dropped out, even though it’s now been 3 years) for financial reasons after completing two years. I was able to find a paid internship which I stayed at for two years. After that, I was able to leverage that experience to get a receptionist/clerk position at a law firm. And now I’m an admin for VPs at a large company.

    In interviews some people have been frank that I won’t start at the high end of the pay range because I don’t have a degree, but it hasn’t seemed to outright disqualify me from those positions.

    Are you applying to job postings if they require a BA? If you’re not, do it. There’s no harm in trying, and a lot of employers, IME, are willing to give some leeway on that if you have some college experience. I definitely agree with the recommendation to try smaller offices first – my first two jobs post-no degree were in smaller offices. If you have the time, do some volunteering that could build your resume. Almost every kind of organization needs assistance that could work for you (i.e. not just passing out flyers or helping at events), depending on what you want to pursue.

  26. My 2 Cents*

    There is nothing I hate more than the term “overqualified”. While one can certainly be underqualified (not everyone can be a surgeon, lawyer, etc. without training) there should be no such thing as overqualified. If someone has a law degree they can certainly also operate a gas pump, so if they are applying for a position at a filling station, they are definitely qualified. (Yes, I know filling stations really don’t exists anymore and this is a very simplified example, but don’t overthink it.) We all have reasons for taking jobs that are below our degree levels and it’s not always because “I need to take anything and I’ll use this job until I find something better”.

    I have an MBA and work in the nonprofit sector. It is incredibly tough for me to get interviews because I am “over qualified”, even if I have great experience in absolutely every aspect of the job description. My husband makes A LOT of money, so I don’t take jobs because of the pay (hello, I work in the nonprofit world!), and I can’t take a job in the corporate world or one with wild hours because as part of my husband’s job he travels a lot, so I have to have a 9 to 5 job with little travel because we have dogs and a house to keep up. So, I get penalized because I WANT to take a more basic level job even though I have great experience, am a wonderful worker, and will love every second of that basic level job.

    Also, when someone says that someone is “overqualified” for a position I see it as saying that someone is “too good for this job”, and NONE of us should ever be too good for any job. If you think someone is overqualified then I see it as a reflection that says you wouldn’t demean yourself with a lower job and I hate that mindset. I have an MBA because I wanted to get a Master’s Degree to prove to myself that I could do it and because I was the second one in my family to ever get a college degree, I didn’t get it because I felt better than the rest of the world.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is a good point. I would like to say, however, that some lower-level employers do prefer candidates with experience in the actual job, since they may not have time/budget to train someone from scratch no matter how smart they are. I’m thinking food servers or kitchen staff, where a busy restaurant needs someone who can hit the ground running and knows what a POS system is, how to expedite, etc.

      Of course, if you have an MBA and you’re able to scoop ice cream and I can show you how in two minutes, I’m not going to think you’re overqualified. All I would need is a warm body who can scoop ice cream.

      1. Betsy*

        But in the case that you’re describing, the person isn’t overqualified for restaurant work, you’re underqualified. Whatever other skills you may have, you don’t have the ones they need.

        1. Jamie*

          Exactly – jobs aren’t all on one long qualification continuum. I’m qualified to be upper management, I’m qualified in my area of expertise in IT…I’m completely unqualified to work in food service or to do oil changes. Different skill set.

    2. Lynn Whitehat*

      Some job postings are poorly worded, and some applicants are not good at understanding the “level” of a job. Either one of those can lead to people applying to jobs they are wildly over-qualified for because they don’t understand what the job is. In those cases, being straightforward should be enough to help people self-select out.

  27. Meredith*

    My boyfriend dropped out of college in 2004 with 12 credits to go before he graduated. This year, he took online courses and finished his BA. In the in-between time, he picked up an associate’s degree from a local two-year community college, which landed him an okay job (he can support himself, but it doesn’t allow for much accumulation of savings). However, his company does require a 4-year degree to advance a career beyond a certain point. Also, changing jobs to a position with similar pay at another organization would have almost certainly required a 4-year degree, so he was kind of stuck with his job unless he wanted to take a pay cut somewhere else. We live in a mid-sized city with a huge state university, which guarantees a steady stream of young people with 4-year degrees on the local job market. I suggest trying to finish your courses – maybe you can finish online, like my boyfriend did? He paid in-state tuition for the online courses through state universities.

  28. Cara Carroll*

    #1 I wonder what part of STEM the OP was getting the degree in because if it was something like Computer Science I believe they have a shot without the degree. However, there will need to be a lot of self teaching. I work for a software development firm and many of my hires come from backgrounds other than CS or people with no degree at all. They have taught themselves basic languages and even advanced ones. They learned just by dabbling with code, making games, or small apps. There are many open source tools and languages out there one could learn if they had the interest and time. Even mobile development can be done with not a lot of cost involved. A developer license is about $25.oo. To me the best web application developers are the ones with a passion to learn and be resourceful. A degree is not something I even consider to be honest. Also, web design is another area in which there is a lot to be said for simply having hands on experience and a portfolio vs. a degree. Also, someone mentioned internships which I agree is a great way to get some experience.

    1. Cat*

      This is why people’s tendency to lump all STEM degrees together annoys me. Not all Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math fields are the same in terms of career prospects (which is not to devalue any of them) and getting ANY “STEM” degree or going into ANY “STEM” field is so often talked about as a panacea.

      1. A Teacher*

        Amen! My bachelor’s degree is Exercise Science and I have a MS in Kinesiology. Both are considered STEM degrees but neither offers the same type of career prospects as many other STEM fields do (although I can and have done a lot with both degrees) Even those two fields are very wide ranging.

    2. Jamie*

      Cara is absolutely right.

      From everything I read here about how important degrees are in other fields, even if not relevant degrees, I always shake my head because it’s different in IT. Not that we don’t value book learnin’, but IT is always less about what you know in theory and is all about what can you do. It’s more of a sink or swim based on performance and fewer people give a rats behind if you learned your craft otj or self taught or in school.

      Some places will have requirements – but IT is still one place those of us who bailed on college before finishing can make a decent living.

      I’m about half a semester shy and have been asked why not just go back and finish…for what? Finishing up a 20+ year old marketing degree won’t add one more dollar to my value…so I focus my training on what will.

      1. Windchime*

        I’m so glad IT is being mentioned as being different. I joined the IT world relatively late (just before I turned 40). I took a couple of years of programming at the community college for a certificate (not an AA, even) and I didn’t finish because I got a job offer when I was still one class shy. This was in the year 2000, and I realize things are different now. I’m at my second IT job and I’ve used a variety of languages. I’m fortunate that my lack of degree hasn’t been a problem thus far, but I still worry sometimes–even though my job feels pretty secure, nothing is certain and will my next employer see me differently because of my lack of education?

    3. E.T.*

      Cara brings up a good point that each STEM degree is different, and the OP’s best course of action will depend on what exactly the OP’s degree will be.

      My husband is a civil engineer, and he says it is absolutely essential to show a college degree for a future career in most engineering fields. For example, most projects in his field will require licensed engineers, and you can’t get licensed until you have your college degree and a certain number of years of experience. Which makes sense; think about it, would you trust someone without a license and/or a college degree to build a dam or a bridge where a mistake may result in the loss of hundreds to thousands of lives?

      However, because of these requirements, hiring salaries are also often much higher for graduates in his field. At his consulting firm, college graduates usually start from $60,000 per year, and my husband was earning over $100,000 after five years. According to my husband, mechancial and electrical engineers often make even more.

      Therefore, if the OP has 75% worth of college credits towards an engineering degree from a reputable college (I’m using the word “reputable” because most engineering firms are wary of certain colleges such as for-profit institutions), it may make sense to get some student loans and finish the degree as soon as possible and look for a job. Of course, check with the college first to see how many past students in their engineering program actually got a job in their field after college, their average starting salaries, and any other information they can give. Some colleges may even connect you with past alumni already in the work field; if the school does that, the OP can reach out to them throughout his coursework and after graduation, and someone may be able to recommend him a position in their company (you know the saying, it’s all about who you know). If the school’s engineering department looks like they turn out graduates who have few problems finding good jobs after graduation, then my suggestion would be to get a loan somewhere, finish the remaining 25% courses, and repay the loan back after graduation.

  29. Emily*

    #1 – Look into the possibility of a General Studies degree, or something similar. If you completed the necessary number of credit hours, then it is likely you have fulfilled the requirements for *some* established degree plan, or qualify for an individualized major.

    A lot of times, yes, courses do “expire” after a certain amount of time. I’ve seen 5 and 10 years for different universities and degree levels. Usually, revalidation, through later coursework or work experience, is an option. Also, sometimes courses DON’T expire. Indiana (as a state) recently started accepting credits from accredited institutions, regardless of when they were taken. Of course, institutions still accept/deny transfer requests based on the individual class and the grade received. I can’t speak to other states.

    If you are interested in finishing the degree, start with your advisor from your UG school. If s/he is no longer in that position, try his/her replacement or look for a General Studies-type advisor.

    Good luck!

  30. HAnon*

    1. My boyfriend dropped out of college (this was several years ago) a few credits short of finishing his degree for financial reasons as well, and he’s now trying to decide if it’s worth finishing or not. He’s in a creative field (graphic design) so he’s trying to decide whether or not it’s worth taking out tens of thousands in student loans to finish, or if he can just work really hard to keep building on his portfolio and get jobs that way…I don’t know what to tell him. On the one hand, the ROI for a graphic design job would not be nearly enough to pay back a college education for several years (I’ve known Sr. Art Directors with master’s degrees to make $40k)…on the other hand, most employers are looking for the degree. Any designers out there in this situation with experience? I’m not sure what to tell him. He has a few years of solid design work for a company under his belt (won some awards too) but he’s having a hard time finding a new position.

    5. When I was job searching for more than 6 months, I was looking at positions in the nearest big city — which incidentally was 6 hours away — and I would drive up and stay with a friend or a relative for the interview. I eventually did get a job from one of these interviews and I’ve been with the company for a year. While it’s not the job I wanted, it landed me in a larger city with more job growth and opportunity, so it’s “easier” to look for another position than it would be if I was still living in a small town. It’s worth it if you’re willing to relocated to go on the interview — I don’t think any of these companies would have hired me if I didn’t show up in person first. But I did have phone interviews with most of them before I drove all the way there, just to make sure there was some mutual interest before taking all of the time/effort/gas money to get there. Good luck!

    1. John*

      Hey HAnon, No. 5 here. I ended up going to two interviews with two different companies during the trip. I did great in both interviews and both were very impressed that I drove over there. Both companies asked me if I was willing to relocate, and I said yes. At the end, it was worth the risk, the money, and long drive. I got a job offer from the company I wanted to work with.

  31. ReaderAlison*

    OP #1, I have two thoughts. If your remaining credits are general education requirements, you could take them at a community college or state school for much less and transfer them back. Alternately, you could look for entry level work at either your university, or another one that you could use to transfer the remaining credits from. Many schools will offer free tuition to employees above a certain number of hours (at my last job it was >19, my current one is 30 or more). That way you’ll be earning a paycheck and experience and finishing school at the same time (I did my BA, MS and I’m in the middle of my Ph.D. all while working full-time. It’s not the most fun thing ever, but it’s doable). Good luck!

  32. Piper*

    #2 – This exact thing happened to me as well. I didn’t bring it up unless I had to/it came up during interviews and no one seemed to care. I ended up with four job offers within 2 weeks, so obviously, it wasn’t an issue. Good luck to you in your search and I’m sorry you were laid off.

    1. OP#2*

      I hope to be as lucky as you – I’ve been reaching out to my network like crazy now that the shock has worn off!

  33. Trillian*

    #1 Another thought – if you go the corporate route, when you research companies, look at the biographies of the founders, and when/whether they graduated college. While it’s no guarantee that things haven’t ossified since, it might mean there’s a tradition embedded in the culture that people don’t have to have a formal education to achieve.

  34. Kristina*

    #1: If you’re in STEM, look into startups. They’re often less focused on credentials and more on capability and enthusiasm. If you can write a really kick-ass cover letter about why you’re passionate about the startup and they’ll probably bring you in for an interview, at least.

  35. Sydney Bristow*

    #1- Have you considered trying to work as a plumber, electrician, or other trade? I think the ability to do so depends on where you live, but at least in one place I’ve lived you could get into the field as an apprentice and work your way up. It’s outside my area, but depending on where you wanted to go with your STEM degree it seems possible that you could gain practical experience that employers would love and could set you apart after you get your degree. I’m thinking of business managers for plumbing suppliers who were once plumbers, government employees in a buildings department who were once electricians, aerospace engineers who were once airplane mechanics.

  36. Ruffingit*

    On #2, it says Employed candidates tend to be the most attractive candidates, and so there’s no need to take the risk of lowering their value in their eyes…

    That should be “lowering YOUR value in their eyes…”

  37. Suz*

    To OP #1 – You didn’t mention which STEM field you were majoring in. What field did you want to get into after graduation? It’s possible to find a STEM related job without having completed your degree yet.

    At my former employer, chemist positions required a BS in chemistry. Lab tech positions did not require a degree but did require at least one year of college chemistry. The pay was about double what someone would make working retail. They would also be eligible for tuition reimbursement after one year of employment so would be able finish their degree on the company’s $.

  38. Elizabeth West*

    1–some college

    But I’d also talk to your school about what financial assistance might make it possible for you to finish the degree sooner.

    It might be worth asking about this, especially if you only have a few credits left. If you’re trying to pay for it yourself and not incur debt, that’s fantastic. But it’s going to be much harder to make ends meet AND save up college money with lower-paying jobs and it may take longer than you’d like. Asking isn’t committing to anything; it’s only gathering information. :)

    1. Ruffingit*

      Agreed! It may be a lot cheaper than he thinks to get this done and taking on some loans to finish it might be worth it considering the ROI.

  39. Cajun2core*

    #6. It may be that the overqualified person is unemployed or is in a job that (s)he wants to get out of. I have a degree in Computer Science and over 12 years of experience in tech support. I was unemployed for a year, took a job as a secretary and I have applied for many entry level jobs just to get back into the tech field.

  40. Sydney*


    There aren’t enough details in the post to support this, but the sentence that jumped out at me was “because I changed my major so many times, none of it counted towards a degree in the end.” I wonder if employers see more red flags in the fact that you changed majors so many times, than in the fact that you don’t have a degree.

    I work in technology and have had quite a few colleagues who didn’t complete their degrees, including an ex-CTO. Even though they don’t have formal degrees, they all showed consistent passion for and study in technology.

    It’s natural for people to not really know what they want to do when young, but if you’ve really changed majors “so many times”, it’d be a red flag to many employees. It may be worth it for the OP to think about how they present their college experience in applications or interviews.

    1. Anonymous*

      You make a good point. In this case, emphasizing the completion of 75% of the latest major is probably stronger than mentioning all the other ones.

  41. Cassie*

    #1 – none of our admin positions require degrees, but because we are a public university, the faculty like hiring people with at least BA or BS degrees. I personally don’t think it matters when you have candidates who have 10+ years of experience in an identical position with all the other necessary attributes, but it is something that the faculty look at. Even an AA degree is better than no degree (according to them).

    1. Schuyler Pierson*

      Agreed. Even the admin positions at my university (a small private college that doesn’t have wide exposure) requires a minimum of an Associate’s degree for entry-level admin positions, but I agree it’s worth looking into, even if it’s not an office position.

  42. Schuyler Pierson*

    #1: One of my favorite sessions I attended at the financial aid conference I attended last year was about some of the technical and marketing improvements the Dept. of ED is making, including http://studentaid.ed.gov/. There may be some info for you there. Also, depending upon what your family’s situation was when you were taking classes before, it is possible you’ll be eligible for different/more forms of aid than you were previously.

    The Department of ED is really tightening up on how aid is distributed to students, so federal sources may be limited. But I’d remind you to look for private scholarships (fastweb is one of the most well known, but nerdscholar is one that I really like). A *lot* of students don’t seem to look for scholarships anymore; the school I work at (fairly expensive) probably has about 20% of students who get any kind of outside scholarship funding, so I just wanted to mention it in case you’re one of the ones who forget about that as an option.

  43. OP #6*

    Thanks to everyone who suggested ideas for the interviews I will be a part of next week. I will keep you updated on how the interviews go and what decisions we make.

  44. No. 5*

    Thanks to everyone that commented. I just want to update on my status. I just came back from the trip and I had two interviews with different companies while in the city. I did great in both interviews. Both companies where very impressed that I drove over there. They both asked me if I was willing to relocate on my own and I said yes. I am excited to say that I accepted a job offer from the company that I wanted. The long drive and the money were worth it!

    I would suggest if someone is planning on making a similar trip, to set up different interviews before going. Try to get two or more interviews so you can have some options and make the trip worth the risk.

  45. OP #6*

    I doubt anyone will come back to see this, but I held the interviews today and used some of the questions that were shared by Alison and by the responders (as well as others I found on-line and in Alison’s archive.

    I was able to find out what was motivating the “overqualified” applicant and I wasn’t thrilled with what I heard. I was also pleased that the other applicant was a good fit and hope that when the interviewers meet tomorrow (there were four of us), we can come to an agreement about who to hire.

    Thanks to everyone for their ideas and their comments. Things like this are why this is one of the best work-related webpages on the internet.

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