Companies including Penguin and Ernst & Young have announced that a degree is no longer a requirement for job applicants. It’s about time, says Tessa Cooper
I left school in 2009, the year before university fees rose dramatically. In my final year at school, people seemed to think that choosing a university course was the biggest decision anyone would make in their lives, and when I told my tutor that I wasn’t going to university, she stopped talking to me. Not only was I no longer of interest as I didn’t contribute to the school’s targets, but she was probably also struggling to work out how to advise me on what my next step should be.
When I started my job hunt, every single entry-level job I looked at said that a degree was mandatory. I felt incapable, like I had made a huge mistake. How would I ever get a job if they wouldn’t even give me a chance to send them my CV? My mum encouraged me to ignore the minimum requirements and apply anyway, and although I’m fairly certain the majority of places simply chucked my CV in the bin, I began to learn how to adapt my cover letter to get myself noticed. I started to research companies I wanted to work for, finding email addresses of people I’d like to work with and contacting them directly.
The process of being ignored and discriminated against ultimately made me more determined, something I believe is responsible for my career success. For many people however, I’m sure it has the opposite effect, which is why I’m entirely supportive of companies such as Penguin and Ernst & Young scrapping a degree as a job requirement.
Getting through the door was just the first hurdle. Even after I found my first job, it felt like I was asked about what university I went to or what degree I’d studied on a daily basis. The most common reaction when I said I didn’t have a degree was outright bemusement. In some cases people seemed to view me as less intelligent, and a male director once told me that I’d never be able to get far in my career, because without a degree people wouldn’t take me seriously.
But, thankfully, I also had numerous supportive mentors along the way. Early on in my career I learned how to approach people I looked up to – asking them for coffee or lunch to hear about their path to success and see if they had any advice for me. Building these relationships was the most important thing I did in my early career. The network of people I built around me showed me the potential options open to me; they spotted skills I didn’t realise I had and encouraged me to put myself out there and take risks.
People started to trust me and at every given opportunity I’d jump at the chance of taking on more responsibility. By the age of 21, I was managing a team and dealing with more than 50 clients. The volume of people I had to communicate with on a daily basis improved my ability to put my point across eloquently – another skill that has been invaluable to my career. My manager at the time encouraged me to read as much as possible; he had a rule of rotating his reading between non-fiction and fiction, and I still follow this rule today. Reading extensively helped build up my vocabulary, my general knowledge and understanding of the world, and my creativity.
I’m now more thanr six years into my career and I’ve worked at the Guardian, Comic Relief and now FutureLearn, a company whose mission is “to pioneer the best social learning experiences for everyone, anywhere”. I’ve also started a series of blog posts and events to help other young people beginning their career, and a few months ago I decided to study towards a master’s degree.
I’m not studying because I feel I need it for my career; I’m studying because I feel like I’m finally at a point where I can and I want to. For me, the key to a happy career is making decisions for yourself and choosing to do things the way you want to – even when it doesn’t seem like the obvious choice.
This article was written by Tessa Cooper, for theguardian.com on Monday 1st February 2016 07.17 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010