Don’t have a degree? Don’t despair, says a senior manager of a company which works in the specialised field of payments technology. Instead, if you have drive, determination and a willingness to go the extra mile, you could find your career advancing very well – and sometimes in a direction you might least expect.
That’s the view of Liam McDermott of Stanchion Payment Solutions. “There is no question of the value of a university degree, but many people simply don’t get that opportunity once they’ve left school. By no means does this diminish your career prospects – but you might have to work a little harder to spot the gap and make it happen,” he says.
Throughout his 20-year career, McDermott says an observation has consistently struck home. “There isn’t a direct correlation between tertiary education and how well someone does. By the same token, a great many people who have no degree have proven to be very good at what they do and achieve a lot.”
Within his own team, McDermott (who has a degree in physics) says there are quite a few individuals who have broken into the payment systems industry by acquiring experience. These individuals have taken charge of developing themselves ‘on the job’ and are achieving the same – and sometimes better – career success as those with degrees.
“For most companies, experience counts for more than qualifications, at least initially. Someone with 3 years’ experience is likely to start on a pay package substantially greater than that of someone who has a 3 year degree with no experience” he notes. It’s a decision driven by simple economics: experienced people are able to add more value to any company’s bottom line – and they do so from day one.
Getting that experience is the tough part, McDermott acknowledges. “It is a chicken-and-egg situation. Employers want experience before they take you on, but you need a job to get experience.”
It isn’t easy, but he says the way to find a gap is often to think creatively about how you can get into a company. “Internships, work experience or leveraging the relationships you might have. All these and many more approaches can get you in the door and off to a start.”
He stresses, however, that the value of a formal qualification shouldn’t be discounted, particularly for those who want to progress to management. “It’s not necessarily what you learn at university that is important, but rather the way it teaches you to think. There are opportunities today for those who didn’t go to university to enter into part time studies through correspondence courses; while this is definitely tough on top of building a career, it can be done.”
McDermott is adamant, too, that career direction isn’t set by what you studied or by the composition of experience to date. “You aren’t stuck doing what you studied; instead, your career should be guided by what interests you as much as by what you’re good at.”
Good employers, says McDermott, recognise that ability isn’t solely concentrated in specific disciplines. “They don’t pigeonhole people. Instead, they seek to give every individual the opportunity to explore different facets of the business so they have the opportunity to discover where their own aptitudes lie.”
He believes it is essential that people don’t merely work for a pay cheque, but also for the satisfaction of a job well done. “People want to be engaged and interested. They also want the opportunity to be creative and to explore their own potential. When employers take a flexible approach to hiring and give capable people who might lack a formal qualification a chance, they tend to find better employees who stay with the company. These employees bring a willingness to work hard and learn, and flourish in an environment which provides flexibility in career development, that boosts productivity and ultimately, drives the bottom line,” he concludes.