December 12, 2016 BestCompaniesAZ

A Career…. Without College?

And though my lack of education
Hasn’t hurt me none
I can read the writing on the wall

Lyrics from one of my favorite classic songs by Paul Simon come to mind as I reflect on my career journey. It’s true ladies and gentlemen; I, Shannon Grimes, do not have a bachelor’s degree.

Announcing this fact to colleagues, new acquaintances, or potential employers often feels like a support group confession, something I should be ashamed of and need help with. But it’s not. It’s part of who I am. Almost 15 years after most (and by most I mean nearly all) of my high school comrades graduated with their degrees and either entered the working world or began to advance their education, I have come to feel immense pride in my career despite my lack of formal education.

It’s not that I couldn’t have gone to school. I was accepted to several highly esteemed institutions in the Midwest. I fully intended to follow the pack and spend the 4 years after graduation soaking up all the experiences, knowledge and friendships that college life offers. Then life happened. My family’s financial situation changed drastically during my senior year of high school. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do when I grew up. I was unsure of my ability to stay focused away from home. I decided not to go. My parents were supportive, especially when I suggested that I would attend community college for a year with the intention of transferring once I had a better idea of my future goals. But a little voice inside me told me that wasn’t going to happen. And the voice was right.

So I entered the workforce full time at the age of 17. And I worked hard. Boy did I work hard. I worked in restaurants, retail, offices, sales, hospitality. You name it, I did it. I worked with and for people from all walks of life. I met clients and customers from diverse backgrounds and locations. I soaked it all in.  I didn’t know where my path would lead, so I focused on growing up, getting to know myself, what I enjoyed doing, and what I was passionate about.

What my nearly 20 years in the workforce has taught me is that I have a natural ability to connect with people. This is my core strength, the quality that has gotten me to where I am today. Early in my career I found that I was a great salesperson, smashing quotas, winning trips, and all that goes along with that skill. I worked for some great managers that helped me to realize through coaching that my sales success was not due to strong closing skills or because I could recite features and benefits, but because of my deep and sincere desire and ability to connect with others and build relationships. Leveraging this skill often resulted in others naturally trusting me and wanting to do business with me. And it’s because of the self-awareness gained through my work experience and time spent developing my strength that I landed where I belong, in the business of people. Human Resources.

In my role at Schwab, much of my time is spent in the community, networking and speaking with others about career and professional development topics. I often come across job seekers frustrated with their search because “all the good jobs” require a degree. I share with them that I too do not have a degree and it often surprises them that I am working for a FORTUNE 500 company in human resources without a degree! My advice to job seekers with this barrier is that like me, they have unique abilities that are valuable to employers, and by exhibiting confidence (not cockiness) in showing those qualities during a job search, from resume to interview to offer, they too can land in their dream job.

We all have challenges. For some, it’s a lack of degree, or the right degree. For some it’s lack of transportation or family struggles. For others it’s a language barrier. We all have something holding us back. But we also each have something that can propel us forward.

How you uncover your secret sauce is up to you. It may be through education, self-reflection, travel, mentoring relationships, or trial and error. Once you have recognized what you bring to the table focus your energy on nurturing and developing your unique strengths. Use them to guide your career, conversations, and tasks.

We all make choices in life, and those choices have consequences. Looking back I recognize that my decision to not attend college made me who I am today.  While I don’t have a college team to cheer for on Saturdays or sorority sisters to reunite with over a glass of wine, I do have experiences and connections that are a result of the moment in time I said yes to the road less travelled. And I wouldn’t trade them for the world.

When dealing with a personal challenge, unwavering pride in who you are and what you have accomplished is vital in getting others to see past the stereotypes that come with being different. With hard work and a bit of luck you will find a career in a field you’re passionate about with an employer that values you as you deserve to be valued.

About the author: Shannon Grimes is a Phoenix-based talent attraction manager for Schwab, and her work focuses on connecting with job seekers at networking events, information sessions and career fairs.

This post by Shannon Grimes originally appeared on the Schwab Career Investments Blog. Re-posted with permission.