Lesson 1: Undocumented Credentials

April 16, 2008

Here are the harsh facts of my credentials:

  • Someone who was rightfully covering their ass as a hiring manager could say that I had about 9 months of experience in my field.
  • I have no college degree.

College Graduate

These are the credentials of a person who, if they are even employable, is working at a help desk making $24,000 a year.

I know I’m better than that, though. Not “better” in the entitled, rich kid sense of the word. Better as in, at my job. I am able to add more value than my experience level would indicate. I know this, and I am able to convey this, which is why I was recently hired as a technical manager making substantially more than six figures a year — my bonus is bigger than the $24,000 paycheck common wisdom would have me bringing in.

The truth is that previous to my corporate experience I had done a lot of work on my own, and run my own small shop, so the reality is that I have more like 10 years of experience. The truth is that my wife is an academic, and I have a very academic mentality, and in fact have attended 5 different universities, and have a boatload of credits in several disciplines including business and computer science.

The Income Analogy

I was in a car dealership the other day, and they asked me what my income was, to qualify me for a loan. This is a dicey subject for me.

Between my wife and I, we are gainfully employed, run little side ventures from time to time, have real estate, and a passive stream of income or two. Further, as any bright entrepreneur would do, we write income off like it’s going out of style. There have been years where we’ve made $50,000+ vanish for tax purposes, all totally above board, taking write offs we’re entitled to.

So I was faced with a choice: do I explain to the dealership that a substantial portion of my income is in the form of equity in privately held companies, and so can’t be documented traditionally, or do I just tell them the number that I’m making “in real life,” and worry about proving it later?

I told them my “in real life” income. It greases the wheels, and half the time they never verify any way. If push came to shove, I could give them slightly more detail, and produce what documentation I could. There is normally a method to get around that documentation anyway.

Putting it Together

As a job applicant you are faced with the same dilemma. Do you tell them you have nine months of experience and no college degree, or do you talk about the undocumented work you’ve done and the boatload of credits you have?

Many people feel guilty about mentioning anything but their “documented experience,” which is why most people in my situation are barely making ends meet. What really matters is the value you can bring to the table, so if you want to get on the fast track get over your qualm, and tell people what you can do. If that means putting your experience into a fictional context that a hiring manager can understand, then so be it.

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