How do you get your foot in the door without the necessary degree (yet)? I’m changing careers from computer programming to bioinformatics, which is a field that uses computers to answer biological questions. Most bioinformaticians I’ve spoken to consider computing to be a more important skill than genetics. While I’m almost finished with a masters in the field, I really need to get a job, but most jobs list a degree as a requirement.
I’m considering selling my lack of a completed degree as an opportunity for the employer to snag an experienced programmer who’s new to bioinformatics at a discount, if they hire me now vs. waiting until I finish my degree when I’ll be more marketable.
Is this a good idea? I know it will have an impact on my ability to negotiate a salary, but 2020 has left me in a position where I simply must have an income. So my concern is more about whether it will look bad, or presumptuous.
If you think it’s a good move, how should I phrase this “value proposition?” Thank you.
I don’t think we have many bioinformaticians in our community, but your question is a good one for us because it would be relevant to anyone contemplating a significant change in careers. The words “degree required” often stop talented people dead in their tracks when it should just make them find a way around that obstacle.
Paying to get your foot in the door
While I like your “willingness to deal” to get hired, I’m not sure the savings would mean enough to an employer to affect their decision to hire you now one way or the other. In fact, making your discount offer to help you get in the door might complicate the calculus. Getting a discount could actually put an undue emphasis on the risk the manager feels they’re taking. Make sense?
“Degree required” is often negotiable if the candidate can show relevant experience or related education (or potent, relevant references). You could easily submit an application that notes “degree expected Month, 2021.”
Networking to get in the door
This is a case where I think my general advice to avoid applying with resumes and forms is all the more important. Resumes and forms cannot defend you or explain the valuable trade-off your computing skills represent. If you had a personal referral to the hiring manager, you could reduce the risk of being rejected out of hand for lack of the degree. A good word from a trusted contact could lead the manager to take a chance on you. I really think investing time and effort to identify and quickly develop such a contact could be invaluable.
My guess is you have some companies in mind. Start mapping out the network of people who might help you — people connected to each company and others associated in turn. It’s a little-known fact that the nodes on the periphery of a network are often the most useful and productive (cf. Six Degrees: The Science of A Connected Age, Duncan Watts). This means the person that will ultimately help you is probably unknown to you today. Map out that network exhaustively. Start dropping notes to people you identify that might provide you with insights, advice and introductions. If networking like this makes you shudder, learn how even shy people can network.
The ideal referral or introduction would come from someone who connects the dots for the hiring manager about how your programming expertise would benefit the manager.
Think like the manager
If I were the employer you approached, a lot would depend on the specific job I was trying to fill. If it’s standalone (vs. working on a team) or a senior role, I might really want at least a couple of years hands-on experience in bioinformatics specifically. But if all the weight of that specialization is not going to be on the new hire, I’d probably consider a sharp new grad who shows me they can ride a fast learning curve without falling off. I think you need to appeal to the latter kinds of managers.
To get your foot in the door without the degree it’s crucial for you to glean insights from people in bioinformatics who know and work for managers you may want to work for. So making such contacts is all the more important. They will hopefully influence a manager and also provide you with insights so you can choose managers and companies wisely. (These folks might also help you with your question about offering a salary discount.) You need that extra edge.
Get an edge to get that foot in the door
Gene Webb, my mentor at Stanford, was a biz school professor whose research was in decision theory. He taught all his students this: If you’re going to take a bet, any marginal bit of information you have that your competitors don’t have makes the bet worth taking. Employers are so reliant on keywords in resumes and job applications that any candidate’s odds of success are — in my opinion — about the same. They’re all tiny! The recruiting process reduces even the best candidates to even odds of being brought in for an interview. The marginal advantage, which is always worth cultivating, is a personal recommendation. It raises your odds of getting a meeting dramatically. (Here are some ways to get an edge.)
I wouldn’t sell myself short by offering a pre-emptive discount to get your foot in the door. Even if you’re going to make the offer, it should be via personal conversation or via a referral the manager trusts. There’s just too much chance such an offer on a document (that can’t defend itself) will be read the wrong way. I would not do it. That said, if your interview goes swimmingly but the manager seems hesitant about that degree, well, then you might play the discount card. Now you’d be doing it the right way – face to face, and you’d be able to answer any questions the manager has about your offer. However, how you play it would depend on any new information you gather in that interview.
Would you offer a salary discount to get a job — regardless of your line of work — when you don’t meet all the requirements? If you’re a manager, how would you regard an applicant that offers to accept a lower salary in exchange for a shot at the job? What other clever methods can this reader use to get a shot?