No Degree? No Problem — I Earn Over Six Figures. Here’s How I Got Here
You don’t need an expensive degree to earn a good living.
Meet Tom, a young business owner and six-figure salary earner — no degree required.
Managing Director, Sonder
Tom earns six figures, manages his own business… and never got a degree. Neither did his business partner, James.
After meeting at a sales job, Tom and James started Sonder, a digital marketing agency. Sonder now boasts a strong team at their Brisbane office. They cover a range of services, from website development and search marketing to content creation and design.
So, what’s striking about Sonder?
We spoke with Tom about why having a degree isn’t essential to earn a good living. A six-figure living, if you will.
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Patience is key
When asked if it is possible to make good money without a degree, Tom didn’t hesitate to answer with a resounding “100 per cent”.
It is, however, important to understand that it takes time and hard work.
“You have to be willing to trade those first few years of income for a better income later on.”
Tom left school in Year 9 to start a TAFE course in carpentry and then moved on to sales. It’s in this role that he met James. Soon after meeting, they started their business.
Like any role, Tom and James didn’t start on their current salaries. In fact, in the beginning, Tom and James didn’t pay themselves much at all — choosing to have side-hustles to cover expenses while they built their business.
“At the start of the business I was Uber driving to pay for my expenses – that was $600 a week. Now the company can pay me $120,000 a year.”
A degree isn’t as important as you think. So, what is?
It’s a common misconception that having a tertiary degree is a non-negotiable for landing a high paying job. According to Tom, however, that’s simply not the case.
“I think in the real world, you’ll find that all they really care about is results. They don’t care if your degree wants you to map out a plan, or do all this tetrus-ing of what you’re going to do if it doesn’t end up getting results.”
Much like the managing directors themselves, Sonder likes to hire people who don’t have formal degrees. Why?
“The types who we hire aren’t set on an identity. In our kind of industry, everything is constantly changing. Learning the most up to date stuff is what’s most relevant – not being stuck in how things ‘should be done’”.
A person’s willingness to continuously learn on the job has been increasingly identified as an invaluable skill to employers. The world isn’t going to stop changing, so neither can we.
“We found that people who have an identity for a role, like ‘I’m gonna be X’, struggle quite a lot because ‘X’ doesn’t exist. There are so many roles within one role now, you’ve gotta be flexible.”
But if formal qualifications don’t bear the same weight anymore, how do you stand out to employers?
“Case studies help — (evidence of) previous work. Attitude is a big one. Can they fit in with the team culture? Are they easy-going enough to be given tasks with timelines but still have the flexibility to prioritise?”
Tom was also quick to emphasise the skill of self-directed learning.
“(With us) you have to do your own research – do your own learning. With a structure in mind, of course, but we’re more about learning on the fly and picking up stuff independently.”
Salary jumps are possible
By embracing these key values and skills, a prior Sonder employee (let’s call her Anna), is now earning a salary of $100,000.
Previous experience in the field? No.
So, what did she have?
Like Tom and James, Anna started out with minimal earnings.
“We hired a person who had absolutely no confidence, but she had a great attitude. She jumped straight into a sales role. She absolutely smashed her internship, and was offered full-time employment.”
“She was with us for six months. She’s now moved on from a $42,000 a year role to a $100,000 a year role with another company, based on the experience she received during her time with us.”
When asked about why he thought Anna progressed into a high-paying role so quickly, Tom credits her attitude.
“She came into the role completely open-minded, (she) wanted to give everything a go. It wasn’t something she’d done before, but she was open to trying it. Once she started in the role and was doing really well, we started matching her experience with work that was available.”
Tom and James didn’t set out to pay themselves a specific salary.
“I didn’t think we were going to pay ourselves as much as we did as quickly as we did.”
According to the managing director, your salary should reflect the value you bring to the role and the business as a whole.
“I think striving for a certain income is unrealistic. If you’re working for someone, they’re going to set your salary based on how much value the role brings (to the business).”
For Sonder, building your value as an employee largely comes down to the application of your learning.
“Reading about something is great — but applying that thing to the real world and getting a reference for it is the best for your learning. Whether it’s YouTube, online courses or uni, applying the learning and seeing if you resonate with the learning is essential.”
Landing a high paying job doesn’t have to be as difficult as the job market makes it out to be. If you’re willing to learn and be flexible, you’re already halfway there!
Apply your learning and find your edge
Brushing up on skills and knowledge in your chosen industry is always valuable. A Certificate or Diploma qualification looks great on an application – especially if it’s hands-on training that allows you to apply your learning!