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Ask Slashdot: Getting Hired As a Self-Taught Old Guy? 472

StonyCreekBare writes "How can an autodidact get past the jobs screening process? I have a long track record of success, despite limited formal education. Despite many accomplishments, published papers, and more, I cannot seem to get past the canned hiring process and actually get before a hiring manager. Traditional hiring processes seem to revolve around the education and degrees one holds, not one's track record and accomplishments. Now as an older tech-worker I seem to encounter a double barrier by being gray-haired as well. All prospective employers seem to see is a gray-haired old guy with no formal degrees. The jobs always seem to go to the younger guys with impressive degrees, despite a total lack of accomplishment. How can an accomplished, if gray-haired, self-educated techie get a foot in the door?"
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Ask Slashdot: Getting Hired As a Self-Taught Old Guy?

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  • Start your own (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:17PM (#44106949)

    business :)

    • Re:Start your own (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bonehead ( 6382 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:44PM (#44107291)

      If you are anything outside of the "norm" in the field, the best advice I can give you comes in two parts:

      1.) Be willing to work for a little less than the going rate.

      2.) Focus on smaller companies who are less likely to have automated resume screening systems. Wouldn't hurt if the owner of the company had a little gray himself.

      The truth is that although it's better than 3 years ago, the job market is still a bitch. Don't give up, and hard as it may be, don't take rejections personally and let them get you down on yourself.

      • 3.) Network. You're likely to get your best paying gigs as contractor/consultant via people who know you. One of the things you tend to get along with the accomplishments and gray hairs is a long network of contacts, people you know, etc. Another benefit is that if you revisit people you worked with early in your career, you'll find that many of them are managers now, and have the power to make hiring decisions (including designing a job around your specific capabilities). It doesn't always work -- I once had a job custom designed for me, and then HR stepped in and killed it (due to interdepartmental politics), but these things often work out quite well. As an Old Guy (TM), never try the cold call, or submitting your resume as the first thing you do. Get in via contacts.

      • Re:Start your own (Score:5, Interesting)

        by korgitser ( 1809018 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:43PM (#44108159)

        I'd go another route:
        Be willing to work for a little more than the going rate.
        Focus, yes, on the smaller companies, but shoot straight for senior/teamlead positions. Your track record should cover you there. Tell them, you want to gain a level in your career and that your age should help you there.

      • Re:Start your own (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:47PM (#44108193) Homepage Journal
        Actually, if he is at this age and point in his life, he should by now, have developed a large network of connections in the IT world.

        Years of experience should have also given him years of names and people to contact when needing that next gig.

        Once you're out in the work world, the next jobs come from who you know...if you're doing it right.

        If nothing else, get with a contracting house...they DO value older experienced folks with heavy resume experience.

        • Re:Start your own (Score:5, Insightful)

          by slim ( 1652 ) <john@hartnu p . net> on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @05:31AM (#44110151) Homepage

          That is if either:

            - You're a natural at (interpersonal) networking.
            - or you took on board the importance of (interpersonal) networking when you were young, and made a special effort to do it.

          If you put your head down and did a job, instead of schmoozing, you might not be so lucky.

          • If you put your head down and did a job, instead of schmoozing, you might not be so lucky.

            People need to know that a good part of their work, career and job ARE the things other than just putting your head down and doing work.

            People should think about gaining and USING people skills, just as much as they concern themselves with continued education.

            You might have learned everything about java, but you need someONE, a person, to give you a job. The best jobs are usually to be had by inside information at p

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:19PM (#44106969)

    Take the HR weenies hostage, and demand an audience with somebody technical.

  • by adminstring ( 608310 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:22PM (#44106997)
    Get your hair dyed some other natural-looking color, with eyebrows to match. You can always go back to grey once you have the job.
    • by hedwards ( 940851 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:36PM (#44107205)

      I suspect the problem is that the application forms that the submitter has to fill out, require certain degrees and get tossed into the trash if those requirements aren't met. And probably by the lowest level HR person at the firm.

      One of the things I noticed years back before I gave up on IT was that they wanted very specific requirements to even allow the application to submit. And that was before the most recent economic downturn. It's probably gotten even worse now.

      • by L4t3r4lu5 ( 1216702 ) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @04:07AM (#44109803)
        I'm doing a degree now for this exact reason. I'm coming up on 15 years in IT, but I'm still stuck at the bottom of the ladder because everywhere above where I am now wants a degree. They don't even bother saying "Thanks for applying" anymore.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

        It's because companies don't want to invest any money in staff. They want to just hire a worker unit that can complete certain tasks for them, trained at someone else's expense.

        In the long run it is usually better to get someone in and train them. Obviously they need the right basic skills but not necessarily specific degrees or experience. Many companies are not interested in that though, they just want to hire someone disposable to complete one particular task or fill one specific role.

  • Networking. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Seumas ( 6865 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:22PM (#44107011)

    This is where networking comes in. Cold-calling hiring managers (per se) is partially to weed out people who don't have any "in" to the company, already. That, and maybe die your hair. It sucks, but in a world where everything but your actual work-ethic and capability is secondary to things like youth, height, attractiveness, and diploma, you have to manipulate the game to your favor so you can get your foot in the door.

    I also think there tends to be a problem where most people assume that if you're over a certain age and you are not seeking a management position, there must be something wrong with you. After all, if you have put in your years, why would you want to do anything other than manage people, right? . . . Right?

    • While he's at it, he might be able to set up some informational interviews or get a job at a temp agency.

  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:23PM (#44107015)

    Set up a firm, start networking. If you deliver projects on time and budget then you will soon have more business than you know what to do with. Ultimately this strategy will work out better for you in the long run, but is more challenging to get going.

    Generally speaking, if you have real talent, you are a sucker to work for someone else.

    • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:31PM (#44107137)

      In this situation it's going to be all about who you know. You say you have a long history of successes? Contact the people you worked with and worked for. Someone, somewhere, is hiring and at least some of those people will be in position to push your resume at least past the first layer of defense. Lack of a formal degree will see your resume to circular filing cabinet in record time, unless the HR drone has a reason to believe otherwise.

      • by wickedskaman ( 1105337 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:39PM (#44107237) Journal
        THIS. Don't let pride get in the way of calling folks even from way back when who have been part of your professional life. Don't assume it's a waste of time.
      • by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @08:54PM (#44107851) Journal

        I am in much the same boat. My branch of the industry went from garage shops to IPOs to conglomerates. The hiring process went from people-in-the-know to armies-of-PHBs-working by the book. The number of potential employers went from hundreds to a handful. The workforce went from top-notch locals to armies of adequate, semi-adequate, or inadequate H1Bs.

        I had been a pioneer and well recognized by other actual techies - even those that had gone on into management or entrepreneurship. But after catching a layoff when the conglomerate deemphasized its new acquisition's function, I went from highly-paid pan-expert to 17 months unemployed due to the same HR-is-a-brick-wall for non-commodity heads effect.

        I finally ended up contracting at a long-running garage shop in a niche market, a position found through a contact who had just watched them have a project almost fail for lack of a person with my particular skill set.

        Meanwhile I'm finishing the degree via "distance learning" through an accredited institution. By the time the contract runs out I hope to have that checkbox checked. (College is a LOT easier when you don't have the draft board trying to send you to Vietnam and you can do the classes online when you're free and alert, rather than at 8 AM when you're a night person.)

      • by Mozai ( 3547 )

        It's not who you know; it's who knows you.

  • If you had done your research on the subject just in the last few days on these very pages, you would know to apply to Google

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:24PM (#44107037)

    My situation is very similar to yours. I haven't been able to get an in-person job at all, just contract work, where I've been moderately successful.

    I've had several third interviews for jobs, but they always wind up hiring someone less-qualified but with a degree. I've pretty much given up on the job part, and resigned myself to contract work unless one of my app projects takes off.

  • by mrscorpio ( 265337 ) <[moc.loopenots] [ta] [yobdedaehowt]> on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:24PM (#44107047)

    How do you know the people getting the jobs have no experience? I am probably not as old and not as experienced as you, but I was getting beat out for entry-level jobs by people with degrees AND experience, sometimes a ridiculous amount of experience for the position and/or pay. Fact is, there are a LOT of people looking for a job or a better job out there, and lack of a degree is an automatic disqualifier for a lot of positions right now due to the number of applicants hiring managers are seeing that have both the desired experience and degree.

  • I have a long track record of success, despite limited formal education.

    Most companies are willing to trade years of experience and certifications for specific degrees. Do you have certifications?

    Despite many accomplishments, published papers, and more, I cannot seem to get past the canned hiring process and actually get before a hiring manager.

    Are the "published papers" in the same tech field that you're looking in for a job? You have enough knowledge to write papers on the subject but no one will hire you

  • Insufficient Data (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hondo77 ( 324058 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:26PM (#44107079) Homepage
    Maybe your resume sucks. Maybe you're asking for too much money. Maybe you smell bad. Maybe you don't know as much as a fresh college grad. It's hard to answer this without knowing more about you. Have you ever gotten feedback from headhunters when they review your resume?
    • by eljefe6a ( 2289776 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:31PM (#44107131) Homepage
      This, plus: Take a good, hard look at yourself from the employer's viewpoint. Is your resume 10 pages long, etc? Are you networking? Do you have a good LinkedIn profile? Linkedin is how recruiting is done now. Being self-taught only makes a difference if you let it.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        This, plus: Take a good, hard look at yourself from the employer's viewpoint. Is your resume 10 pages long, etc? Are you networking? Do you have a good LinkedIn profile? Linkedin is how recruiting is done now.

        Being self-taught only makes a difference if you let it.

        When I worked at Lockheed Martin, 2 years ago, they had a policy strict hiring/promotion policies about education.
        I.E. you could only get so high with an associate degree, a little higher/more stability with a bachelors, and only those with masters degrees were allowed to be architects. It was education over ability. There was one architects in particular that ran around saying stupid shit like, "some objects are data objects, and other objects are function objects but never both". But he had a

  • Grecian Formula.

  • by roc97007 ( 608802 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:30PM (#44107123) Journal

    Start a business. You'll enjoy that more than working for someone else anyway. In many states you can start an LLC for a pittance.

    Barring that, you need to network. HR departments exist (these days) as a shield between hiring managers and the great unwashed masses. One criteria is that you must have [from
    Caveat -- I'm an old guy with lots of experience, mostly self-taught, working in a field not studied in college. (That didn't, in fact, exist when I was in college.) Finding a new job is often an adventure because my college credits were a long time ago in a completely different area. In most cases, I've known someone who knew someone, managed to get the manager's ear, maybe over a beer after hours.

    • Message was garbled. That was supposed to read:
      One caveat is that you must have (some degree) [from (some college)] just to get past HR and get the manager's ear. (But you probably already know that.) You need to find a different way in. You say you have many accomplishments -- someone must have noticed, and you must have built relationships during those accomplishments. Time to exploit that, call in favors.

  • by Anrego ( 830717 ) * on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:32PM (#44107151)

    You'd probably have better luck with smaller shops. The kind where the owner will probably meet with you personally if you go in and ask for a job in person. Be prepared to compensate for your lack of formal credentials with examples of your work.

    Probably varies from place to place, but around here, previous experience trumps education most of the time. Larger places you might need the degree to get passed the automated keyword hunter, but your references from previous employers and what you can say about what you've worked on are what sell you.

    And on that note, with that long track record of success, you should also have a large collection of people who know the kind of work you do and would recommend you to others. Get in touch with them and see if they know of anyone looking for someone with your skillset.

    People who can refer you to the company they work for are your absolute best bet. Your chances of getting a job are magnitudes higher when someone inside the company, who knows the role and office culture and the position, is saying "this guy is good, he's exactly what we need".

  • 1) Network
    2) Get lucky

  • As a fellow grayhair who just recently switched jobs - sell what you got. Sell vision, dedication (You won’t be pulled away for screaming babies), experience, understanding of risk, that you've actually already done what they are trying to do (yes - research!). You are now less the doer and more the vizier. Most importantly, sell confidence, without it you're toast. Good luck
  • haven't figured this out yet?
    1) Start your own contracting firm.
    1) Make contact through user group meetings, seminars, what have you.
    2) Become active in any coder events.

  • References (Score:4, Insightful)

    by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:37PM (#44107213)

    If you have done impressive things over many years, you should have contacts who are aware of your abilities. An inside experienced contact at most companies can get a resume of someone they think is valuable in front of hiring managers.

    Unfortunately if you don't have a formal education and don't have anyone who can vouch for you it will be very difficult. Put yourself in the position of a hiring manger with dozens of resumes on their desk - they are looking for an efficient way to cull the resumes down to a manageable number and formal qualifications are an easy (and generally reasonable) method.

  • by bsdasym ( 829112 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:39PM (#44107235)
    ..maybe it's you. Speaking as someone with ~20 years real experience and no formal education at all (HS dropout, even), I haven't had any trouble finding a good paying gig (W2 or 1099) since putting the first behind me, let alone getting an interview. So, I say, seek within for the answers. The "young guy" is bringing something to the table you're not, right out of the gate, and it's got nothing to do with his degree or your lack thereof.
  • Government work,

  • I repaired computers for 7 years before getting a corporate job. I was the best of the best at it (and still am) yet without SDLC training and actual stories from actual IT workers turned college professors, I'd be doing a very bad job at my current job. I could still easily repair individual computers but the best practices and SDLC rules are everything. So I'm glad I got 2 degrees in IT. No matter how self taught you think you are, you're still not good enough for a corporate job without training.
  • by mendax ( 114116 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:46PM (#44107321)

    I'm serious. I know a fellow who is not only 71 years old but a convicted felon who is still on federal supervised release and hasn't work in over ten years who recently got a job with the State of California doing some sort of IT work. The state hires older people. Hiring managers aren't blinded by the cost of older people's health insurance because it doesn't come out of their budget. I suspect it's the same with the Federal government.

  • Choose COBOL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by BanteringCTO ( 584124 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:46PM (#44107329)
    Most of the younger developers want to work with the newer languages, and they want to create rather than maintain. Many companies struggle to find competent COBOL programers, largely for maintenance work. If you are as adept at self-learning as you imply, it should be an easy language to pick up. Check out this article currently posted on /.: [] Good luck!
  • Put your resume online somewhere, make the page google-search-engine friendly (html5, validating, good structure, no fancy tables or javascript).

    There are fewer restrictions there, because no page numbers, etc.

    People scour the internet to find talent.

    Be open to contract work, even 3 months contract, as these can turn into 6, 12, or full time.

    My story: 2010 a recruiter found my resume through google search, called me for position, was 3 months contract, got extended 3 more, then 9 more, then full-time, and I

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @07:57PM (#44107411)


  • A pack of hair color costs something like $10 at your local store. One problem solved. (If someone has good tips for coloring beard, I'd like to know.)

    My guess is that if you want to apply to an organization that uses formal screening process, you're off worse. Networking is the word of the day and if you have a lot of previous work experience, you might already have a professional network. Use it, and sidestep the screening. If not, build your network. Participate in groups, attend conferences, etc. Be act

  • I've hired gray hairs, long hairs, dyed hair and no hairs as programming contractors. Age and experience are not so important to me for these mid-level programming gigs.I care about a few things though - are you up to date on not just coding, but contemporary development methodologies? Have you worked in an Agile team before? Do you have a niche skill that fits with my project (in my case often embedded programming, or Linux device drivers). I'm far more interested in what you've done in that last year befo

  • by houbou ( 1097327 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @08:13PM (#44107531) Journal
    Are you good? how do you know? Have you self-taught yourself actual experience? Be somebody's apprentice and work on contracts for a bit, you need some experience to go with that knowledge.
  • Headhunter's secrets (Score:4, Informative)

    by DeathGrippe ( 2906227 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @08:16PM (#44107551)

    As a former headhunter, here is my best advice:

    1. Avoid headhunters. All they'll do is attach a commission handicap toward hiring you.

    2. Find out where there are places nearby where you'd like to work and are qualified.

    3. Prepare a killer resume that describes your accomplishments in the terms of the job you could do for those employers.

    4. Find out who the hiring managers are, and what positions, if any, are open.

    5. Have three copies of your resume available. Walk in the front door cold, and tell the person at the front desk your name and who you are there to see about the job.

    6. If the front desk person asks for a resume, give it to them.

    Generally, this will get you in front of the hiring authority. While you're talking with that person, aside from telling them all about the great things you can do, ASK FOR THE JOB! "This sounds great! I can start on Monday, would that be too soon?" etc.

    Good luck.

  • Write code! (Score:4, Informative)

    by Effugas ( 2378 ) * on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @08:30PM (#44107671) Homepage
    Seriously. Write some code, publish it on Github. Spin up a single serving web page, does one interesting thing as soon as you arrive. Remember, everyone else with resumes could be pretending, you're actually doing stuff.

    For work experience, sign up on freelancing sites like odesk. Take jobs just to do them. Nobody knows how old you are, there. Even if all you can do is sysadmin -- well, admin some cloud services!
  • Lie (Score:3, Insightful)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @08:39PM (#44107739) Journal
    Lie, lie, lie. No one checks references. And even if you 1 out of 10 do check, you'll end up getting rejected because they checked only from that one place.
  • by aXis100 ( 690904 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:08PM (#44107939)

    If you're grey haired, experienced and accomplished, you should also have a friendly network of ex-colleagues and customers who will help you get a job.

    Your first job or two you should apply for though normal channels. After you've made some friends in the industry, every other job you should either be getting shortlisted though mates referrals, or headhunted - it's that easy. Employers are screaming out for good employees and the internal referals count heavily compared to unknown randoms.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:26PM (#44108073) Homepage Journal

    Traditional hiring processes seem to revolve around.. not one's track record and accomplishments.

    I'm surprised. First guess is that you've misdiagnosed it being about formal education.

    You might have something horribly wrong on the resume. Maybe have a friend look at it and figure out why no one should ever hire that awful person. Then remove the part about how you made the Nazi Party's website 100x faster, or whatever it is. ;-)

    Other idea is that people are seeing it and thinking "this guy wants a real job, not our job; there's no way we can afford him." You have to address that in the cover letter, hopefully without throwing away too much money. Think about whom you're approaching. They shouldn't all necessarily get the same spiel.

    Good luck, buddy.

  • by b4upoo ( 166390 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:29PM (#44108085)

    You have not captured the Zen of the situation. Your fate is to hire and not to be hired. Simply come out with a brilliant and easy to implement plan and get others to do the work. Walking without leaving a trace on the rice paper is not required.

  • by 3seas ( 184403 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:31PM (#44108101) Homepage Journal

    I had to teach myself cause I couldn't find a course on being and old guy.

  • by peterba ( 576830 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @09:48PM (#44108199)
    Read "How to win friends and influence people". The book is older than you and has been studied by many great men. This is a "manual" on human interaction, something us "geeks" can use, to present ourselves in the best light. Are you applying for suitable "high level" jobs? If you are a certified "grey beard", but are applying for entry level positions, then forget it. By definition you are the wrong person. You need to put yourself in the position of the hiring manager and see how your 6-digit salary will actually save them money. Second, most of my auto-didactic friends are consultants who have found a niche: cobol, mainframes, pdp-11/vax, as-400, etc. All based on resume, reputation (i.e. recommendations), and word-of-mouth. Old computing niches aren't sexy, but they are desperately needed and pay the bills. Once you get your first gig, if you present yourself well (see book above), then others follow. I don't know your niche ... but there are hundreds of business out there that are willing to pay thousands of dollars for you to fix their problem.
  • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Tuesday June 25, 2013 @11:43PM (#44108787) Homepage Journal

    I've found that professional societies are very useful for making contacts, bypassing HR.

    I went to my local Linux UG a few times and they were always trading jobs.

    The professional society depends on your skill set. You go there and start talking tech.

    One of the broadest organizations would be IEEE. What's another one?

    I don't know. Maybe other people have different experiences.

    Have other people used professional societies to network and get jobs?

  • by seawall ( 549985 ) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @12:28AM (#44109035)

    Emphasize stability if you can, this can make age a plus. Not that age
    guarantees stability or youth means not responsible but you are more
    likely to be considered in a place looking for stability.

    County government,especially smaller counties. They typically run on shoestrings but they
    can really appreciate someone who can keep systems running well. Likewise midsize
    towns and cities.

    If you have some oddball skills, that can be a plus. In fact if you know INGRES, are willing
    to live in Seattle and are stable: Drop me a line!

    Medical computing often wants someone a little older. Banking will often hire someone older.

      Midsized organizations 100-500 can be an especially rich vein, places that have been around
      awhile so gray hair isn't unusual and small enough not to automate the initial job search. They
      also often have enough work to keep a small team busy.

      Surprisingly, these can be research departments at
      Universities (yes, they sometimes happily hire people without degrees. Who
      better knows a degrees worth for day to day computing? Arguing with the person
      with an MS who wants to convert everything to Python is not fun.).

    I think it a fair bet there are security companies watching the news
    that are going to be more accepting of someone older than they were
    a month ago.

  • by Fnkmaster ( 89084 ) on Wednesday June 26, 2013 @01:24AM (#44109281)

    Dear smart, grumpy engineers of Slashdot who live elsewhere in the US: here in Silicon Valley it's hard to hire good people.

    I am very much trying to hire excellent engineers with experience in search infrastructure/Lucene, recommendation systems, as well as great mobile app developers with experience developing top-tier iOS or Android apps. I will pay well for good talent, offer fair benefits and excellent option package in an early stage startup founded by a guy who has built several successful businesses, including a multi-hundred million dollar company backed by top tier venture firms.

    If you can prove to me that you are smart and capable and have relevant experience, I don't care if you have a degree from a top college or not (a degree will affect my baseline expectations, but if you seem smart and competent, I'll give you the opportunity for a phone call to show me how good you are).

    If you are a Slashdot regular, that is worth bonus points too (the fewer digits in your UID, the better).

    Seriously. If you meet any of the parameters above and think you are a great programmer and would like to come out to the Palo Alto area and work with other top tier people building a product that pushes boundaries in the social space and helps people get more out of their mobile devices, send a resume and cover letter to

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