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I am currently an automotive technician getting a degree in computer science and applying for internships. Despite sending off dozens of resumes, I haven't gotten any offers at all, partially because of my resume clearly stating that I am currently an automotive technician.

When coming from a blue-collar background/work experience, how can I prevent employers from making judgments about my skill based on my current job?

  • Hello William, and welcome to the Workplace! The best questions here are broad and applicable to many different situations (which I think the underlying question here does!), so I'm going to edit your question to focus it a bit and get you better answers. If you think I missed the point or otherwise don't think this will address your concerns, please feel free to edit as needed! – jmac Aug 26 '13 at 2:57
  • Unfortunately, this is more of a reflection of your school, CS department and professors unless they don't think you are fit to send a written recommendation. – user8365 Aug 26 '13 at 15:41
  • Also, if you're interested in job/internship opportunities, make sure you have contact info in your StackExchange profile. – Tom Panning Aug 29 '13 at 1:04
  • @JeffO I plan on getting a written recommendation from my professor this semester. – William Moffitt Aug 29 '13 at 15:11
  • @TomPanning Thanks for the tip, would an email address suffice or should I add a phone number too? – William Moffitt Aug 29 '13 at 15:14
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This is actually a good opportunity to learn about tailoring your CV, it's something you need to do and this is just a bit more extreme than once you have experience on your new field.

What you need to do is look at the spec of the role you apply for and think of parallels with your real world experience.

Off the top of my head I would suggest you have experience of:

  • Customer interaction and handling
  • Requirements gathering and negotiating
  • Production support
  • Self organisation and prioritisation
  • Working as part of a specialist skilled team
  • Problem solving and resolution
  • Working with third party suppliers

So you just need to point out where your real world skills are relevant and actually give you an edge over the others coming out of your course.

I've always maintained (and others I've met with similar backgrounds have agreed) that the best business experience and skills didn't come from a college, but from the large, clown fronted burger chain I worked for during the same time. You can make use of the skills you've gained in garages to a similar extent.

  • Thank you for your input. I never really thought of approaching it this way before, sounds promising – William Moffitt Aug 27 '13 at 14:02
  • No problem. Remember the CV and cover letter go hand in hand. The cover letter is your sales pitch of what you offer the role, and the CV is your evidence of this pitch. Make sure you address all the main points of the job spec in the letter, for the CV, I have an overview of roles and responsibilities for my current/last role, where I specify all the things I actually do (that has been tailored to the requirements of course), as esp in development, what you do can vary wildly for the same role over different companies. – The Wandering Dev Manager Aug 27 '13 at 14:21
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    You need to pitch that you are an experienced worker, it's just your area/tech skillset that has changed. Most of the business skills are applicable. For example the best Software Development PM I ever worked with had spent 10 years as a PM in a cookie factory before joining us, and although he (initially) knew nothing about IT, he was a damn good PM, and picked up the other part within a few months. – The Wandering Dev Manager Aug 27 '13 at 14:25
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When coming from a blue-collar background/work experience, how can I prevent employers from making judgments about my skill based on my current job?

Employers do tend to typecast people. If you are an automotive technician there is the potential to get stuck with the label. If you're used to using high tech diagnostic equipment this should be made clear (including naming the models you used, and what you used them on). If you were also helpful in keeping the shop computers working, point that out.

One of my personal rules about auto techs runs something like this: if the tech is driving a late model US econobox this is less good than if they are driving around a hopped up 1960s monster that they work on themselves. The latter suggests an enthusiast - someone really into cars. If this is what you are, it can't hurt to say so. There are lots of car people in big companies. Of course, they might want you to fix theirs, which is another matter.

If you're in some role that involves handling money, such as a club or church or advocacy organization, this will draw people's attention away from the car stuff. The question then becomes what you're doing in the community, not what you're doing for a living.


Most likely your job pursuit is scattershot - send it out and see what bites.

I am aware of a large research group that tests motor oils. They've been around for decades, they have massive computer instrumentation on their test stands, and they collect gigabytes of data per day. Your opportunities with such an employer are far superior to a bank or social media company.

Automotive companies have been setting up software development centers in various cities around the US. Some of these are mired in company politics and may not produce much of value, but those that are well managed would probably look at someone with a technician background with particular interest.

Anyone with heavy machinery, including railroads, mines, construction equipment, ships, and aircraft are probably interested in the perspective you bring to the table. Stockbrokerages - probably less so.

In short, you need to leverage the current and future occupational interests in combination. Consider the possibility of relocating, although you probably won't have to move far.

While you may or may not be interested in getting into search engines or finance, you can use the first job to focus on the topics you intend to pursue later. Most mechanics that I know however are 'thing' people and like dealing with physicalities. If you sit in the lotus position on a mountaintop for entire weekends then you might be into abstraction. In that case, work on programming language compilers.

  • What if he does want to work in a bank, stock brokerage, or social media company? Could you please expand the answer? Right now it sounds like you're saying, "Sorry, if you're from a blue collar field, you will only be hireable by companies doing programming for blue collar fields." I know you likely don't mean it to come off like that, so could you possibly expand the answer to explain what he should do if he does want to totally shift directions? – jmac Aug 26 '13 at 5:07
  • @jmac - The question is how do i sell my old background as a good thing for my future... You are not going to go into a bank and sell them on how great you are with tools. If you want to leverage your past experience then the way to do that is to stay in that arena. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 26 '13 at 18:41
  • @Chad He's a student applying for an internship. He wants to overcome the (obvious that it exists from these answers alone) bias attached to his prior work experience as an automotive engineer. The answers would (hopefully) tell him how to overcome the bias such as describing skills useful to the white collar business world or taking a look at rebranding yourself when applying. – jmac Aug 27 '13 at 2:01
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I would use the blue collar experience as an advantage in job applications. Try to look for jobs within the automotive production systems domain (IT related). You can state some domain knowledge and you have a CS degree that should make you able to do more qualified work. The automotive industry is very automated with IT systems (I work there myself - it takes a lot fo programmers and IT analysts to make cars these days) so there are plenty of computer science jobs in that sector, (although not neccessary a lot available jobs, but that's another story)

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    While this is great advice if he wants to work in automotive technologies, he may be switching to IT because he wants to get away from working with cars, in which case the answer doesn't really help. Is there any way of broadening the answer to help in that case? – jmac Aug 26 '13 at 5:05
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    I changed the answer slightly. Off course my intention was IT jobs within the Automotive sector to leverage the actual domain level knowledge of William Moffitt. – Petter Nordlander Aug 26 '13 at 6:57
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    Perhaps my comment was a bit unclear. He is intentionally going back to school to change careers. Currently he is in school and looking for an internship. Suggesting that he look solely for automotive companies may not be a possibility in his situation (depending on his location). If a college student had worked at Starbucks for 4 years during high school, I hardly think we'd be suggesting they look for an internship with a chain coffee store, or a coffee producer, or a high-end cafe or whatever... – jmac Aug 26 '13 at 8:13
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    No, I'm not saying that. I say - stick to the domain knowledge learn in the blue-collar, while working at an IT dept. in the same industry to gain an entry level job in IT - without the need to fight discrimination which unfortunately exists. Then move on to other IT related jobs if desired. But this is a psuedo discussion around the topic. I know a lot of people that has moved this way (with an education) and it works. It gives a possible solution to the core problem explained by OP. – Petter Nordlander Aug 26 '13 at 10:48
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    Domain knowledge is rarely important to junior/entry level IT people. That is more for very senior level positions. They will want to know that he can do the IT job he is applying for. IT doesn't really have many 'trainee' positions. See my post. He should focus on getting good at what he wants to get a job in. – Bob Aug 26 '13 at 21:06
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Many people graduate from college with zero experience in their field. During high school and college the bulk of their work experience is delivering Pizza, flipping burgers or working as a lifeguard. They fund the schooling with these low skill jobs, the parents, plus financial aid. Yet near the end of the time in school they find internships.

Work with your school to locate internships. They can help you with your resume.

Change how you introduce and describe yourself.

You describe yourself as: I am currently an automotive technician getting a degree in computer science and applying for internships.

You need to change it to: I am earning a degree in computer science and I am currently applying for internships.

Your job history section shows your work as an automotive technician, but many employers don't expect new graduates to have a ton of relevant work experience. And many hiring interns expect even less.

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I have worked in Software Developer/DBA work for 14 years. This is the same thing I tell people who are 22 and coming out of school, build your own projects to show them that you can produce walking in the door. Put something on the web that they can see (there are free hosting sites). It can be relatively simple things. Show them that you can build something and go to work.

Your CS classes will not fully prepare you to go to work. Learning to code or to be a systems administrator, or anything else that is technical takes alot of work. Repetition and doing things over and over again, gets them to be second hand. Doing them a few times in class is just not enough. The people I know who get into this profession have done far more than their school work.

It doesn't really matter what you do. It needs to be things you work on. Do several things. You really need to turn your own projects into jobs in and of themselves in order to properly prepare you to go to work. An entry level developer is still someone who needs to produce. You need to pass a tech screen. Everyone needs to work at this. Doing this shows people you are serious about the profession.

Now how to pivot your existing experience... first off, your going in as a junior developer if you have never worked in this profession before. It doesn't matter if you are 40 and have work experience elsewhere. HOWEVER, your edge is that you have an employment history for people to check, references for people to check, and that you have shown that you can work with people. Plus having the work ethic to go back to school probably while you are still working full time will be a positive for alot of people. Talk about that in the interview. Talk about how your work ethic and your history of producing makes you less of a risk and more likely to succeed than the 22 year old whose only work experience is waiting tables and a summer internship. I don't know what your blue collar work is, but if you worked as a mechanic, some kind of repair, factor operator, and such and had to solve technical problems. Have stories so that you can compare them to coding.

That being said, you have to be able to do the IT job and pass the tech screen. Having sample work is critical. It will set you apart. note it on your resume. Include links to your code (make sure it works). Have multiple samples. If you helped in open source work, send a link to it with your login name so they can check your Commits (code you checked in). If you have things that are not on the web, state in the interview that you will bring a portfolio on your laptop to show to them.

The center part of the interview is typically the technical screen. Doing this additional work will prepare you to pass it. Then sell the rest. Most of this advice is the same for people just trying to get started. There are very few 'trainee' IT jobs. You are expected to be prepared to produce.

one other tip( a bit off topic)... get your CS degree from a state college over some 'for profit school'. First off it will save you money with in state tuition (and being able to pass a financial background check is important), the material will be harder. Look for CS programs that emphasize the C programming language (go to joelonsoftware.com and look for... the article plight of java schools). Take programming intensive colleges. I have looked at the curriculums of the for profit schools that alot of adults go to and they are not impressive. The material is watered down. Its too easy. If its easy your not ready to go to work. Seriously, junior college and then a state college for the rest is not only cheaper but more rigorous. George Mason University (virginia state school) is hardly harvard. 1/2 of all people in CS 3 (3rd semester CS intro course) fail. So many fail that you can retake it and have your grade removed. This is because it is very hard. Most state schools have night programs. You have to be ready to produce or no one will hire you.

btw, we all suffer through this. your not alone. learning this is a pain. it gets easier when you get used to it, but you have to suffer through the pain. the learning process is part of what makes you good.

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    Hey Bob, thanks for the answer, but the major issue the OP said he is facing is that he isn't hearing anything from the companies after submitting his resume -- could you refocus your answer less on how to pass an interview, and more on how to get an interview? The "have code samples" is a great suggestion, and you may want to focus more on how those will help get an interview for an internship for instance. – jmac Aug 27 '13 at 2:07
  • what I said applies to both. Build projects and put them on the web. Include links to them. Show that you can produce from the beginning. What you build does not have to be anything special. It could be generic travel reservation applications. Build a few different things. Show that you can produce. Make sure it works. Doesn't have to be perfect. When I see that on an entry level resume, those resumes go to the top of the list. – Bob Aug 27 '13 at 14:05
  • I am currently working on my own project which I plan on adding to a portfolio when it is complete. Also I am planning on getting a letter of recommendation from my programming teacher this semester to hopefully add into my job hunting arsenal. Do you think the recommendation would help? – William Moffitt Aug 27 '13 at 14:28
  • recommendation will help a little. Recommendations don't help alot if they don't know the person. Do some small projects so you get samples. Some CRUD applications that are dummy reservation systems are a good start. Some dummy Amazon pages (multiple pages). Show them that you know how to format the code and code that is compact and compartmentalized. Do small quick stuff so you have samples. – Bob Aug 27 '13 at 14:35
  • I don't know where you live. Different areas have different markets. You might want to look at other parts of the country. If you got hired, you would probably have to move at you own expense. Are these entry/junior level jobs? If a company is looking for 5 years experience, you are not what they want. If your credit is good you may want to look at the DC area (I live here). If you have good credit you can get a security clearance. There are many people who can't. – Bob Aug 27 '13 at 14:38

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