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My situation is quite unusual. I'm a ~junior level developer with solid knowledge of physics and maths. I was taking a degree in Physics last year (2nd year) and left because I was not learning anything there. At the university I was in, people are expected to learn most stuff by themselves at home. I didn't want to wast time and money going to the university to learn nothing, and I don't care about having a paper proving I know what I know, so I left and continued learning stuff all by myself, much faster than I was. Because it's easier to find resources teaching programming than physics, I spent most of my time learning programming, which was a side project for me since ~5 years ago. I end up learning quite a number of languages (C, C++, Ruby, Javascript; also learned the basics about Python, Java, HTML & CSS but I'm not very good with these yet).

I feel now that I'm ready to start working, so I'm looking for a job. The thing is: I feel that most companies will decline my application right way because I do not have the paper. I should add that I'm a quite odd person:

  • I hate doing things one way just because everyone else does;
  • I push myself really hard to learn new things and improve;
  • Don't care about money, only about doing something I like;

How should I approach a company when looking for a job? Even better: how can I find a company that needs someone like me?

I should add that I'm looking for a software developer position.

Effectively adding “Self-taught” skills on your Resume and other questions under "Related" there do not address the particular aspects here:

  • I have no formal qualifications (so it is not just a question of adding self-taught qualifications to a "normal" CV that already includes a degree)
  • This concerns an entry-level job (I have no previous job experience that could signal to an employer I know what development is about)

marked as duplicate by gnat, IDrinkandIKnowThings, Chris E, Jim G., yochannah Dec 14 '14 at 19:38

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    I know this is a duplicate, but can't find the canonical question... – Telastyn Dec 12 '14 at 15:19
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    The way I see it, you are paying the university for the diploma, not necessarily for what you learn. And the diploma may take you places your knowledge may not by itself. – user1220 Dec 12 '14 at 15:31
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    @user1220: this is signaling - you could just as well learn the content by yourself, but having that distinction on your degree signals something to potential employer, like conscientiousness or the capacity for sticking with a task even if it is boring. – Stephan Kolassa Dec 12 '14 at 15:48
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    @StephanKolassa - akin to a rite of passage? – user1220 Dec 12 '14 at 16:07
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    @Telastyn see ^^^ above. There's also: Effectively adding “Self-taught” skills on your Resume (and several questions listed in Related section over there) – gnat Dec 12 '14 at 16:18
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That paper doesn't prove you know anything really. I know plenty of people that have the paper and don't know jack. That paper proves you can complete something, that you've at least been through the fundamentals of the subject matter and can be taught. Unfortunately for you, there are far too many candidates out there who have the paper that it's become the "price of admission". Many candidates are not actually checked for qualification simply because there is no advanced degree in place.

Your only real options are to find methods to "bypass" the blind HR requirement. Methods for doing this would be to make contacts within a target company you would like to work for. Since you appear to have specific math/physics related fields in mind I'm sure you've already got something lined up. If you can establish a contact within the target company who is willing (and has time) to help you this person will ultimately be able to assist in getting your name/CV routed to the individuals it needs to be seen by.

Another method for bypassing the blind requirement is job fairs and hiring seminars that are put on by companies in the target demographic you're looking for. Often these individuals are recruiters who don't have the technical expertise necessary to understand what you're looking for, but they understand people. A handshake, a smile, a good anecdote and some good old-fashioned human networking is invaluable. If you can impress upon their recruiting team that you have value as an individual, as a potential employee, then you might be able to impress upon them the value of putting your CV in front of the technical folks.

The last method I would suggest is to contact a standard recruiter in the fields you've chosen and impress upon them the value that you bring to the table beyond the "piece of paper". These individuals often have direct lines to the hiring folks, and if you can convince a standard recruiter of your human value and technical potential then they'll do whatever they can to put you in front of the person doing the hiring. Of the recruiters I deal with, there are a few I trust to know the business, and if they tell me they've got someone who doesn't quite match up on paper but I really need to take a look at him/her then I'll at least go through a phone screen with them.

In summation, before engaging in any of that, be prepared. You need to be prepared to sell yourself completely. List any/all accomplishments no matter how big or small. Detail your successes, but also detail your failures and how you learned from them. Be enthusiastic and energetic. Do your homework on your target companies and prepared to ask questions about the job. The person on the other end needs to like you, respect you and believe in your potential beyond the piece of paper.

  • I'd note even if you have the appropriate qualifications, networking, and some degree of going sideways is useful. I've had applications for jobs where my paper skills and the job requirements are a perfect match, and the application seemed to be stuck in limbo. – Journeyman Geek Dec 13 '14 at 1:09
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I don't care about having a paper proving I know what I know

Unfortunately, companies you apply to will want to know that you know what you know. If you don't have a degree, you will need to prove it in some other way. I assume you are trying to get into software development. I would suggest you prove that you know something about software development by

  • contributing to open source projects
  • working on a pro bono basis for charities
  • participating on StackOverflow

All of these will start to build proof that you indeed know about software development and/or coding.

However, none of these will get you past the HR person who discards your application simply because you have no university degree. (Let's be honest: there are usually many applicants who do have that degree, so such a first filter is an easy one for the HR person trying to pare a pile of 100 applications down to 10. Unless you stand out from the crowd in some other way.) So you may need to find a way to bypass HR and directly reach the technical person who actually wants to hire you. Therefore, you'll need to network heavily. Where other people can use their degree, you will need to leverage personal contacts even more heavily.

And in fact, the first two bullet points above are already pretty good starting points to build up your network. In addition, look for networking events in your (geographical or functional) area where you can actually meet people in person. Prepare an elevator pitch for those events.

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Unfortunately, despite not wanting to conform, your best bet when job-searching is to do what companies are expecting:

1) Figure out what kind of job you're looking for.

2) Write your resume to highlight the skills you have that would make you attractive to companies offering that kind of job.

3) Search for jobs that match what you're looking for.

4) Tailor your cover letter to the company's needs and submit them via whatever process they're requesting.

If you find you're not having any luck because you lack experience, then maybe you need to change what you're looking for in #3 - search out companies who hire inexperienced people and giving them a chance to learn on the job. Your trait of "not caring about money" may come in handy - sometimes companies who hire people who are more of a risk aren't willing to commit as much money until the person has proven themselves on the job.

Learn as much as you can once you get the first job, and you'll find the better you get, the more options you'll have when looking for future jobs, and the less your formal education (or lack thereof) will matter. Some companies even offer tuition assistance if you end up deciding you want to complete your degree.

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There's nothing at all wrong with being self-taught - I'd often see it as an advantage in a job applicant - but @StephanKolassa is correct that in job applications it's all about signalling.

Find a way to demonstrate that you do have the skills by provably doing something that someone without the skills couldn't do.

There's various certifications available that might help (usually you pay to take the test, you get a certificate, you can prove you know whatever-it-is), as might participation in unpaid projects.

Before paying to get any kind of certification, check that it's reputable within your specific field. One that's not widely recognised is just a waste of your time and money.

Target jobs where the employer has their own tests for applicants - then the employer will be checking for themselves that you have the skills.

Target short-term contract work as that's often easier to get into than permanent positions - the recruiter will typically ask you a few technical questions on the phone to test your knowledge, then there might be a formal interview after that or there might not. Then once you've had a few contract jobs, you've got something on your CV to point to. Freelancing can work the same way - anything where you get paid for using the skillset you want to prove you've got.

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