I have been to multiple universities (took a long time to graduate), now people my age are ahead of me, they are at least team leaders. I have only two years of experience (I have experience before graduation but that doesn't count here). I have volunteered a lot (related to my area) however that doesnt count here also. I need to know if there are any tips so I could somehow catchup with them, I feel very frustrated.

  • 83
    Why try to "catch up"? A life is an individual experience. Perhaps being "behind" is good for you. But you may be ahead of them. Enjoy the journey.
    – Ed Heal
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 18:26
  • 17
    Although I disagree with @EdHeal 's implication that catching up to your age cohort is never worth worrying about (age discrimination is a reality in many areas), I second his question. Your question can be answered much better if you explain the problems you expect to solve by "catching up".
    – Superbest
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 22:16
  • 3
    I like @EdHeal's sentiment, but it's up to the asker to determine his or her life goals. We shouldn't discourage professional advancement.
    – Alec
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 10:48
  • 7
    You can ask how to speed up your career, but catching up? If you could catch up with X years (the ones you feel you lost) then what would stop you or anyone else to ask to catch up with 2X years? Or one of your colleagues, without delays, to "catch up" of an arbitrary number of years and therefore still resulting ahead of you? You lost the years, they are gone. Once you live with it you will have the mind free to think about simply "advancing" your career faster. Catching up is a "loser" concept and it negates your initial goal.
    – FarO
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 12:25
  • 3
    The demographic that spends a lot of time on this site may bias the sort of answers you'll tend to get.
    – yters
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 7:46

7 Answers 7


You will probably get answers telling you there is no need to catch up, which may be a valid point. However you are specifically asking to catch up so I will try to help.

I took awhile to graduate from university, and in fact I did not start until I was out of high school for two years. I believe I am in a similar situation as you are. I graduated in April 2014 and have already held senior and manager titles (currently manager).

Here are some general tips:

  1. Work in smaller organizations. Large corporations make it difficult to get noticed and may rely on seniority for promotions.
  2. Always volunteer for tasks that no one else wants. Even if it sounds awful. Often people avoid tasks that sound hard but turn out to be easy once you are working on it. There is no better way to get noticed than to take on jobs no one else will do.
  3. Offer your time and expertise unsolicited. Don't be annoying but don't be shy to offer solutions. Even if your solution isn't the right one, people will notice that you are trying to help. But be reasonable!! I can't stress that enough. It is more important that people enjoy working with you, rather than your solution being proven correct after hours of frustrating debate.
  4. Work on your technical skills. If you are already the guy that everyone asks for help, then you will naturally be the one who gets the leadership role.
  5. Meet people in your company. Even if you don't think they are relevant to your role. Talk to everyone. Don't be invisible.
  6. Capitalize on opportunities. If you are the sole person responsible for something, anything at all, make it your priority to do the best damn job you can. And be visible about it. Talk to stakeholders. Involve other employees in the process (testing, surveying, etc.). People remember.
  7. If you aren't getting anywhere in your company, don't be afraid to move to a new one. Keep your eyes on job postings. With only 2 or 3 years of experience you can get an intermediate role, especially if you are good in interviews.

Good luck!

  • 15
    +1 When someone asks "who handles that?" or "who knows about that?" you want your name to come up as someone that may be able to help. I think you do that with a combination of visibility, ability, and responsibility and I think your list covers that quite well.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 20:06
  • 57
    +1 for answering the question as asked directly rather than coming up with reasons that it shouldn't have been asked.
    – Myles
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 20:17
  • 3
    Love the answer, here's another item for the list - work to see a bigger picture than your own job if you want to be a lead or manager - in that role you have to see how the team is getting work done... before you get promoted, you'll need to demonstrate that you have the perspective and judgement to help a team accomplish a bigger goal - in the meantime, connecting your work to the big goal of your current team helps grow that understanding. Also - get a mentor and get feedback, tips and additional perspective from the mentor. And look for advocates. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 21:12
  • 2
    I would add studying on your own time to become an expert on whatever interests you most. To catch up on anything you either have to do more in same amount of time or you have to spend more time or both. Spending extra time is a more predictable and less frantic way to catch up. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 22:42
  • 4
    Very risky 2. Always volunteer for tasks that no one else wants. Even if it sounds awful. Often people avoid tasks that sound hard but turn out to be easy once you are working on it. There is a difference between a tedious task, a hard one, and a crappy one which seems easy. Always secure your back-up (e.g a colleague) or be sure failure is an option. You don't want be a guy who "doesn't know, that he doesn't know". Blindly overeager people cannot be trusted with self-assessment.
    – luk32
    Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 12:41

You don't catch up, you live your own life.

I had a stroke from all of the stress of a previous position, and if I though the way you are thinking, I'd give myself another. Drop it. Be the best that you can be and pay no attention to the progress of anyone else. You get ahead by being focused on the job, not the coworker.

Take the experiences in life for what they are and build on them. Some people hit their stride earlier than others, some burn out, some never fully get up to speed.

All of them are irrelevant.

What YOU do from this point on is what counts. There is no 'catching up' because you have nothing to catch but your own dreams.

  • You did put that beautifully. So true for many things in life. +1 Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 1:41

One of the best ways to catch up, in terms of wages and titles, is by changing jobs moderately frequently. This Forbes article sums it up pretty well. I'm a little surprised no one is citing any data here as there is actually quite a bit of data on this topic.

On salary, the basic idea is that your boss isn't often going to offer you dramatically more money for doing basically the same job. Someone else might though. It is very common in job negotiations to hear "I'm making $xx/yr right now. Here's why you should pay me 25% more than that to do this job."

On title, other companies often have more opportunities than yours. If you're in a situation where your boss is 3 years older than you and loves his job, its pretty unlikely that you're going to get promoted to that spot any time soon. Another company may be opening a new department that needs a manager though and you can get in there.

  • 1
    This was good advice for a fresh-out forty years ago (I followed it myself), and it is remains good advice. Changing jobs every other year or so works quite nicely for the first six to ten years of ones career, and that is exactly where the questioner is. Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 1:08

If you want to catch up - then be better.

  • know your tech better
  • know your industry better
  • brown nose the bosses better
  • be better at getting lucky and have higher ups leave

I don't know what the hell you are talking about with catching up and volunteering - nonsense talk. Also unless you were in college 20 years your age means nothing. Time spent at a company is just a small factor in moving up to higher positions.

Have you tried doing your job better than anyone you work with? Take care of that step then come on here and ask "Why is my performance better but I am not climbing the company ladder as fast?"

  • This is the best answer: live up to your potential. So few do. Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 21:01
  • Agreed. You didn't mention what field you're in, but if it's a fast-changing field, being late to the game may be an advantage. You can learn the new without unlearning the old. Commented Mar 29, 2016 at 19:33

It shouldn't - and doesn't - matter to you.

I'm in my second career. In the first, I was something of a high-flyer, and by the age of 30 was managing people 15 or 20 years older than me.

Later I changed career, and now find myself working alongside peers who are literally half my age.

Neither situation - being younger or older than everyone else - makes the slightest bit of difference. You are you, with your own set of experiences, skills and knowledge; the company certainly does appreciate the experience you've gained before graduating and while volunteering. There is really no need to "catch up" to anyone else.

  • Second that, though in my case it's like 3rd or 4th career :-) First thing you do is you judge people - yourself as well as others - by their abilities, not their age, no more than you would by their sex or race. Second, you decide what YOU want, not where you are in relation to others. If you really want to be a team leader/manager (gawd knows why, but I suppose it's like being a garbage collector - someone has to do it), you figure out what you need to do to get to that position, and do it if you can.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 19:04

Sorry, but to paraphrase Henry Rollins on making up sleep, there is no catching up. You either work or you don't. Eventually you'll have experience and with that you'll either parley it into higher-level positions or you won't. That time you spent doing other things is gone and you're not going to get it back. Nor should you worry about this, unless you work in a profession that requires people to be underneath a certain age that you are quickly approaching.

In fact, I think that an awful lot of the time, time in your life spent doing things other than your current profession can be an advantage, not a disadvantage. It all depends on how you look at it and how you market yourself. I also took a while to get through college and then afterwards spent several years in a job completely outside of the industry I am currently in. I did customer service and technical support then; I do software development now. This has actually helped me more than it's hindered me because I my path got me a lot of those "soft skills" that a lot of devs who major in CS and then do nothing but work in dev from the day they get their degree ever get. It's a selling point I get to use to differentiate myself from other candidates with similar experience, not anything close to a bad thing.

As for the frustration, the key here is to not compare yourself with others but only with yourself. We live in an outward-looking world so I understand that is not easy, but it's kind of vital. If you have to do so, actually remind yourself of why you're where you are when you see younger folks get promotions, etc. in front of you: say "this person has been working in this profession for much longer than I have because I got to do X and they never did." In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter what other people get, as long as you're getting yours.

  • 5
    You can catch up on sleep. It is a medically proven fact and when I used to manage the weekend shifts I did it every week. If you sleep 4x5 hours and then sleep 12 hours for 3 days your body can "catch up". Even it its not 100% it still helps tremendously. Henry Rollins is a genius but sometimes he is just talking out of his ass because everything pisses him off.
    – blankip
    Commented Mar 28, 2016 at 19:08
  • @blankip -- I don't know who Henry Rollins is (okay, now I do; I can google). While he's not a medical expert, what he said has a ring of truth. There's a growing boatload of medical evidence that lack of sleep is a key cause in deposition of beta-amyloids, which in turn is a key cause of memory loss and eventually, Alzheimer's. Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 0:35
  • @DavidHammen - well then google and understand before you comment.
    – blankip
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 2:38
  • I googled. Just because he's a musician (and other things) does not mean that what he said was nonsense. Recovering from the long-term damage that months or years of nights without adequate sleep takes a long time. Some neurologists go so far as to say there is no catching up on lost sleep. That's exactly what my neurologist told me when he saw the bags under my eyes. (I don't have Alzheimer's or Parkinson's (yet), but I do have a peripherally related neurological disorder which apparently has a similar cause. It's a matter of where in the brain the poisons accumulate.) Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 2:49
  • @DavidHammen - dammit read his skit. He isn't talking about long-term sleep problems. Now I have asked you to read before commenting twice.
    – blankip
    Commented Mar 30, 2016 at 5:23

It's very simple - you just have to work much harder than all the other people. It's kind of like forest run competition - your colleagues started earlier, and they already know lots of the issus with the terrain, and had a chance to adapt to the reality of the run. You need to run faster and be better at avoiding obstacles and finding shortcuts. That squeezing as much return on the investment you made as possible, and working harder.

Right now, you have invested a substantial amount of your time in getting an education. If you're lucky, you'll reap a return on that investment in time, but right now, you're probably not any more valuable that someone who didn't go to a single university - unless some of your schools involved commercial practice (which doesn't seem to be the case). You need to find ways to use your school-knowledge to improve your practical abilities, and you may also need to "catch up" in the social affairs.

Most likely, your schools gave you a lot of understanding of theories and underlying principles of what you do. This gives you a great ground for building yourself to be a very adaptable worker - ideally, you should be more capable at finding flaws and possible issues with whatever you're developing (I assume you didn't study 12 universities to go flipping burgers in McDonald's :)). This is immensely valuable, but it also has to be combined with practical experience. Build that - at work, and at home. Find projects that allow you to test your limits, explore boundaries of your abilities and knowledge. Keep pushing forward.

But that's just the technical side. If you want to be in a leadership position, you need to also have great social skills, and learn to lead. That means taking responsibility, understanding the people you work with, helping them while actually being helpful rather than obnoxious... It's a lot of work. Depending on your environment and specialization, the difficulty changes a lot - in many places I've seen, most people are barely improving at all once they reach a comfortable place; that gives you a great way of catching up and pulling ahead. In others, people spend their whole day working and improving, and you'll need to use up your investment to the limit if you ever want to catch up - that's the hard road, but it's also extremely satisfying, and often "profitable" (in terms of both money and experience).

Finally, don't assume that leadership is automatically something you want as a role. Some people just don't, and there's nothing really wrong with that. A good leader is a combination of a teacher, a nurse and a friend - and you'll surely find many more shoes to fill in that regard. In some ways, being a working expert is easier - in others, being a leader is easier. And I have to say that again, in most places I've seen, there's been a desperate need of good leaders.

All that said, even with your best effort, it might very well be that you will never catch up to the best. "Multiple universities" means a huge amount of time lost, and when competing with people who continually improve, may be a loss you'll never recover. Especially if what you were studying isn't relevant enough for your work. Despite what ads might say, education is not an investment without risk and with a guaranteed reward - it's an investment like any other, and you need to be calculating the investment, the risk and the expected reward continuously. But don't worry, even if this turns out to be the case, most people make mistakes, and most mistakes are mostly recoverable. You'll likely still be able to stay ahead of the pack if you just invest enough and into the right things :)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .