A common (perhaps the most common) way that self-taught persons are able to substantiate their self-learning to employers is through a portfolio (e.g. see this question). For example, a self-taught software developer can develop a software portfolio, or a self-taught journalist can build a portfolio of articles.

How can someone who is self-taught in a field that is not conducive to building a portfolio make a convincing case of their self-taught skills? For example, if someone has self-studied the skills of a Power Plant Safety Inspector (e.g. by reading books, reading case studies, etc.), it would be difficult (if not impossible) for them to build a portfolio of safety inspection reports without risking getting arrested for trespassing inside power plants or at least getting escorted off the property and threatened. Similarly, someone who has taught themselves the skillset of a Warehouse Shift Supervisor through some combination of innate talent, perseverance, and literacy might not actually have the resources to set up a sufficiently realistic warehouse shift simulator to build up a convincing portfolio of simulated supervisory shift interventions.

One possible way could be to pass some sort of certification exam, but many certifications now require substantial documentable formal experience and/or education that a self-taught person may not have.

For the purposes of this question, we are talking about a person who truly does have the skills (albeit self-taught), not an incompetent person who thinks he can do it but actually can't.

The question Effectively adding “Self-taught” skills on your Resume isn't actually what I am looking for because it is about the software industry specifically (one that is conducive to portfolio building) and the answer provided is more or less "get experience" or "build a portfolio", and I am asking about situations where neither of those are realistic. The question How to approach a company looking for a job self-taught, without formal qualifications? is also about software jobs specifically.

  • 2
    Are you able to share the specific skill you are talking about? Because in the examples given, a lack of practical experience would lead me to ignore your self taught skills unless I was super desperate to hire someone and the other candidates didn't even claim to be self taught. Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 1:26
  • @Maybe_Factor I wanted to keep the question from becoming too narrow. If you have an answer for one particular field, go ahead and answer it for that field. E.g. "In the case of a self-taught Warehouse Shift Supervisor, I would expect them to choose between writing three 10-20 page papers on current topics in the industry or paying $500 to undergo testing in the National Institute of Warehouse Shift Supervision's new Virtual Reality Holodeck Practical Skills Testing and Evaluation System 3000, completing Modules 1-5, and submitting their score report to me." Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 1:40
  • 3
    The "power plant safety inspector" is rather contrived, as this is simply not something you get to do without the proper certification (and with good reasons). I don't think that a "self-taught power plant safety inspector" exists; not in the Western world, anyway. I think a better example might be something like a social worker, teacher, or other "people" job (since you can't put "people" on a portfolio). Other examples might be a cook or car mechanic (two areas where autodidacts are reasonable common I believe). Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 4:09
  • Are you asking "self-taught with no actual, practical experience", or did you have something in mind where you can actually DO the thing you'v taught yourself? Because in both your examples, being self-taught is useless as you've probably never actually done the job.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 5:29
  • 2
    @RobertColumbia how do you know you can do it, if you've never ACTUALLY done it? That sounds more like overconfidence than ability.
    – Erik
    Commented Apr 7, 2017 at 19:05

3 Answers 3


Be sure to check into certification first, as your best bet is to exhaust all "proof" options you can. With that complete, look for an internship in the industry you want to work for. Everyone seems to assume these are just for new graduates or other "established" people, but most times if you're willing to work and prove to an intern coordinator that you're capable, you might be able to force a foot in the door.

Intern Coordinator is going to ask you how you know what you do, what you know, etc. Be honest and open, answer the questions they have, or that the person offering the internship has. I got my first programming job with no degree (they wanted a BS) by simply applying, going to their testing and interview and making my impression that way. There is a lot to be said for competence.


From the hiring perspective there is very little difference between having the skill set without being able to prove it and thinking you have the skills but don't, hiring you would be fairly large gamble.

Many fields which aren't conducive to portfolio building require evidence of proficiency, typically certification, especially if risk is involved either in safety or cost. Basically you aren't doing your due diligence if you accept that a self taught person has all of the required skills to be competent when lack of competence costs big money or lives. Some examples here would be "Power Plant Safety Inspector", crane operator, or actuary. The entire purpose of these certifications is to differentiate between those who can and those who think they can.


I would suggest including a thorough description of what you know about the skills on your CV. e.g. For Java software development skills, you might talk about OOP concepts or best practices as well as your knowledge of if/else, while/for loops, etc.

If you can make yourself sound confident of your abilities and competent in that skill, that would likely be enough to get you an interview where you will likely be asked to expand on how you self taught, and maybe take some basic tests to make sure you really know what you're talking about.

You must log in to answer this question.

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