Career advice

How to showcase your self-taught skills to potential employers

While reading through job ads in search of your next exciting opportunity, you've probably noticed that more and more jobs nowadays are asking for an extensive list of credentials and technical certifications just to qualify. This can be discouraging if you know you have the ability to do the job, but you don't have the qualifications on paper that the employer is asking for.

This is a dilemma faced by many job seekers who are self-taught or who learned their skills on the job rather than through formal education. You shouldn't let the lack of a paper certificate hold you back from applying to a job where you have the skills to succeed. You just need to know how to showcase your self-taught skills to potential employers.

Traditionally, it was suggested that you simply label your skills acquired outside of a formal education setting as being 'self-taught.' Like this, for example:

Graphic design [Self-taught]

These days, however, the internet has made learning new skills so much easier and more accessible, and rapid advances in technology have many people working with programs and developments that didn't even exist when they were in school, that singling out the abilities you learned independently seems likely to clutter up your resume.

How to demonstrate your self-taught skills on your resume

Focus on the positive. When you compete for jobs with your self-taught skills, you will be facing off against candidates with the formal education that the employer is looking for. While this initially puts you at a disadvantage, there are ways to make it work for you.

The fact that you were able to teach yourself the sought-after abilities for the job demonstrates that you are disciplined, able to learn independently, and have a genuine passion - and perhaps even some natural talent - for the subject matter. All of these can make you a more desirable candidate for the job. Not to mention that many people graduate from programs without gaining a great deal of notable ability in their field of study. The certificate itself was the desired outcome.

When you are self-taught, gaining practical skills is the ultimate goal.

Let your skills speak for themselves

On your resume, focus on the skills that you have that are most relevant to the job you are applying for. Describe the times you have used these abilities on the job in your past roles and what you were able to accomplish with them.

If you are trying to break into a new sector with your self-taught skills, and you do not have professional experience yet, highlight how you acquired your abilities and what you have done with them outside of a workplace setting.

For example:

Web production. I have designed, published, and maintained websites for my creative work and for a local event that I support. This included writing copy for the web, selecting and cropping images, and using basic HTML and CSS as well as Content Management Systems. You can see my work online here [include a link to your websites.

In this scenario, any employer who is looking to hire someone to publish and maintain online content for them will see that you have the technical abilities to do the job, regardless of what you studied in school.

The same can be true for video production, photography, graphic design, writing, programming, and many other fields where you can back up your self-taught skills with a portfolio of work you have done with them.

Other skills such as leadership, planning, and organization are often developed through practical usage but can be more difficult to demonstrate in a portfolio. Still, abilities like these are sought-after by employers across industries and can be valuable assets to your career. Consider listing occasions when you have demonstrated using these as accomplishments on your resume.

For example:

Organized an art crawl to promote community artists. This involved recruiting artists to participate, acquiring the necessary permit from the city, designing and distributing posters and promotional materials, and media and audience outreach. The event is now in its third year.


I was the editor of the school newspaper. This was an online publication for staff and students. I assigned stories, managed deadlines, proofread final copy, and published material online, while maintaining editorial standards, ensuring fair coverage for a wide variety of interests, and integrating the use of video and interactive content for the first time.

If you can't think of any significant accomplishments that you have made with your self-taught skills, consider volunteering for some projects at school or in your community where you can use your abilities to help towards a shared goal. This can give you practical experience, a portfolio story to tell in future job interviews, and potential references who can speak to the value of your work. Plus, you'll be helping people.

With the rise of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) available for anyone to enroll and learn a new subject, as well as YouTube instructional videos, and many other methods of acquiring information at our fingertips, being self-taught at a valuable skill is becoming more common.

Apply for jobs based on your ability to successfully perform the duties of the role and make a valuable contribution, not whether or not you have the certificate to prove this. Instead, prove your skills with a portfolio of your work and/or a list of accomplishments you have achieved through the use of your abilities in the real world.

When you are given that chance to showcase your skills, always go the extra mile. Show them what you can do. Every chance you have to contribute, whether it is a paid professional gig or a volunteer project, is an opportunity to build your network and your body of work. All career growth stems from this.

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