I was listening to a WNYC Brian Lehrer segment with hiring manager and blogger Russell B on how to handle resume gaps, and a question from a fairly recent college graduate caught my ear. Basically, he had yet to get a job in the field of his major – or anything even close – and he was wondering how to handle work experience that isn’t directly relevant (as well as no experience at all) during an interview.
Since I often get questions like this, I thought it might be useful to offer a few thoughts on the subject related to both job interviews and resumes.
So what kinds of questions might recent grads ask?
- Should I leave unrelated job experience off my resume?
- Is there a way to handle unrelated experience on my resume?
- How do I handle unrelated experience during an actual interview?
- How do I handle no experience at all? It’s like Catch 22…if you don’t have any experience, how can you get a job to get experience so you can get a job?
- Is there a way to by-pass the standard screening so I get a chance to market myself in person?
And here are my answers:
- Although you’re right to think the “wrong” experience may sometimes make it harder to get through initial stages of resume screening, not having worked at all can be a giant red flag. So the real trick is finding a way to include your experience in a way that enhances your chances, if at all possible, and at the very least doesn’t detract.
- Unrelated experience can sometimes involve transferable skills that actually relate quite well to the new job. Look carefully at the job description for the job you’re now pursuing, and then review your prior experience, looking for skills in common. Did you solve problems? Did you manage a project or come up with a new idea that helped the business? Did you use your writing skills? Look for things in common and then edit your old jobs to emphasize things you actually did that transfer easily to the new job.
- Similar to what I wrote above, when you prepare for your interview, look for stories where you made things happen, helped solve problems, took on a new project, learned a skill quickly, etc…and be able to tell the story in a way that shows a strength your new employer would value. I’ve held dozens of different jobs many of which I’d never done before…but my underlying skills are what made me successful.
- Ah…the no experience runaround. It’s so frustrating. Your best bet is to apply for jobs looking for someone eager to learn whom they can mold…err…train and use things you did in school or elsewhere (sports successes, large projects, responsible positions you held, volunteer work, small business you started, family business you helped with, etc.) Be sure to prepare ahead of time, digging through everything you’ve ever done for stories that show your strengths. As always, think of strengths an employer would care about. You want to plant the image of someone who would fit easily into the new organization and take on any task with a great attitude and determination to do your best. But if you have nothing you can draw on, walk don’t run and get some volunteer or freelance work at any pay level ASAP!
- The best way to bypass the standard screening is to network your butt off and find people in companies you want to work for, sending your resume directly to them. Use LinkedIn, contact former professors or schoolmates, ask family and friends – and don’t forget good ole in-person face-to-face networking while volunteering or attending events related to your field or whatever. You can also chat up folks you meet anywhere – pleasantly and not too pushy of course; you’re just sharing an interesting story that you are excited about – your new career!
And if anyone else has advice to offer this grad and others like him, your thoughts are very welcome!