Work experience isn't one size fits all

September 11, 2017 Caitlin Leishman

Careers are becoming less linear and employees are no longer staying in the same field or with the same company for the duration of their working years. Whether you want to change careers or enter a new field, the biggest barrier is often a lack of relevant experience. Although you may not have traditional work experience, i.e. doing the exact same job previously, there are other types of experience that can be valuable when pursuing new opportunities. These other types of relevant experience are equally beneficial in terms of gaining new competencies that you can demonstrate to a potential employer during the hiring process.

Volunteering

There are a variety of volunteer opportunities available that can serve as a bridge to a paying career in a certain field. For instance, volunteering with children can be the first step to a career with education organizations. You can even work at a specific organization in a volunteer capacity to network and gain experience before applying for career opportunities. Volunteering is a great way to expand your skills, make connections, and show you are committed to a certain field.

Academic

Having a degree certainly improves your chances of gaining certain types of employment, but it’s not the only kind of academic experience that can qualify you for a position. Certifications or online courses also give you skills and show you have genuine interest in a subject. You may even have teachers and peers you can add to your network for reference.

Personal interest

Do you have a hobby or area of interest that you’re somewhat of an expert in? Perhaps you have a great sense of fashion but don’t actually work in the field, or have a great mind for sports stats. Having knowledge makes you a more credible job candidate, and during an interview you will be able to discuss relevant trends and bring innovative ideas to the table.

Besides experience, there are a number of techniques you can use during an interview to show a potential employers that your skills are directly transferable to the desired job.

Know the relevance of your skills

Often, skills learned in pursuit of a degree lend themselves to very specific career paths. Branching out of these laid out career paths after post-secondary education can be difficult, as employers struggle to see how some skills are transferable to different fields. For instance, skills learned through an arts degree can seem limited to that field, but many are more versatile than they appear. For instance, creativity and innovation can be applied to pursuing new business deals, and being able to perform in front of an audience can make you a more effective speaker when pitching to clients.

Practicing self-leadership

Self-leadership is the ability to constantly work on improving personal behavior through goal-setting, seeking feedback, considering various viewpoints, and more. This often overlooked ability is key to driving your own professional development, and is transferable to all jobs. When interviewing, don’t forget to mention how certain experiences or training has helped you develop professionally, highlighting your adaptability. Don’t just list the same skills and qualifications over and over, with each interview, evaluate how your competencies apply specifically to the job opportunity at hand and adapt your responses accordingly.

Understand what success actually looks like

To get an idea of how to successfully transition into your new position, it’s helpful to take a look at the behaviors and abilities of established top performers. For instance, “what separates top from average performers in this role?” This is one of the reasons competencies are so effective in hiring for both the employer and the potential candidate. By quantifying and clearly providing examples of the behaviors of top performers it’s easier for candidates to determine what they need to improve upon to succeed in a position, and easier for employers to see a candidate’s value.

Career paths are no longer vertical and straightforward, and as such the way we look at skills and experience needs to change. By focusing on different types of experience and knowledge, and by knowing how to effectively communicate your abilities, you’ll be able to take the next step in your career. 

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