How to Make Irrelevant Experience Relevant During Your Job Search

You may be worried that including irrelevant work experience on your resume could hurt your chances of landing your dream job. Then again, leaving that experience out could create gaps in your timeline. How do you solve this dilemma? By figuring out how seemingly irrelevant experience is actually applicable—skills you picked up dog walking or selling shoes or waiting tables can be used in marketing, financial planning, or a career in law. It’s all in how you think about where you’ve come from and how where you’ve come from got you where you are today.

irrelevant experience relevant

Use “Big Picture” Thinking

Every position you hold becomes part of your experience as a whole. No matter how remote a previous role may seem from your current objectives you need to seriously consider how you got here from there—and what you achieved along the way. So if you’re applying for a job as a nurse after spending the last three years tending bar as you work your way through school, reflect on what else you gained in the service industry—beyond the money to pay your bills.

You worked in a fast-paced environment where you had to be organized and think on your feet, you honed your listening skills, and you worked odd, long hours.  

All of these qualities are as relevant to nursing as they are to working in the service industry. While the experience may seem unrelated on the surface, both jobs require a similar kind of candidate—and you’ll score big points by making the connection in your interview. 

Dig Deep

The relevancy of some work experience may be more difficult to uncover than others, but that doesn’t mean the connection isn’t there. You just need to dig a little deeper to find it. Speaking of digging…say that’s what you did for a while after working in sales, and now you’re applying for a position as a sales manager.

Think about why you changed direction—were you helping a friend or family member who owns their own building business? Did you take a break from office work to consider next steps? Did you need more flexibility due to other responsibilities?

Rather than hiding your detour, celebrate it. Beyond your obvious ability to work hard, talk about your versatility and willingness to pitch in and try new things. Consider that your experience outside the business world gives you a unique perspective and helps you relate to all kinds of people. Or use your physical job as a metaphor to describe how a good salesman needs to go below the surface to get to know his customer on a deeper level.

Connect the Dots

Your interviewer is busy, and may not have the time, willingness, or knowledge to connect your experience to the position. That’s your job.  

She could easily come up with her own conclusions about why you put your time working at a fast-food restaurant on your resume. You need to explain—whether she asks you or not—how the skills you gained have given you the problem-solving ability and meticulousness necessary to excel as a computer programmer.

Ultimately, thinking about the way your jobs relate won’t just help you write your resume. If you’ve considered how your roles connect, you won’t be caught by surprise when you’re asked about your background, you’ll have a better understanding of yourself and your career path, and you’ll gain confidence about where you’ve been and where you’re headed.

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