You Have More Experience Than You Think (Part I)

HendrixRemember those days when your first assignment back at school in September was to write an essay about everything you did that summer? In recalling those memories, I started to think about the way people recount and catalog their experiences.

When young professionals in particular think about their accomplishments, they don’t often view their experiences and skills as relevant to their job search. But many seemingly non-professional experiences are more relevant than you might think.

I recently wrote about how even the most professionally inactive summers may have qualities applicable to your job search. To find out why summer jobs, self-improvement and summer socials are important, read my blog post, Slacked off This Summer? Time to Turn up the Heat! on The Huffington Post.

As I was writing that post, I realized that most young people are indeed more experienced than they think. We all know that jobs and internships are relevant, but it’s important to take inventory of all your talents and experiences so you don’t freeze up when writing your resume, interviewing for your dream job or filling out your LinkedIn profile. Whether you’re crafting a cover letter for a new job or negotiating a higher salary a current one, it’s important to take inventory and gain confidence in your experiences and abilities.

How far back should you go in your analysis? As a general rule, resume-relevant experience goes back four years for students and recent grads, unless you’ve done something super impressive like winning an Olympic medal or starting your own business, which you should always mention. Read more on the timeline for recalling your achievements in my blog post, Career Q&A: Is it lame to put high school achievements on my resume?

I’ve put together a laundry list of valuable experiences and skills that may not automatically come to mind when conducting your job search. Here are the first five as a teaser — stay tuned for the rest in days to come:

Part I: Education

1. Writing. Do you write for your school newspaper? Did you start a blog? Book reviews, short stories and letters to the editor are all important uses of your communication skills. If you’ve acquired bylines, don’t be shy about showing potential employers what you’ve done. Any well-written content labeled with your name holds value in the marketplace, especially in a business world where writing skills are often lacking.

2. Course work. Every student takes classes, but what have you done specifically that demonstrates the skills and knowledge you bring to the workplace? Notable accomplishments include completing projects from beginning to end, writing research papers, building presentations or models, testing theories, conducting labs and participating in an organized debate. Be selective in what you share, but don’t be shy about it either.

3. Group projects. Though they often seem like a drag, group projects teach us a lot about ourselves and how we work with others. Did you face challenges in working with different types of people? Was your group stuck in a last minute crisis? Did you somehow save the day and pull off a killer presentation? Since most companies value teamwork, these types of experiences add value to your candidacy for a position. If you’re the go-to group leader because everyone knows you’re organized and efficient, mention this as well.

4. Second language. Are you fluent in another language from college courses or Rosetta Stone? Have you learned sign language to help a parent or aid your volunteer efforts? Whether you’ve been bilingual (or more) since birth or learned through time, knowledge of multiple languages is a significant asset in today’s marketplace.

5. Study abroad. Have you lived in another country? Did you participate in an exchange program or live with another family while overseas? The desire to live in another place shows curiosity and confidence. The ability to adjust to another culture demonstrates flexibility, resilience and resourcefulness. These traits are extremely important when adjusting to a new work environment, and employers want to know you’re adaptable.

In my next post, I’ll outline often-overlooked work and extra curricular experiences that are relevant to your job search activities. Stay tuned!

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