Explaining Non-Traditional Experience On Your Resume

If you looked at my resume, you might be a little confused. I started on a very traditional path through marketing organizations. I was an Associate (technically a Ninja; yes, really), then a manager, and quickly worked my way to a job in the C-suite. I thought that’s what I was supposed to do. Work hard. Get promoted. 

There was a catch I wasn’t expecting. When you get to the C-suite, you don’t actually get to do the work anymore. Instead, you’re stuck in meetings all day. I started to think the C in front of the name was code for “see me for problems.” Everything was an escalation to me while the rest of my team got to do the creative work I loved so much. 

From there, my job titles were anything but linear. I wasn’t constantly trying to find the next promotion anymore. All I wanted was work I’d love doing. I was a Managing Editor of a blog where all I did was interview smart people about recruiting and write about it. A Technical Copywriter for Fortune 100s. Thankfully, I haven’t had to look for a job. Because honestly? I don’t even know what job title I’d type into the job board. 

Navigating Non-Traditional Experience

Every day people with backgrounds as varied as mine decide to look for a job. Some are entrepreneurs looking for more reliable income. Others are mothers going back into the workforce after an extended break. Entire segments of people looking to change industries. For a million different reasons, they all want to find work they will love. They’re willing to go back to school, take an internship, and do whatever else it takes to gather that experience. 

A lot of people are looking for more money and they’re willing to change everything to get it. Many often change industry as they move from one employer to the next: “From 2019 to 2021, about 48% of workers who changed employers also found themselves in a new industry, on average each month.”

It makes the case that hiring leaders looking for a new pipeline should consider people with non-traditional experience. In fairness, most career paths aren’t so pre-defined anyway. People come from all different education and experience pathways into sales. Why not other fields? You just need to tell the right story. 

Telling Your Non-Traditional Work Experience Story

Knowing how to explain your skills to someone looking for a traditional path to a job can be the hardest part of making that transition. You’ll need to use every tool in your job search. Here are a few ways to optimize those tools for telling your non-traditional story. 

  • Cover letter: This is the one time you will be thankful you have the option to write a cover letter. In that cover letter, call out the fact that you don’t have traditional experience. You can literally just say, “I didn’t take a traditional path to gain the experience needed to do this job.” Then, at the highest level, describe equivalent experiences. Something like, “I led a team of five at a non-profit…” 
  • Resume: In the resume, look for ways to tailor your experience. If they say they’re looking for someone who has worked in a “high-demand workplace,” put that specific qualification on your resume. Make it obvious you are a match to their job posting by literally making them align in some ways verbatim. Don’t just copy and paste the entire job post. 
  • LinkedIn: The first sentence of your “About” should intrigue a recruiter. Make them want to read more. Maybe you could say, “I may not be who you think of when you think of an HR Manager.” Or hell, use the sentence I used to start this blog: “If you looked at my resume you might be confused…” 
  • Interview. Be prepared to talk about your background in summary and explain how it aligns with success in the role. 

Translate your background into a language they can understand. Practice how you explain your experience in an interview. Most importantly, don’t talk yourself out of applying to that job with non-traditional experience. If you know how to do the work, follow these instructions and apply anyway to find your next best job. 

Job Search Advice

Kat Kibben View All →

Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.

Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.

Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.

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