How to Make the Irrelevant Experience Relevant

Are you at a place where you feel your work experience so far has been ‘irrelevant’? There are many reasons why someone might be on this juncture: a late start, having a degree that doesn’t always have the best hiring rate, a sudden career-change, or any life situation that impelled you to switch directions.

There’s more nuance to this. We are living in a gig economy, in a remote-working scenario. Young people these days have a penchant for trying something new frequently, which results in them jumping jobs quite a lot. Hence, even without a conventional reason, many of us might end up gaining skills and experience which may seem ‘irrelevant’.

Of course, gaining experience and skills is always a positive thing, it is always indeed a ‘gain’. There is always something to learn, as we will see further in this article. So, why is it that we are talking about experience being relevant or irrelevant?

A blogpost on People Matters goes on to tell how most companies are looking for productivity and not necessarily creativity, consistency and not necessarily coincidence. They are looking for expertise to reduce the expenses that come with training someone, and looking for someone who can fit into a readymade role. Is there a way to make the ‘irrelevant’, relevant?

There are some outliers like Apple which actively look for the so called ‘irrelevant’ work experience to bring in new perspectives. Take this example given by the same People Matters blogpost of a ‘software engineer’ at Apple who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts, worked with motorcycles, taught English, made fine art photographs, taught himself computer programming, made his way through early tech start-ups and finally ended up at Apple. But this is more of an exception rather than a general rule.

So, this leads us to questions like:

  • Is there a way to include ‘irrelevant’ experience in your resume and interview career narratives in the first place? Should you? And more importantly,
  • Is there no way to use your ‘irrelevant’ work experience in a way that renders it relevant?

Should you Include Irrelevant Experience:

As an article by Zipjob spells out, there is one school of thought which says you shouldn’t list your irrelevant work experience since that could potentially cloud the other important details. This is something people with a vast work experience can keep in mind. The simple solution for them is to tailor their resume and interviews according to the job description and the position.

The tricky part is for someone who doesn’t have much (relevant) experience to begin with in the first place. That is when it becomes necessary to include whatever you have in an already limited resume and experience narrative. It becomes necessary to prove your relevance, so to speak. How do you do that?

Making the Irrelevant Relevant:

Simply put, every job, every activity does teach us something, be it hard skills or soft skills as we mentioned before. As the Zipjob article aptly points out, employers today are not just looking for ‘drones to fulfil highly-targeted tasks…they are looking for competent, accomplished team-members to help achieve the company’s goals…’

Thus, when preparing for the interview and deciding on tailoring your resume, the basic steps to take are:

  • Look at the job description and note down the key responsibilities and concerns.
  • Next you move on to thinking about your previous work experience and linking your older responsibilities to the potential new ones.

One of the keys strategies here is to think beyond the job title(s) you have held so far. It is about thinking in terms of your responsibilities and tasks, and not just your day to day. If you had a responsibility which is similar to the one you are to handle now, or which had skills which can come in handy, then that is the responsibility you want to highlight in your resume and interview.

An article by Muse gives a great example:

“Maybe you’re an office manager trying to become a marketing coordinator…In addition to your administrative responsibilities, you manage your company’s Twitter feed and help with trade show coordination. That’s marketing! So, be sure to highlight the marketing stuff you’re doing—or have done in other roles—even if it was not your primary job function.”

What Stays Relevant:

The strategy discussed above will naturally veer us into telling how problems were solved and results were achieved. Whether the skill or the experience is relevant or not, solving problems will also be relevant, and letting someone know that your problem-solving skill is transferrable is anything but irrelevant.

As we push this further, we will be able to turn any ‘irrelevant’ experience in the ever-relevant soft skills. Problem solving is necessary everywhere. So is team-work, conflict resolution, adaptability and flexibility, critical thinking, communication, writing and public speaking skills, presenting, networking, and the list goes on. They are always relevant and always used, no matter how different the fields are.

At the end of the day, companies want employees who can get work done and continue to learn. What matters is how you structure your experience so far into a narrative that tells what led you to this point. To repeat and extend what was said earlier, most companies might be looking for productivity and not necessarily creativity, consistency and not necessarily coincidence but if you can convince them that this is what you can offer with your current supposed ‘irrelevant’ work experience, perhaps it is not so irrelevant.