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3 Compelling Ways to Market Your Non-Traditional Work History

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One of the great things about living in a capitalist economy is that there is quite literally a business for everything.

Candidates have come into my office with all kinds of projects and jobs. I’ve heard job applicants talk about coordinating the production of an iPhone App, raising money for a village in Africa, working in a business that plays the middle man between lottery winners and the government, and more.

The coolest jobs are often some of the most unconventional, which makes it difficult to translate that experience into a marketable resume should you ever find yourself needing or wanting to enter the traditional workforce.

Many of these candidates ask for assistance because while they may have spectacular experience, putting a non-traditional job on paper sometimes leaves hiring managers scratching their heads. The good news is that you can tailor your resume to meet the needs of the job while still touting your work history.

Here’s how:

1. Think about your transferable skills

If you have an unconventional or just plain random work history, it’s your job to find a way to make your resume functional. That means identifying a skill set that’s transferable and using it as your angle.

For instance, let’s say you worked for a non-profit by raising funds and then also sold Mary Kay to make some extra money. In both cases, you had essentially the same goal: get someone to give you their money by using your marketing and selling skills. As a result, you would focus on how your sales abilities, whether you’re selling a product or a good cause.

2. Call yourself an employee when you can

It’s common these days to come across candidates who ran their own small businesses and had to close them down because of the recession. While I personally love go-getters and entrepreneurs, they can run into some real problems when entering the traditional workforce.

The biggest problem is credibility. You can have all the legal documentation in the world, but you still won’t have the professional reference of a superior, making it difficult for someone to attest to your work abilities. The other issue is that anyone can say they ran a business, and sometimes they’re lying.

You need to list these businesses, of course, but don’t call yourself the owner or president on your resume. Instead, simply state the tasks that you accomplished, such as sales or operations, and when possible, show how you worked as part of a team. When the time comes for an interview, make sure you can quantify those accomplishments; that will help the interviewer feel confident you’re telling the truth.

3. Always Stay Honest, But Don’t Say Too Much

When describing your entrepreneurial pursuits, keep it short and simple, just like you would if you worked for a legacy company. There’s no need to explain that your second cousin was your partner in XYZ business venture or that you were helping a friend with their catering business. Simply say that you worked at said company and what you accomplished, not why you did it.

Resumes are not autobiographies; rather, they should be a marketing tool to help you get a job. For this reason, it’s okay to get a little creative while staying honest – especially if you come from a non-traditional line of work.

Amanda Abella is a personnel administrator for a Miami-based employment agency and a freelance writer. She also runs Grad Meets World, a popular Gen Y blog where she discusses health, career, personal finance, entrepreneurship, and more.

17 comments

    • Wow, I’d really have to think about that. The lottery guy was pretty wacky, I didn’t even know a business like that existed or that it was so lucrative! I’m sure I’ve had much crazier though.

  1. This is great – I often get resumes of folks who have entrepreneurial experience and no idea how to present it – these are some really, really good ways to deal with the challenge. Thank you!

  2. Focusing on your entrepreneurial experience–in the right way–will show how competent and self-motivated you are, and will help you stand out from the competition. Entrepreneurs are problem-solvers, and EVERY business wants people who are self-motivated and can solve problems. Focus on those skills–as well as what other SPECIFIC value you can bring to the company you’ve applied for, and you’ll make yourself stand out.

    Treating the job hunt like an experiment is also a good way to approach it. Rather than create your “perfect” resume or cover letter, try different things. Change things about your resume and cover letter to stand out from the crowd; see what works and what doesn’t, and then incrementally hone in on the things that work, and optimize those things to get noticed more. Then during the interview process, focus on those things, and show exactly–specifically–what you’d bring to the company. Find out all you can about the company and what problems they face, and give SPECIFIC ideas on how you’d fix those problems. Everyone wants their problems to go away, and if you can show that, you’ll have a good chance at writing your own ticket.

    Greg Miliates
    http://www.StartMyConsultingBusiness.com

  3. Thanks Amanda, this has been a problem for me for years. I’ve been lucky enough to have my brother’s help in the past. But you’ve worded this in a way that will help me in the future.

    Thanks again! 😀

  4. Pingback: Newsflash: Forget What They Told You in School + 3 Tips for Helping You Through this Job Market | Grad Meets World

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