Let’s say your boss is a jerk, your commute sucks, and your co-workers all have stuff stuck in their teeth most of the time. You can’t complain about any of these things, but you can try to get another job.
Like that one over there. At the place with the fun Frappuccino machine in the break room. The problem is your resume looks like someone stepped on it, your “off-year” after college was a wave of bad decisions, and your best reference is your mom.
How do you string together enough from your previous jobs — some of which are less than stellar — to get a better one? The trick is in identifying transferable skills and additive skills. And maybe a few better references.
Transferable skills are what you think they are: skills you have from one job or task that are useful in another.
For example, that job you had in high school slinging pizzas taught you more than how to scrape pepperoni off the ceiling. It showed you how to listen to customers and how to convert someone who’s pissed off into someone who’s slightly less pissed off.
Maybe the new job you’re eyeing requires some customer service, too. It’s up to you to sell your transferable skill. “This job demands people be able to handle customer calls. My experience at the pizza shop taught me how to do it. Anyone who hasn’t work in retail or food service isn’t as experienced in this as me.”
Job descriptions routinely list skills the employer knows they won’t get in a candidate. This is less likely in entry-level jobs, but higher-end jobs do it all the time. Computer programmer positions often list a dozen or more languages. No programmer knows a dozen languages well. Just as almost no one knows a dozen human languages and speaks them well.
These are pie-in-the-sky skills and they know it. So go with what you’ve got and don’t let it dissuade you. Use skills and talents from previous jobs to add to their list of pie-in-the-sky ideas. If they give you a block of wood with four round holes, and you have a square peg, drill yourself a square hole.
An additive skill is anything you can add to what’s already expected in a job. If a job requires the ability to use Excel and have five years of management experience, how can you meet it if you have a cursory knowledge of Excel and three years of management?
One idea is to take the former pizza job. Maybe you took the initiative to help reconcile the register and books each night. Experience with a pencil-and-paper balance system gives you an understanding how the formulas in an Excel sheet work. You know why this is important.
Your management time at your current job is minimal, but you’ve spent the last three years working as a quality control agent. You don’t have five years of management experience, but you have two years from the pizza job. Maybe you have three years from your current job working with people and reviewing their work. That’s a lot like working in management.
Is this lying?
Not if you’re right. If a prior job, trip, class, or certification did teach you something, there’s no reason to hide it. Use your life experiences to add value to an employer. That’s what they’re looking for in any position — added value to their ongoing operation.
If you’re about to apply for a job at a lawn care business, attention to detail in a previous painting job is applicable. If you’re applying to work with a construction company, the work you did landscaping taught you the importance of a good foundation.
Reminding a hiring manager or HR department of skills you learned at previous jobs shows growth and development.