“Should I include my [freelance / pro-bono / academic / other outside experience] on my resume?”
It’s a phrase I hear often when interviewing job seekers and career changers during the resume building process. The truth is, the most relevant experience will always be the key determinator hiring managers are looking for. But don’t overlook the non-traditional skill sets and attributes that – while not directly related to the position you’re seeking – can still add value.
These might be things that suggest underlying skills and qualities that can benefit any job – things like leadership, work ethic, creativity, and ability to focus under pressure. While these might seem like the sort of broadly applicable terms everyone includes on their resume, the strategy lies in illustrating these attributes with a specific context. In other words, what activities are you participating in that have helped you build these qualities?
And those activities can range from personal hobbies to leadership positions, athletic activities, or other professional/non-professional achievements.
Here are a few examples and how you can spin them to speak directly to the value they bring to an employer:
Collegiate or Competitive Athletics
Whether you were a Division I athlete in college, an avid marathoner, or spent a season as captain of your community softball team, athletics can help highlight leadership and teamwork skills on a resume. Reason being, many of these activities require a high degree of self-management, dedication, time management, and focus to be part of a team, train as an athlete, or participate in competitive fitness competitions (i.e. Spartan Race, Iron Man, Tough Mudder). An employer might look favorably upon someone with that skill set, with the assumption that such work ethic would be reflected in professional performance.
Definitely include any athletic activities in which you held a leadership role – such as a team captain or trainer role. Again, these activities emphasize leadership potential and work ethic. Leading an athletic team requires many of the qualities it takes to direct a team in a professional setting and may give a candidate the extra boost they need to stand out.
These could be included under an “Additional Experience” section, or as a footnote labeled “Personal Information” at the bottom of your resume.
Scouts & Military Experience
Much like athletics, earning an Eagle Scout or similar designation required extensive time, commitment, and training, and can speak to qualities like leadership, resourcefulness, work ethic, and time management skills. The same holds true for military experience.
Military experience can also fall under the Professional Experience category if your role required skills or experience that are relevant to the work you’re targeting. Otherwise, you may consider including it with a brief description under the “Additional Experience ” or “Leadership” sections.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion is a huge area for organizations right now, as they strive to create a more inclusive culture and attract the best talent. While many larger organizations have entire role and departments dedicated to the DEI function, it’s important to highlight any experience you have contributing to culture building in your own organization. Whether it’s starting a working group or internship program for diverse talent, or creating a safe space for employees within a larger organization, creating more equitable work places is an important part of today’s professional landscape.
And if it’s an area that you’re interested in or feel you can bring value to your own organization, seek out DEI or HR-related trainings that can help you be an advocate for diversity and inclusion.
Sommelier Training & Certification
This is something I’ve seen more than once on a resume, and often with job seekers who have no affiliation whatsoever with the food, beverage, or hospitality spaces. Why? Because training for a certification (and especially master designation) as a sommelier is notoriously difficult. It requires extensive and tedious study, followed by a rigorous examination. Someone with these types of credentials definitely exhibits commitment, dedication, ability to retain a high volume of detailed information, and grace under pressure.
Political / Humanitarian / Environmental Canvassing
Ever been stopped by one of those folks on the street asking if you “have a moment to talk about the environment”? Canvassing for donations may seem like an entry-level job, but those who succeed do so because they are incredibly personable, articulate, and convincing in their presentation. In other words, they have exceptional interpersonal and communication skills.
For some, this may be a component of their job – particularly in communications. But even if you’ve volunteered with an organization dedicated to crisis or disaster relief, chances are you’ve demonstrated that you can lead under pressure, take direction, respond quickly and effectively to unexpected circumstances, and work well in unstructured or stressful environments. Additionally, you may have had to do all these while dealing with highly emotional individuals, which speaks to the qualities of a strong and diplomatic leader.
Job seekers I speak to often have difficulty looking objectively at their own experience and skill set and extracting the points they feel are worthwhile. My suggestion? Enlist the assistance of a friend or colleague to help you narrow in on what things to highlight – and where your outside activities may actually be helping you build skills that strengthen the quality of work you do in the office.
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