Making the Most of Your Non-Technical Experience

Recent grads often assume that employers don’t care about their non-technical work experience. So as some recently noted on Dice Discussions, they omit miscellaneous part-time and summer jobs from their resumes. But any experience is better than none and employers don’t care how you acquire the required skills and competencies. The key is to relate summer gigs or volunteer work to the job you’re seeking and highlight your transferable skills in addition to the technical expertise and soft skills you acquired through student projects and internships.

For example, a Dice job posting for an entry-level developer asks for excellent written and verbal communication skills and the ability to work closely with the project team to ensure high quality and on-time deliverables. Waiting on customers requires great patience and communication skills and you could show your propensity for teamwork by mentioning a class project, committee role or describing how you partnered with classmates to coordinate a campus fundraiser or freshmen orientation.

A job description for an entry-level technical analyst seeks someone who has the poise, confidence and professional maturity to interface with senior-level executives. Perhaps you regularly talked with deans and professors or kibitzed with alums while serving as a campus host during homecoming or other events. If so, reference the required skills on your resume and cite your experience as the source.

Be specific

Don’t assume that the reviewer will understand how your non-technical job duties or responsibilities created desirable competencies. Connect the dots for the reviewer by being very specific and providing a detailed explanation. For example, perhaps you’re so reliable and mature that your manager trusted you to open the store, order supplies or train new employees. Or maybe you were a dorm advisor because of your problem-solving abilities and leadership skills.

Above all, don’t discount your non-technical work experience. If you play your cards right even a fast food job can pay dividends when you look for an entry-level IT job.

4 Responses to “Making the Most of Your Non-Technical Experience”

  1. Yes and no. While non-technical experience can certainly be used to highlight soft skills such as the ones you enumerated, and can prevent a resume from being full of gaps, employers care little about soft skills. They care only about hard skills, meaning complete fluency in at least a half-dozen different programming languages and technologies, along with an extensive portfolio.

    For example, Here is a list of the requirements from an actual job ad for a “Web Applications Manager”:

    ——————-For this role, you must have:
    – Experience of using and managing CMS solutions
    – Excellent communication and thinking skills
    – Experience publishing on the Web and in portal environments
    – Good practical knowledge of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and other business application software
    – HTML, CSS, JQuery, and JavaScript
    – Graphic work experience with Adobe Software
    – Must have diverse Programming Knowledge (ASP, PHP, ASP.NET, Oracle, AJAX, SQL)

    The ideal candidate has development team leadership experience and experience supporting applications that are available 24x7x365. Experience with the iterative development methodology, planning iterations and assigning work to a team is essential. This individual must have experience working in an environment with Java, ASP, ASP.Net, PHP, SQL, Relational DB, HTML/CSS, Data Modeling and Java Script. Familiarity with secure coding practices or PCI experience is also important. Strong verbal and written communication skills are critical to one’s success in this role.———————-

    I can go ahead and highlight my communication and thinking skills all I want, but my resume would be immediately thrown into the trash because I don’t have the listed (extensive) programming language fluency and Adobe graphics experience…which is what the employer REALLY wants.

    From the employer’s POV, those soft skills are “nice to have’s,” but in reality they would hire a gearhead who can code like mad but cannot read or write above a 4th grade level before they would ever hire me.

    • Greg Greenleaf

      You’re partly correct, but you’ve listed the preferred qualifications of a MANAGER. By the time one is ready to become a manager of anything, they would have most likely acquired the necessary skills in his or her career. If not, then why would you even WANT to apply for such a high position?

      • Fine. Here are the requirements for a “JUNIOR Web Developer” ad that’s running right now:

        —– * Strong HTML and web programming skills, particularly in a Linux environment
        * Strong PHP, MYSQL, AJAX
        * Solid understanding of database design, web site usability concepts, and developing solutions from scratch
        * Experience with HTTP based application interfaces – knowledge and exposure to web services highly desired
        * Knowledge of HTML 5, mobile optimization, ZEND architecture
        * Excellent project management and organizational skills
        * Detail-oriented with good customer and technical support abilities
        * Able to work independently as well as taking direction from senior staff ——

        The same thing I said above still applies. I can go ahead and highlight all the soft skills I want, but without all those languages and experience, I haven’t got a chance. The employer would rather hire someone who cannot talk to others without snarling or compose a coherent sentence, but who can code like mad.

        Apply for high positions? I can’t even apply for entry-level ones, because I’m not a kid living off my parents and therefore cannot pay for MORE classes beyond my bachelor’s, plus work for YEARS at [illegal, but who cares, right?] unpaid “internships.”

        The IT industry is one of the biggest scams going, right up there with MLM’s.