Surprising but often true: in applying to jobs, you may find your professional experience undervalued or disregarded by recruiters and hiring managers. Learn how to overcome this conundrum and effectively share the value you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
“Why don’t people seem to care about my professional experience?”
This question bedevils many mid-senior career workers who suddenly find themselves looking for a new job. They often run into an unexpected wall when they apply to jobs that they think they should qualify for. For some reason, it appears that recruiters and hiring managers are not impressed by their years of professional experience. Somehow, what should be their biggest asset is met with a shrug and a yawn.
What’s Going On Here?
No, this is not the way it used to work. In the past, your education and training qualified you for an enduring career. Your professional experience was a merit badge that demonstrated your ability to assume responsibility and perform well. But today’s economy is changing so fast that what worked in the past may no longer work in the present.
With virtually every industry impacted by digital disruption, younger managers are often unsure about older job applicants whom they fear may not be as up-to-date or as adaptable as younger workers. In this context, relying reflexively on past experience can be a real handicap if it prevents you from opening to or experimenting with new ideas or new strategies.
Why Experience is Under-recognized
Remember that younger professionals with far less experience may have a tough time understanding the value of experience. While it may seem obvious to you because you’ve lived through it, think back to your early years. You may have understood that older workers had been around the company for longer, and had done their job for longer, but you didn’t have the perspective to understand what they had learned. You didn’t yet have the experience of having won and lost important deals. You didn’t yet have a network of connections that you had built painstakingly over time, knocking on many doors before you finally began getting traction.
So from the point of view of someone with less experience, you talking about your extensive experience is hard for them to understand, and it can come across as arrogance. Or it makes them feel intimidated or awkward because they have no reference point or comparable experience to share.
Document Your Value
We were taught to list our positions and our job titles on our resumes and to bullet the key responsibilities we held in those positions. In today’s obsessively skills-based hiring environment, those bullets need to define and include the skills you used or learned in each position.
Most importantly, indicate the outcomes you achieved in each position. Include quantitative as well as qualitative metrics to illustrate what you accomplished.
Remember that the average recruiter or hiring manager spends six seconds skimming a resume. You have to grab their attention and connect the dots for them. Concisely describe how what you did in that position actually “moved the needle.”
You also must reference your working relationships. This will not only include the supervisor you reported to, but the peer relationships you established within your team, and across the organization. In today’s flatter, more team-based organizational matrix, you need to demonstrate your success at building and successfully leveraging business relationships.
This is also true for relationships outside of your company but within your sector. Sure, this is a must for sales and marketing positions, but any position today creates value for the organization by building connections and participating in the broader industry community.
Be Consistent Across Platforms and Venues
Make sure that your resume and LinkedIn profile “Experience” section line up. Don’t revise one without revising the other accordingly. They are essentially the same information set. You want to make sure someone who first connects with you on LinkedIn will find your resume consistent when you submit it to them for a job application.
Draft your resume and LinkedIn “Experience” section to lay the groundwork for your eventual job interview. The information and layout should function as a cheat sheet for that interview. Your bullets should be the headlines of the key topics you will want to discuss with the interviewer. Anticipate the questions that you will be asked in your interview, and rehearse how you will answer those questions by referring back to your resume and “Experience” section.
This will present a consistent and understandable narrative that the interviewer will be able to reference when they talk about you and their interview experience with the rest of the hiring team.
Present Your Experience as a Portfolio, Not a List
Your career is not just a list of jobs. It is an unfolding narrative of lessons, achievements, and growth. Take stock of what you’ve done over your many years in your field and define the key domains that you have mastered. Spell out how each position relates to one or more of these domains. Talk about how you grew your knowledge and abilities in these areas through your experiences and achievements.
Domains could include staff development, technology transformation, change management, and other pertinent business concentrations in your field. These domains may not have been your primary job focus, but over time these are proficiencies you gravitated towards and developed.
Over time, your work in these domains forms a unique web of value that distinguishes you from others. The intersectionality of these components makes you a more strategic candidate with a higher-level perspective. In this context, your experience begins to make sense as an actionable and relevant value to take on today’s challenges.
Spell Out the Context as Case Studies
The range of situations and circumstances that have shaped you are great assets. But it is up to you to help people understand how all the pieces fit together. Describe how your overall portfolio of experiences makes you a stronger candidate. You can’t rely on or expect others (specifically the recruiters and hiring managers you’re targeting) to figure this out for themselves.
You have to learn to describe the context and the history of how you have combined these disparate skills and talents to create value in your work.
To present your portfolio, you will want to reflect on your career to date and look for case studies from your past work. Show how you applied your experience in synergistic ways. Perhaps you used the relationships you built with customers over many years to inform and support the development of new products or services. Perhaps you developed and worked on your presentation and public speaking skills to the point where you became a trusted spokesperson for your team. Perhaps this led to you representing your company at conferences or with industry associations and trade groups.
Whatever your story and strengths may be, use your “About” section of your LinkedIn profile to spell out how your synergistic ability created value. This will demonstrate your ability to think critically and strategically.
Focus on Today, Not Yesterday
You may feel that your experience entitles you to share your opinion about how to best address or solve a problem. And you may in fact be correct. But the inexperience of the people you’re trying to communicate with will likely doom this honest attempt at communication to failure.
Your logic makes sense. In order for them to understand what you’re proposing, it will help them to understand how you arrived at this proposal. Ironically, to be effective, you need to flip the script.
You will be more effective by simply addressing the problem or issue without first citing your experience as a justification. Your younger colleagues will be working in the realm of ideas, not experiences. So apply the wisdom or appropriateness of your ideas. But don’t feel the need to justify them by referencing your experience to do so.
Simply provide a good idea or a good approach. Back it up by laying out the step-by-step explanation or projected milestones. No one has to know the history of how you came up with it. Let them first be impressed and excited about it. Then, if they’re curious, you can tell them the backstory.
Try this out in your job interview as you’re talking about the company and the role you’re interviewing for. Stick to the problems the company is looking to solve and the responsibilities of the position. Offer strategies, scenarios, and suggestions by referencing what’s going on in your business today, not by drawing from the past.
Be a Mentor Not a Teacher
Mentoring is not the same as teaching. Teaching is providing specific knowledge, technique, or direction for the student to apply. Mentoring is providing understanding, reflection, insight, and support so that the mentee can develop their own way forward. If teaching is deductive, leading many people to deliver the same result, mentoring is inductive, allowing many people to figure out their own individual way of achieving their result.
Your experience may be valuable in teaching others skills or techniques. But you may find it more valuable to use your experience as a mentor. In the one-on-one interaction with a mentee, listen, empathize, and provide compassionate understanding. That process creates a greater personal connection where your mentee will be able to develop a greater appreciation for your experience. They will be able to better understand how they can apply its underlying value to their own situation. They will extract what they need based on who they are and how they approach their work.
Your Professionalism Matters
Unfortunately, recruiters and hiring managers these days are too focused on skills. They rely too much on applicant tracking systems (ATS) to evaluate candidates. They often miss or forget to include the important personal character qualities that indicate a strong candidate who will perform well in a position.
Your professionalism is not about the job you can do, it’s about how you can do the job. Whatever you do, your professionalism is what drives you to consistently pursue and achieve results. It’s what underpins your confidence, your initiative, your global awareness, and your interpersonal abilities.
How to Talk About Your Professionalism
Skills are great, but as a more experienced professional, you offer much more than skills. You offer critical insight, strategic thinking, and wisdom. Being able to define them and express them can shift a recruiter’s or a hiring manager’s focus and awareness of what you could provide beyond mere skills.
Here are the key topics you want to be able to address::
- Your competence in the work that you do;
- Your domain knowledge and how it has evolved and grown over the course of your career;
- Your diligence and work ethic, along with the character-building experiences that have taught you to become increasingly effective in your work, and in your ability to deliver higher and higher quality work;
- Your integrity and authenticity as a professional, demanding a high level of accountability and responsibility for your work; and
- The respect you extend to your team and to the organization, understanding and accepting your responsibilities, and pledging to do your best work.
Start Here: Gather References and Recommendations
Head off and prevent dismissive attitudes about your professional experience by curating and publishing appropriate testimonials to your LinkedIn “Recommendations” section.
If you can, draw from your most recent on-the-job colleagues and work with them to help craft brief testimonials that point to the relevance and applicability of your experience. Use the portfolio concept discussed above. Your references should speak to the case studies you mention and confirm the takeaways and results you highlight.
These recommendations are a powerful form of social proof that adds persuasion and validation to the compelling portrait you are conveying.
Pulling your recommendations together will remind you why your experience matters, and will help boost your confidence as you venture out into the job market. Supported by your colleagues, you’ll be well on your way to making a compelling case for why your experience is an unparalleled asset that can benefit your prospective employer.