No Experience? No Problem. How to Sell a Lateral Career Move

Last Updated Sep 2, 2009 7:54 AM EDT

How to get a job when you don't have relevant experienceWhen Stanford professor Tina Seelig spoke to Entry-Level Rebel a couple of weeks ago she offered young workers a ton of off-beat career advice, including a tip to embrace lateral career moves. "It may not look as though you are moving up quickly, but you are gaining a foundation of skills, experience, and contacts that will prove extremely valuable later," she explained.

To which you might respond, great! I'd love to make lateral career moves and build up broad experience (or avoid boredom), but how do I convince someone to hire me for a position that's only tangentially related to my previous experience or qualifications? Usually they're reluctant to do that and much happier to hire the guy whose last job title matches the one they're hiring for. Rebecca Thorman, the woman behind blog modite, has a thought-provoking answer to the problem:
Today, experience is the product.... That is, you don't produce marketing plans, you create connections. You don't create paintings, you evoke emotion. You don't deliver newspapers, you spread information.
It's time to stop looking at your career as a set of skills applicable to a single position. You probably won't use the major listed on your college degree. You'll change jobs six to eight times before you're thirty.... If you can't talk about how your waitressing job applies to architecture, how teaching kindergarten makes you great for customer service, or how your blog has prepared you to be a circus manager, you lose.
Job seekers looking to open up fresh career territory need to add to their arsenal the ability to show the less-obvious connections between roles that don't necessarily appear related at first glance. If you want to be what Marci Alboher calls a "slash" (as in a musician/engineer or management consultant/cartoonist) you need to learn how to sell the connections between your various work identities, perhaps by boiling down your job to core skills like information assimilation and rapport building, perhaps by arguing, as Thorman does, that having broad experience makes you a more innovative employee.
(Image of a woman who wears many hats by SashaW, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.