Selling Your Summer: Tips for Talking about Transferable Skills
Once upon a time, I was an archaeologist.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. I was an archaeologist-in-training. In college I majored in anthropology, and I spent several summers getting my hands dirty – literally – and connecting with cool new people and experiences. It was a fantastic journey, but (for reasons I won’t go into here) at the end of my college career I ultimately shifted gears and decided that the life of an archaeologist was not for me. Instead, I decided to go into higher education.
What’s the point of sharing all this, you ask? Well, since I spent so much of my time in college training for a career path that changed dramatically, I was left with a resume that didn’t exactly fit for what I was pursuing – administrative positions on a college campus. At first glance, my time spent hiking, performing manual labor, and recording archaeological field data did not relate to my new interests of working in college admissions or career services. That means I had to begin thinking (and talking) about my experience in a whole new light.
Many students I work with today are in the same boat. Almost everyone has had a work experience – lifeguard, bartender, camp counselor, server – that they unsure how to leverage during their job search. The key is to spend some time thinking about those experiences and ask yourself some good reflective questions. Here are a few that could get you started:
- What about my job was a “growing experience”?
- What was the most difficult part of the job?
- What was the most fun part of the job?
- What did I learn?
- Do I have any interesting stories from this experience?
Ideally, as you begin to consider your work, volunteer, or travel experience, you will identify some qualities that can be applied more universally to your current pursuits. And you can start practicing your story-telling skills so that you are well prepared whenever an interview or networking opportunity occurs. Considering some of the following tips for framing your summer job, campus involvement, or part-time work experience:
Look at the Big Picture
When you think about a particular experience, what are some of the big-picture themes that are taking place? For example, if you work as a lifeguard you are essentially helping people and managing their safety. If you work at a coffee shop, you are also utilizing your people skills, handling money, and dealing with any customer issues that arise.
Personally, I soon realized that my archaeological experience was only one facet of my classroom training in anthropology, which (broadly stated) is the study of humans and human culture. While I could still find ways to leverage my field experience, I could also look at the big picture to apply my anthropological foundation more generally. My current position is a prime example – by teaching students professional skills I am essentially helping them to navigate a strange and unfamiliar culture: the world of business.
On top of any specific themes, nearly all part-time jobs require you to meet basic expectations such as showing up on time, taking direction from your supervisor, and being a good team player. When in doubt, emphasize some of these general points in order to help sell the experience.
Identify Core Skills
Aside from looking at the big picture, it may also be helpful to reflect on specific projects, practice telling the stories about those tasks, and identify any unique transferable skills. For example, my summer archaeology jobs required me to conduct field tests with a team of other interns and professionals, often traveling or hiking several hours to a location, collecting data, and then returning to the office to process our findings. In accomplishing these tasks, I had to demonstrate organization/planning skills (preparing equipment and planning the work day), attention-to-detail (collecting, recording, and analyzing data), and teamwork (accomplishing shared goals in a diverse work group).
Think about a typical day from your experience or involvement. Ask yourself, “What specific skillsets did I use in that role?”
Think About the “Cool Factor”
Last but not least, consider whether your experience might have a certain “cool factor” that you can use to connect with the interviewer and build rapport. Many times, an experience that you pursued purely for fun might be one of the most eye-catching parts of your resume. Perhaps the interviewer has a personal connection to a place you visited or shares a hobby you are passionate about, or the recruiter might have held a similar job in their past that allows them to fully appreciate your experience.
Whatever the reason, you must be prepared to talk about ALL of the experiences that are on your resume and develop stories that can be used as selling points. You don’t want to be caught off-guard when an interviewer digs deeper into your work history!