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Changing Careers

Understanding What Relevant Experience Means

Posted by Glassdoor Team

Career Advice Experts

Last Updated June 29, 2021

Guide Overview

What does relevant experience mean?What counts as relevant experience for a job?How do I know how many years of relevant experience I have?How can I demonstrate relevant experience?Tips for listing relevant experience on a resume

Guide Overview

Understanding relevant experience

Having relevant experience is important before applying for a job. For a vacancy that receives several applications, employers will need to save time while going through the submissions. If they're using a scanning software, all the resumes without the relevant experience will get rejected automatically. We'll explore what relevant experience means and how can you can highlight it on your resume to position yourself for a new job.

What does relevant experience mean?

“Relevant experience” is a term that refers to tasks and duties at previous jobs that make you qualified for a new role. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you must have worked in the exact role or had the same job title before. Rather, relevant experience means that a candidate has the prerequisite knowledge needed to make them effective at a new job. Employers look out for relevant experience when hiring to fill a new position, especially for mid-level and senior positions. Experience can be relevant and transferable across industries and fields. You only need to find out how to craft your application to show why your past experience makes you a good fit.

What counts as relevant experience for a job?

If you’re unsure about what relevant experience means, here’s a look at what counts:

Prior employment

This is the most obvious answer. Previous full-time, part-time, or contract employment makes up relevant experience. Depending on the industry, it may not matter in what region your prior jobs were located. This is only significant for industries like finance and law, which deal with localized regulatory standards. For the most part, job experience is transferable around the world.

Freelance work

Freelance work also counts as relevant experience. In this case, you can showcase your prior experience using a portfolio of your work or through recommendations from past jobs.

Learn more: The Freelancer’s Guide to Setting Competitive Rates

Internships

Paid or unpaid internships can add a lot of relevant experience to your employment history. In fact, by definition, an internship is an avenue to learn new skills and knowledge to help you along in your career. Summer internships that you participated in during your college years, as well as year-long graduate internships qualify as relevant experience. It’s a great idea to include them on your resume, especially if you’re in the early years of your career.

Learn more: The Rise of the ‘Minternship’ — Mid-Career Internships

Tutoring

There’s no better way to prove your knowledge of certain subject areas than by teaching it to others. This is an especially great way of demonstrating relevant experience if you’re a recent graduate. For instance, if an employment vacancy specifies previous experience in finance, and you were a tutor in your accounting principles class, then you have relevant experience.

Academic projects

Academic projects are often overlooked as a way to showcase relevant experience. Working on a research paper, a case study, or any other kind of academic project in a specific discipline gives you the relevant work experience in that field.

Volunteer positions

Volunteer positions are not considered as jobs. However, because these positions require some level of skill and expertise, they can be used to demonstrate relevant experience to an employer. You can also showcase your industry knowledge, especially if you’re applying to a position in the non-profit or development sector.

Learn more: How to Add Volunteering & Community Service to Your Resume

Extracurricular activities

Like volunteering, this does not count as previous employment. Notwithstanding, it may count for relevant experience on a job application. You can sell yourself on your extracurricular activities during an in-person interview. Activities such as running a social club and group sports can showcase people management and team spirit.

Entrepreneurship

It may sound like a stretch, but running any kind of business gives you real-life experience in that industry. There are so many different aspects to owning and setting up a business. With that on your resume, you can showcase experience in leadership and management, customer service, sales and marketing, as well as the technical skills relevant to your industry.  

How do I know how many years of relevant experience I have?

To calculate how many years of relevant job experience you have, put together all the time you’ve spent working roles similar to the one you’re applying for. Don’t forget to include any time spent volunteering, interning, or doing freelance work, as mentioned above. Most vacancy advertisements feature a range, as opposed to a fixed number of years of experience. It’s okay if you fall a little outside the range specified by one to three months.

How can I demonstrate relevant experience?

You can showcase your relevant experience at different stages of the interview process namely:

On your resume

This is an employer’s first insight into who you are and what you will bring to the job. Resumes follow a pretty basic standard with most having a summary section, work history section and skills section. You can demonstrate relevant experience in the work history section, primarily, with concise bullet points listing out previous responsibilities and achievements. The skills section is another area where you can show your knowledge, taking care to ensure that your skills and work history section complement each other — any skill you list should be backed up by your work history.

In your cover letter

Some employers are removing the cover letter requirement, but this is a way to give the employer an insight into your personality. For jobs that require formal communication skills, it’s also a way to examine your communication. A cover letter offers some more flexibility in terms of what information you can include, so be sure to expand on what your resume contains.

Learn more: How To Write a Cover Letter

In a portfolio

This is a great way for creatives such as writers, editors, and designers to show the work they’ve done in the past. Create a portfolio showcasing your best work and include in your application when the need arises.

At the interview

Resumes and cover letters give employers a pretty good picture of what you can do, but nothing can sell your expertise better than a conversation. Phone and in-person interviews offer the best opportunity for you to show that you have the relevant experience. You can describe your achievements in more detail, provide more context, and even show that you have the right personality, where that is important.

Tips for listing relevant experience on a resume

It’s not enough to know what counts as relevant experience for a job; you also need to know how to highlight it on your resume. This will help your application stand out to the hiring committee. Follow these tips to learn how you can effectively showcase past job experience:

Go through the job description

It’s the job description that outlines what qualifies as relevant experience. Go through it carefully to understand the requirements. Take note of the skills, duties, and qualifications expected of the ideal candidate. These will help you understand the areas you’ll need to highlight on your resume.

Match your resume to the job description

Now that you know what the job will require, review your resume so you can match it to the job description. If necessary, rewrite the experience section to mirror the duties and responsibilities listed in the job description. It’s okay to include secondary responsibilities, or work you did to assist another colleague or department, as long as you gained some skills and knowledge on the job. Don’t embellish what you’ve actually done here so you can back it all up during an interview. Another way to increase your chances is to cast some prior work to fit the requirements of the job. For example, you can describe a few months working on a community bazaar for your local church as fund-raising experience in the non-profit sector.

Remove any irrelevant experience

It’s good practice to make a unique resume for each job application and this is one of the reasons. In addition, it will help to keep your resume concise and focused. At this point, it’s also important to remember to remove any experience not relevant to the job you’re applying to. It’s common to have such information on your resume, especially when you’re very early in your career.

Responsibilities over job titles

A lawyer looking to find new work in communications or in the financial industry will definitely have some transferable skills and knowledge, but it may be hard to look past that with “lawyer” highlighted throughout a resume. When you’re looking to transition roles, it may be helpful to downplay your previous job titles in your resume. In some cases, you can remove them totally.

Highlight your achievements

It’s not enough to list the tasks you completed at your previous employment, highlight your results as well. Several applicants will also say they were responsible for “onboarding new users onto the platform”; how many did you onboard on a regular basis? Provide context. “Maintained a 70% sign-up rate for new website visitors” or “Maintained a 95% complaint resolution rate” is a much better way of showing what you’re capable of. This could place you above other candidates with more years of experience than you have. As they say, quality over quantity. This is also a good tip to remember for writing a cover letter. Armed with this information, you can now make job applications that will increase your chances of being hired. Glassdoor can help you with even more as you search for the perfect job. With one click, you can explore our guides and get interview help. We’re invested in your success.

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