Does unrelated experience look bad on my resume?

SHARES:

Dear JobsBlogDear JobsBlog: 

If I take a job where I get unrelated experience will it make me a less-desirable candidate?

-Tangent Torn 

Read on to hear the answer from Microsoft Recruiter Kenji

KenjiDear Tangent Torn:

My advice in your case — as it often is — is subjective based on the situation. In an ideal world, taking a position with unrelated experience shouldn’t affect the experience you’ve previously obtained, or a recruiter’s perception of that experience. But, like anything, it all depends on the eye of the beholder.

Having said that, when I see a resume where the most recent position is not at all similar to the position I’m trying to fill, I have four immediate thoughts (assuming the overall experience still matches the requirements for what I’m looking for):

1. Why did this person make such a career change?

2. How long have they been in the position?

3. Why are they looking to change back?

4. What type of extra-curricular activities does this person engage in?

After considering these questions, I evaluate the change itself and how different it really is from the position of interest. Are there positive experiences that could have been gathered from the unrelated position? Does it still involve similar responsibilities, or is it completely wayward from the rest of the resume? Has the candidate gone out of his way to retain his edge, despite the unrelated job content? I recruit mostly for Software Development Engineers in Test, so naturally, I look for elements of design, coding and testing in the position — even if it’s not the main component of the role.

I then look at the length of the tangent experience in comparison to the rest of the experience. If it’s a short duration (a few months), I’m more likely to look past it and more heavily weigh the prior experience. The greater the tangent and the greater the duration of the position, the more likely I am to assume that the other experiences have atrophied and will pass. Try to include evidence in your resume that this isn’t the case!

Still, I also consider how impressive the previous experience is. Try to understand that I only have a few minutes at most to review each resume, so I’m looking for elements in the resume that pop. What is there in the previous experience that makes this candidate equal to or better than someone similar without the tangent experience? Does the candidate show a strong history of being a top performer? Has he or she gone above and beyond in their last position to drive results and impact their project? Is the new position the only outlier?

My overall suggestion is to emphasize the important experience in your resume, and make sure it stands out and represents you as you want to be viewed. It doesn’t hurt to include items in your resume that aren’t part of work either. If you have related hobbies or relevant project work that you’re doing, don’t be afraid to include that in your resume! This is good advice in general, but becomes even more important if your current work experience is outside of your normal career path. Personally, I really like it when candidates include information on the types of projects they do outside of work, and the type of work they enjoy. For me, it shows passion and a drive to attain goals in spite of other challenges present.

-Kenji

JobsBlog Rewind: this is one of our more popular posts and was originally published in 2009.

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