Paula’s Perspective: What’s on Your Resume?

By Paula Santonocito

Work experience and skills are funny things. Even though they are the key criteria for employment, most people look at their own experience and skills through a very narrow lens.

I was recently thinking about this tendency after talking with a computer technician at my local office supply superstore. Impressed by his knowledge, I asked how long he’d been in the computer field. When he said 19 years, I realized he had to either be the most youthful-looking 40-something year-old I’d ever met or something else was up. It turned out to be the latter.

The young man was indeed the age his appearance suggested, but he’d started working with computers as a child and he counted his work experience from that time. He explained that he began writing computer programs at 8, and had been building systems for almost as long.

Does this count as work experience? I’d certainly say so.

Yet, it wasn’t only how much he’d accomplished at such a young age that impressed me and would undoubtedly impress a potential employer. I became convinced that his experience was relevant in part by how he told his story. As he pointed out specific accomplishments and skills, he did so in a way that came across as very matter-of-fact. He didn’t exude confidence; he was simply comfortable with what he knew.

This 20-something’s approach is in sharp contrast to typical job seeker behavior, including the behavior of people with decades of experience.

How so? For starters, people are way too concerned about job history as opposed to work experience. They have no problem sharing company names and job titles, complete with dates, but they omit details about their contributions. Meanwhile, if experience doesn’t fit into a neat format (under the umbrella of an employer), it often goes unmentioned.

Women especially tend to downplay their accomplishments and leave out experience they don’t consider legitimate. Lack of confidence, modesty, and confusion all factor in, but the result is the same: lackluster, incomplete resumes.

The SMW Career channel has explored how stay-at-home mothers can tout nontraditional experience when returning to the workforce. However, after meeting my new techie friend, I’ve come to realize that this advice should apply to all single-minded job seekers.

What are your skills? How and when did you acquire them? How many years experience do you have using these skills? These are questions to ask yourself as you prepare or revamp your resume.

Of course you want to make sure your skills are genuine and that you can provide examples of how you’ve used them—examples to which an employer can relate.

How shouldn’t you market experience and skills? Here’s an example. A candidate running for the U.S. Senate recently attempted to convince voters he was qualified for the job. His television commercials talked about how he had experience with conflict resolution because he was the father of five children. Uh, resolving a dispute between a 5 year-old and a 9 year-old, though it may require diplomacy and finesse, doesn’t prepare you for the politics of Washington—or even corporate politics. In the same commercial, the candidate’s wife spoke about how well he runs the household. Good for him. But again, it’s not relevant or transferable experience. Not surprisingly, this guy didn’t get the job.

Which brings me back to the person who did get the job: the computer whiz with 19 years experience. His experience and skills, though nontraditional, demonstrate he has the right stuff.

What about your experience and skills? What’s on your resume? What should you add?

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Paula Santonocito, a business journalist specializing in employment issues and author of more than 1,000 articles, holds a Workforce Career Coach Facilitator (WCCF) certificate from Thomas Edison State College. She is career editor of

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