Why your experience outside the 9 to 5 mattersFeatured

Is your work experience outside of the traditional cookie-cutter expectations? Do you have a varied background that is non-linear?

Being outside the norm can actually be beneficial if you know how to highlight it. Every experience you’ve had, whether professional or personal, brings relevant skills to your next position—you just need to know how to identify and speak on them.

My career path has been unconventional. I’ve been a scientific researcher, a teacher, a department chair, and an organ donation family advocate, and have helped build a startup from 0 to 1. Because of this, people see my resume and dismiss me as not having enough experience but there have been fundamental lessons at every point in my career that have contributed to my success today.

A misdiagnosis as a catalyst for growth

As an underrepresented first-generation Cuban-American girl, I had my symptoms dismissed as psychiatric problems. That was the catalyst for my dive into science and to find out for myself what was wrong with my body at 16. It turned out that I had a brain tumor.

Though not immediately obvious, this marked the beginning of the development of my investigative critical thinking skills and an analytical mindset. I learned to turn over rocks that would typically be left alone and persist until facts and data were the drivers of decision-making.

Eventually, this led to my acceptance into an NIH program called MBRS RISE, where I was a scientific undergraduate researcher performing work on Alzheimer’s mouse models and genetic investigation.

Career transitions from educator to advocate

When my MD/PhD plans didn’t pan out, I had to pivot to make ends meet and stumbled upon teaching. Relaying biological concepts to students in middle and high school classrooms taught me the importance of the varied ways in which people learn and how critical it is that you tailor your message to your audience. Time management and careful planning became pillars in my day-to-day operations as I grew to lead the Science department, and I learned the importance of a cohesive and collaborative environment to foster continued growth year over year.

My students consistently reminded me that I should be out in the world and using my skills beyond the classroom, which propelled me into my next position as an organ and tissue family advocate. Day after day, I sat with families facing unfathomable loss as they said goodbye and offered them the choice to extend the legacy of their loved ones.

Although empathy had been a critical subdivision of my communication skills as a teacher, it took the driver's seat in this new role. Listening to understand, not respond, became my new focus as I helped transform tragedies into miracles.

From ideation to innovation in healthcare

Once again, my career took me on a different path when I was hired to help build a healthcare startup. This business explored a realm that had never been done before, so I had to bring together all of my skills to scrounge, research, and craft a completely novel idea into reality. Going from 0 to 1 requires a scrappiness and resourcefulness I hadn’t yet honed, but my resilience and constantly changing environment set me up for success. I knew what it was to fail, and that failure was simply part of the journey.

Through collaboration and support, we moved the needle from concept to something tangible, and now that company is in a thriving clinical-stage growth era.

All of this non-linear maturation has come with plenty of imposter syndrome woes, pep talks from supportive friends and family, and hiring managers who have chosen to take a chance on an atypical candidate. It’s not an easy road, but it can be done. Remember your north star - who you are, what you’ve done, and why it matters.

Hiring outside the box

If you’re searching for your next adventure, I encourage you to examine your resume from this lens and highlight the skills you’ve grown outside of the traditional 9-5 in your interviews. Are you a parent or caretaker? You’ve got organization and time management prowess. Do you have a hobby? You’re adept at creativity and design. Many skills are not built within the walls of your job, they’re fostered and cultivated in the relationships and experiences you encounter in your life. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself.

As for recruiters and HR professionals, I highly recommend branching out from the traditional box that typically confines the hiring process. The skills you’re looking for in an employee – whether that’s decision-making, collaboration, or leadership – can be found in prospective employees who exist outside the expected. While some positions do require an extensive linear history, many can be worked and molded in real time if the foundations are there. You just have to know how to look for it. As my husband says, 'stop hiring resumes, start hiring people’.

Great piece! so many transferrable skills from things that wouldn't be perceived as your traditional job! the idea of work is changing rapidly though so i am glad this is becoming normalised
Thank you! I'm also happy to see the shift, it was time.
Thank you for this, @karinachavarria what an inspiring story and I wholeheartedly support this approach to both sides of the recruitment process but unfortunately it would seem that there's more "machine hiring" than ever and thus the algorithms can make this approach even more difficult, it is of course just code and could be used to be more imaginative and open. I'm curious to know what the Elpha hivemind thinks about this.
The use of AI can be beneficial if it's carefully crafted to avoid bias (seems like this is a hot topic at the moment). I'm looking forward to seeing where we are in a year with this tech and how it has impacted hiring
Absolutely true! When I returned to work after a 12+ year break, I put a section on my resume with examples of my accomplishments as a geeky SAHM. It worked!
Love this!! Glad your employer saw the immense value being a mother and caregiver can bring. The skills you build are SO transferable!
Thank you for sharing your story @karinachavarria! You make some really great points. I've always thought that if I had two resumes in front of me, one person with a non-linear path and tons of experience in different industries, and the other person with a typical "career" path, that I would 100% choose the first person. The reason being - curiosity and adaptability.In my experience, someone with a path that took them here, there, and everywhere will come into a new position and be the first person to role up their sleeves. They are the opposite of complacent, have a deep sense of purpose, and are problem solvers at their core.My husband is a physical therapist and he is always harping on me about cross-training. So, I like to take his advice and apply it to my career. :)I'm so personally interested in the idea of career evolutions that I started a podcast, Just a Job. We highlight real women and their real stories about their path to current day. Give it a listen!
Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts - some really great points! I'll be giving a listen to your podcast now :)