How my “wrong” experience was actually just right…

sam routledge cvIt’s not uncommon to meet dejected-looking students coming to The Careers Service filled with anxiety that they don’t have “relevant” experience or the “right” experience to put on their CVs in order to apply for jobs in their final year. If this is a concern you share too then fear not – it can be easily remedied. And not by changing your experience, but by changing your attitude towards experience itself.

Whether you tended a desk at a large international organisation or served beautifully-crafted cups of espresso to caffeine-starved customers over summer, any kind of work experience provides valuable transferable skills and experience which you can use in interviews and on your CV. (You might remember that Bryony demonstrated this with her job as a birthday part host in a post last week.)

During the summers of my penultimate and final years at University, I worked as a Brassiere Team Member (waiter) at a 5-star hotel, a job that – despite the hotel’s glamorous façade – was hectic and highly demanding. I would spend eight hours a day striding around a heaving restaurant, catering to the finical appetites of guests and the ever urgent requests of temperamental chefs. My responsibilities included tending the bar, taking orders and delivering them to tables, greeting and seating guests and customers, and laboriously cleaning and resetting the restaurant three times a day. A far cry from my sedentary life of education, where exertion came from pushing my pen across a page or prying open the pages of a hefty book! That being said, waiting did require a significant amount of learning – the correct way to address a table, carry a tray, make the perfect coffee, not to mention memorising a vast array of fine dining and wine menus, including the minutiae of each dish (because no sane person knows off-hand what cavolo nero is).

As challenging and tiring as this job was, it did provide me with skills and experience that I have used time and time again in interviews and on my CV to impress employers, including The Careers Service. For starters, working in a busy restaurant necessitates teamwork to ensure guests receive a flawless dining experience. I have referenced in interviews the constant communication that I maintained with my team during services, enabling me to delegate responsibilities and also manage my time between tasks so that I could assist colleagues when they were struggling with the relentless onslaught of demanding customers. And there you have your order of teamwork, served up with a side of time management – two skills essential in almost any profession.

iStock_000012785263Small Waitress
Customer service in action!

The main selling point of waiting experience, however, is customer service. Most jobs involve interaction with customers in one way or another, and being able to demonstrate that you can build a rapport with customers (or even assuage their fury and offer satisfactory resolutions to their problems) is universally valuable experience. In interviews I have waxed lyrical about the times I charmed customers into purchasing bottles rather than glasses of wine, or placated a diner who had a meltdown over the excess of chilli in his linguine so that he left with a smile on his face and only the hint of a fire in his belly.

Ultimately, situations may be different but your skills are transferable. The secret is being able to recognise and articulate your experience in terms of their component parts: the task, your actions, how you overcame any obstacles, and what you learnt from this situation. (Get help identifying transferable skills on our website.) Demonstrating that you gained these insights from your experience is far more important to employers than the name of the organisation you worked for and what your job title was specifically.

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