8 Rules For Successfully Using Hobbies
…and Other Unpaid Work
To Get A Job

If you can prove you meet all the employer’s needs by relying solely on paid work history and formal education, great! Do it! Employers believe that if someone else has paid you to do the job, you are more likely to be good at it. But, what if your formal employment and education doesn’t match the job you want now? …Until you offer proof from other sources, you will appear “UNqualified”. It’s important to remember that even if you haven’t taken a course or been paid to do the job you want, the employer hires all of your knowledge and experience, regardless of where you gained it. Your unpaid experience could translate into skills the employer needs, so don’t limit yourself.

At 16 Gordon was more experienced in car repair than most adults. He had helped his uncle overhaul more than a dozen engines and had done two all by himself, just never as an “employee”.

Nancy could prove she was great at caring for the elderly because she had been caring for her grandmother for the last 3 years. Gran, all her friends at the Senior Center and her Gran’s Doctor will vouch for her skills even though she wasn’t a certified caregiver.

If you only look for proof among your paid work history and formal education, the employer may never see the talents you could bring. When you are pursuing a job, you must let the employer know that you have what they need, even if your Prove Its come from unpaid work or informal education.

As an employer, I have received thousands of resumes that made me wonder why the job seeker sent them to me. Their selling points may have proven they’d be great … but not for the job I advertised. Perhaps they had skills I needed, but I will never know because they were screened-out in the first round.

I have coached people who got their best Prove Its from “unpaid experience”… volunteering at their child’s school or a local community center, work assignments in prison or an addiction recovery program, or personal experience, such as managing of a community softball team.

Jason is a great example. He wanted to be an Assistant Manager in a Restaurant. He’d been a Cook and a Waiter, but never a Manager. He believed his life experience and natural talent was enough, so we took the most important Employer Needs for the job, and set-out to Prove It. Need by need, I asked him, “Why do you think you can do this?… When have you done it before?” Many of his answers came from a single experience…taking-over as Coach of a community softball team that had been last in the league for 2 years. As coach, the plan he created helped him re-vamp how they practiced, correct mistakes, teach new skills, bring in new talent and motivate the defeated players. He took the team to second in the league within a year. He was a great Manager! We just had to present it so the employer could connect the skills he used with the team to the skills needed as an Assistant Restaurant Manager.

When you read the skills Jason used as a softball coach, did you think “that’s nice, but an employer is never going to buy that as proof”? It depends on how you present it. Most employers would express surprise that someone who grows award-winning tomatoes in their back garden thinks it proves they can run a farm, or that because someone is a Mom they think it automatically qualifies them to be a Nursery School Teacher. These job seekers do not understand the rules of using unpaid experience to Prove It.

Rule 1: Choose a job that matches your skills. Do not assume one accomplishment can be turned into something more than it is.

Growing award-winning tomatoes in your backyard proves you have the knowledge, skills and patience to grow award-winning tomatoes (and perhaps other plants). It does not prove that you understand the issues involved with growing them on a mass scale or managing a farm. If you want to use this experience to get a job managing a tomato farm, you need additional Prove Its for every other skill required to run a large farm. Also, being good at a skill doesn’t prove you can teach it to others, so if you are going to train others you will need a Prove It for teaching as well. If the primary skill you want to use is growing award-winning plants, pursue Gardener jobs at specialty nurseries, or perhaps a quality control job at s tomato farm.

Rule 2: You must have done it, and done it well. Just because you have done something as a hobby or hold a title in your personal life (Mom, Sunday School Teacher, football coach), doesn’t prove you are skilled at it. Your Prove Its must demonstrate that you can do it well.

Being a Mom doesn’t mean that you are good with kids. If you want to use your experience as a Mom to prove you are good with children, you must give specific examples of your talent in doing things the employer needs. To prove you are creative and familiar with the age-specific needs of the children, you might share about the crafts and indoor activities you designed to entertain your kids when it rains. To prove that parents find you trustworthy, you might share how your home is the one house on the block where all the parents allow their kids to spend the night because you are so responsible (and the kids have a great time!).

Rule 3: Don’t make big leaps. Employers won’t take the leap from our personal life to your work life if it doesn’t make sense, so be sure the skill you are trying to prove is actually proven by the activity you describe.

Would you hire a teenage girl to watch your children simply because she has been responsibly taking care of the family pets (cats and dogs) for the last 3 years? I’m guessing “no”. But, could she use the fact that she has gotten up at 6am, seven days a week for the last 3 years to walk her dogs, and only missed 4 days when the doctor said she had to stay in bed, to prove that she is dependable and can show up on time in the morning?… Definitely!

Rule 4: Don’t assume employers know. When pulling skills from your personal life, don’t assume employers know all that is entailed in doing a task, as they would if you mentioned a skill from their workplace. Your Prove It should describe the skills used to successfully do the task.

Stating that you were the Chairperson for your Class Reunion Planning Committee does not prove you have organizational skills. You must describe specifically what you did… “I personally coordinated the hotel bookings, flights, and ground transportation for over 300 out-of-town guests, and planned and organized all the arrangements for three unique Day-After Activities that were attended by over 200 people. This included selecting sites, negotiating contracts, collecting payments, arranging transportation, and doing all the crisis management that comes with coordinating a multi-site function. As Chair, I oversaw the activities of three committees, comprised of 12 people who were responsible for marketing, decorations & nostalgia, and food & entertainment. The reunion received rave reviews from alumni and their families.”

Rule 5: Make it Verifiable. Since there is no official person to vouch that you did what you say you did, create a way for the employer to verify your Prove It. If they can’t verify it, many employers will give it less value. And, just because they can verify it doesn’t mean they won’t ask for additional evidence, like a work trial.

An article in the local paper that hails the reunion a success and gives you credit can vouch for your skills in organizing the event… Your grandma’s Doctor or visiting Nurse could vouch for your skills with the elderly… Samples of your work could vouch for your skill as a Cook or Cabinet Maker… A detailed but brief (90 seconds or less) description of the rainy-day activities you designed can vouch for your creativity… Notes of thanks and praise from friends whose cars you fixed can vouch for your mechanical skills.

Rule 6: Use the Employer’s Language. Paint a picture the employer can relate to before they discover where you gained the skill.

Jason, the softball coach, did a great job of this. Instead of saying, “The team won only 1 out of 5 games the first half of the season, but won 4 out of 5 in the second half when I was coach,” he said, “As the leader of a team of 14 people, I increased success by more than 80% within 8 weeks.”

Rule 7: Look for concerns. Once you have created your Prove Its, review them for anything that might cause the employer concern.

Andre is relying on his Masters in Marketing to land a high-level job in advertising, but he has no work experience in the field. Instead of helping, his degrees could create concern that he loves to learn but may not be able to apply his knowledge. He is asking for Masters-level salary, but offers no proof he can produce results. My recommendation would be, if he is not hired within 3-4 months, to remove the Masters degree from his resume and get some practical experience. If he applies for a lower-level job with his Masters degree on his resume, he is likely to be screened-out because he appears overqualified. After a year, he can add his degree back to his resume, and go for higher-level jobs. (The exception to this advice is with Masters or Doctoral degrees in areas of study that integrate practicum, such as teaching or the sciences.)

Rule 8: Always have a Good Answer for the Interview. Be ready to explain to the employer why your skill is relevant to their business, even if it was gained in a non-traditional way. As you develop your answer, listen to it as if you were the employer, or ask a friend who is an employer to help you.

So we’ve given you the rules for using less-traditional Prove Its, now let’s put it all together to see how Jason’s used his softball coaching experience to prove he’d be a great Assistant Restaurant Manager?

QSPs to prove as a team leader he could get results — “The team won only 1 out of 5 games the first half of the season, but won 4 out of 5 in the second half when I was coach” became “As the leader of a team of 14 people, I increased success by more than 80% within 8 weeks.

Story to prove his skills in problem-solving and staff support — “One of my team members was ready to quit, so I took him aside for a chat. Turns out he had been forced out of another position and he wasn’t happy about it. Within a week, I had created a plan that allowed him and 2 others to switch positions. I retained his talent, and he even recruited 2 more strong team members.

Demonstration – Jason wanted the employer to see that he could take complicated or uncommon ideas and make them simple for staff to understand. The clear and easy-to-see connection he drew between being a successful coach and a great Manager for the restaurant demonstrated these skills.

Credible Reference – One former employer vouched that he relied on Jason to run the kitchen when the Lead Cook didn’t show. Another verified that within 7 months, she began pairing new Waiters with Jason so he could train them.

Using his Prove Its from coaching on his resume got him interviews. Sharing his Prove Its in the interview impressed the employer, but it also raised a question … “Where did you get all this management experience?” When you use unpaid experience or non-traditional learning in your Prove Its, you MUST also have a Good Answer to explain it. Jason’s sounded something like this:

I have been successfully managing projects and teams for years… it’s one of my natural skills and interests. To date, all my management experience has been unpaid. The examples I have given you here come from my work with a losing softball team that I took to second-in-the-league in the first year. I’ve been the Manager for 3 years now. Sometimes, I think unpaid Managers have an extra challenge, because the team they manage doesn’t have the incentive of a paycheck to work hard or give their best. I’m really looking forward to getting a job where I can use my natural skills and experience to make us both money.”

Jason’s Prove Its and Good Answer resulted in two management-level job offers!