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How to Get Your Dream Job with a Career Gap

For the past 10 years, I have traveled the world, explored 38 countries, and met all kinds of wonderful people along the way. My experiences were incredibly fulfilling and challenged me to look at the world from different lenses. However, when I came back to the states ready to settle down and find a steady job, I had a hard time figuring out how to present myself on a resume. Unlike some of my friends, who stayed home, started their families, and had years of experience within their respective fields, I had nothing.

Well, I didn’t have “nothing” exactly. I had chosen not to go a traditional route and what I needed to do was to approach my resume in the same way. I realized that in order to get a job in a field that I like, I would have to create a personal brand that packaged all of my seemingly unrelated experiences into one attention-grabbing story.

Thanks to this “Aha!” moment, I went from being:

Alexa, who lived in China, speaks some random languages, and has little professional experience.

to:

Alexa, a creative self-starter, with international experience, fluent in four languages, and culturally sensitive, able to work well with people from diverse backgrounds to find original solutions to the challenges facing your company.

By taking these five steps, I was able to create a compelling personal brand and you can too!

1. Get Over Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is defined by a constant feeling of unworthiness. People with imposter syndrome feel like their accomplishments pale in comparison to others. They feel like frauds trying to convince others of their own worth.

For anyone who’s seen the movie “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” there’s this beautifully poignant scene where the protagonist asks, “why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?” to which, his confidant responds, “we accept the love we think we deserve”.

Similar to dating, putting yourself out there in the job market can be extremely difficult, especially when you haven’t gone through the same direct route that others have. For whatever reason, you didn’t join the traditional workforce in the same way or at the same time as others did and now you feel like a phony trying to market yourself and find a way in.

After all, who would want to hire you? You don’t have the experience that other people do, you didn’t go to a fancy school, and worst of all you don’t own or wear high heel shoes!

First off, you need to get out of your head!

“We accept the love we think we deserve” doesn’t just apply to romance it applies to everything in life – in this case the job market. How can you convince somebody else of your own self-worth and what you can bring to a company when you don’t even believe it about yourself? “We accept the love we think we deserve,” also refers to us accepting the opportunities, or lack thereof, that we think we deserve.

The first step to creating a convincing personal brand is to believe in yourself and your story. You are enough! Maybe you don’t have the same background and experiences as other people, but hey! On the other hand, they don’t have the same experiences as you. What you bring to the table is something unique and fresh. Like with anybody else, there will always be room for improvement.

So if some of your technical skills need a little work, don’t worry about it. Instead, be proactive and start developing those skills today. Take an online course, follow a Youtube channel, start a blog – anything that will help you develop your skills and feel more confident about what you have to bring to the table.

Even if you don’t believe it yet, tell yourself that you are enough and reinforce this idea throughout the day, every day.

With a little effort, you’ll soon be able to say “sayonara” to Imposter Syndrome and “hello” to new opportunities.

2. Brainstorming

You’ve had all of these great experiences, but at that time you only saw them as just that – great experiences. You were living in the moment and weren’t concerned with the optics or numbers of those moments.

And rightly so! You should be allowed to enjoy your life, your friendships, etc. without trying to make everything a marketable moment. However, after some time has passed, there is nothing wrong with using these past experiences to your benefit. After all, they added joy and meaning to your life back then, and they can do the same for you now by helping you to open yourself to new opportunities.

Make some time to go to that cafe that you love and meditate on your experiences. While there, write down every single incredible moment that you have had on a piece of paper. You would be surprised to realize how easily we forget things that were so life-changing at the time. By taking the time to think about your experiences, you will be able to more easily recall them and contextualize them.

For me, my list looks a little something like this:

  • Hiked the Patagonia O-Trek in 4 days
  • Lived in Shanghai, China for a year
  • Traveled through Chile, while doing different work exchanges at hostels, a lodge, etc.

Making your list should be a stream of consciousness activity more than anything else. Don’t worry about making the list look pretty, your grammar, complete sentences, etc., just take everything that comes to mind and jot it down on a piece of paper.

3. Make Connections

Now that you have your piece of paper filled to the brim with lists of all of the fantastic experiences that have added to your life and helped make you you, start brainstorming ways to contextualize those experience and make connections. How can you apply the learning from those experiences to other scenarios?

Step three can be a little difficult because it requires you to actually understand the field that you want to go into. After all, you can’t make connections from your experiences to the job that you want to be in if all you have is a superficial understanding of what that job entails.

Before you even begin step three, make sure that you have done your homework and understand the duties that your job will require, but more importantly understand the soft skills that a successful candidate would have. If you haven’t done that already don’t sweat it. Take a little time right now to do some research about the field that you are interested in, its values, and what kind of people they would be interested in hiring.

Contextualizing experiences means going beyond the surface level of what you did. You want to connect what you did to what you learned and apply that knowledge to a job.

In my case, an example of this could be my experience in Patagonia.

 

  • Surface: In four days I finished the Patagonia O-Trek
  • Deeper: It was a beautiful hike but really difficult for me because I wasn’t as fit or experienced as the other hikers in my group
  • Learning:
    1. I learned about the merits of perseverance and tenacity. While the hike was very difficult for me. I didn’t give up and go back, instead, I kept going and was able to challenge myself and see the beautiful landscapes in Patagonia; this included seeing my very first glacier!
    2. I know what it feels like to be the slowest person and to feel like you are dragging the group down, so I know the importance of creating team dynamics, where everyone is welcome and treated equally regardless of their individual capacities.

Application: I’m a hard worker who doesn’t give up when a challenge presents itself. In terms of customer service or team dynamics, I treat people in an open and inclusive manner to ensure a positive and productive environment for all.

4. Tell Your Story

You’ve done all of the hard work. You’ve now overcome imposter syndrome, you have written down a list of all of your experiences, and you have found ways to make connections.

You are ready to tell your story and promote your personal brand! Like every good story, make sure that yours has a beginning, a middle, and an end (in this case, an end that serves as open-ended conversation continuer).

Hi, my name is (name). I have done (experiences). These experiences taught me (lessons), which I can apply to this area by (what you do). I’m a lifelong learner and I continue to develop myself and my skills by (what you do). Most recently I…

The last and most important tip for creating your personal brand would be to stay authentic to yourself and your values. It’s hard out there in a world, where there is so much competition and it feels like you are never enough (that darn imposter syndrome again). So it can definitely be tempting to act like someone completely different than who you are, but stay true to yourself and the right opportunity will come along.

 


Alexa Ponton is a world explorer who loves languages, photography, and being in nature. She works as a digital marketer in the states, helping companies to tell their stories.


 

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