Get A Nontraditional Resume Background Noticed In A Good Way for Job Search

by Caroline Ceniza-Levine

Nontraditional Resume for Job SearchThere are three main job search roadblocks: 1) your resume doesn’t get you to the first round; 2) you get to the first job interview but get closed there; or 3) you get to the finals but can’t seem to get the job offer. Job search tactics differ for each type, so you need to know where you have trouble in order to adjust your search accordingly. As a student over 30, you have a nontraditional background and therefore may get resistance along each stage of your job search. Here is an idea of what you can expect from a hiring recruiter and how you might be able to mitigate any potential problems:

Nontraditional resumes, for any reason, not just age (e.g., gaps in your work timeline, career change, educational degree unrelated to your job), don’t do well in a traditional resume drop. A recruiter’s first pass will favor candidates who “fit the spec” (i.e., conform to all of the job requirements). Therefore, focus on getting the interview outside of the resume drop by networking at the decision-maker’s level, conducting informational interviews of employees in your target company or join trade associations in your target industry.

You can still improve your resume by highlighting tangible evidence that you are right for the job, but early in a career this may be hard to do given the lack of experience to work with. So, focus on getting interviews via live interaction, not passive resume drops or responding to postings.

In the first interview with a job recruiter, traditional backgrounds are still favored; employers don’t always think creatively beyond the job posting, but the advantage is decreased. The fact that you made it into the interview indicates that your nontraditional background is not a deal-breaker. Now is your chance to make your pitch as to why you are right for the job and to sell your nontraditional background as an asset. For example, don’t be defensive if you are questioned about your decision to postpone school till this date. It’s a valid question for the recruiter, and you need to prepare a compelling and engaging story to tell. Why did you make this choice? Make this be your choice, not something that happened to you, so you sound empowered about it. What did you gain by being a student over 30? Make a business case (e.g., professional maturity, life experience) why this is an advantage for the employer.

In future interviews, the focus is similar to the first round but the company knows more about you and can probe on the initial strengths and weaknesses you revealed. Don’t be surprised if you get pushed on your nontraditional background again. Don’t get defensive. Remember what you said before (because clearly that worked) and keep your story consistent. Remember who you have already met and what they told you about the company, so the employer knows you are interested (because you were paying attention). Don’t lose focus. Don’t second-guess whether you want the job. Don’t let your energy drop if the process is taking longer than expected. This is a time to concentrate on closing the offer. The biggest mistake candidates make is to think they have closed the offer because the process has gone multiple rounds. The job isn’t yours until you walk through the door on your first day, so stay upbeat and energetic.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is the co-founder of SixFigureStart, success coaching for students and early-career professionals. She has recruited for start-ups through Fortune 500 companies, including Accenture, Booz Allen, Citigroup, Disney ABC, Oliver Wyman, Pfizer, Time Inc and TV Guide. She is also an adjunct assistant professor of Professional Development at Columbia University. Caroline can be reached at 212-501-2234 or

SixFigureStart specializes in working with students and early-career professionals: job search from start to finish; success skills for the new job; transitioning from school to workplace. Founded by two professionals with over 40 years of combined HR and business experience, SixFigureStart coaches candidates based on what employers really want and how the job market really works. Sign up for their free SixFigureStart newsletter at, which includes access to their free coaching teleclasses.

All information is copyright © SixFigureStart 2008


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