Find Your Career Flare – Your Experience

Career Decision Wheel
Model by Norm Amundson
Image by Jody Little

Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote: “I am part of all that I have met.” 

In your career, all of the people you have met and the work and leisure experiences that you have had, shape who you have become as a person.  It is only through the ‘ups and downs’ of some of these experiences that you gain insight into how to move forward in your next career.  In considering a new potential career goal, it is important to take stock of all your experiences and think about your stories – the ones that have impacted you both positively and negatively.  Consider what you want to avoid in the future, and what would give you the greatest satisfaction.

Your Work & Leisure Experience

According to career expert Jay Block, a person with a protean career is someone who is constantly aware of the labour market, anticipates trends, and gains the necessary skills to adapt to the ever-changing world of work.  However you proceed with your next career step, consider whether or not your approach to your career is protean in concept.  Then determine ways to incorporate this notion into your every day thinking.

If you have been gaining the necessary skills to adapt along the way, you may find it easier to transfer your skills from one industry to another without costly additional training.  Having professional development ideas on your annual calendar that you review and adapt as a part of your personal growth plan is critical to a lifetime of learning and professional success.

Work Experience

Your paid work is obviously important to consider when factoring how your past experience can shape your future career path.  Capitalizing on your strengths, skills, and qualifications is critical for long term success, as long as they fit your vision.  However, it is not the only place to look for expertise that you have developed.

Volunteer Experience

Consider any volunteer work you have done.  Focus first on what drew you to volunteer in a particular area and also think about what that says about who you are.  If you haven’t volunteered before, and you are interested in entering a different career arena, consider volunteer opportunities as a foot in the door.  This may give you the opportunity to meet key industry professionals and develop appropriate networks.  Volunteering may not lead you to a new career, but it may help you have balance in your career by doing something meaningful outside of your paid work, while contributing to making your community better.

Other Leisure Activities

Personal interests and hobbies may or may not be the ideal career path for some people.  Many hobbies are hard to turn into viable career options as they don’t provide enough income potential.  Alternatively, turning a hobby into paid work may take the joy out of your favourite pastime.  For some, though, looking to leisure activities can give you clues about what matters in your paid work, and may provide you with a nugget of information worth considering, such as an overlooked skill that easily transfers to another work area.

Taking stock of how you spend your leisure time may help you focus on your career goal to ensure you pursue the right goal, or pursue a goal that allows for your leisure activities to continue.  Work/life balance is another critical factor when considering career opportunities, so understanding the impact of a career choice on the rest of your life is important.

Lastly, employers may find that your leisure activities align very well with the culture and values of their company.  Farmers Mutual Hail, and insurance company in Iowa, was started over 100 years ago based on the principle stated in Galatians 6:2: “Bear ye one another’s burdens.”  This theme is still relevant to the company today in what they seek to do in the insurance business, but also as a corporate culture.  Any leisure activity that fits this theme would likely be noticed in the job search process.

Sharing Your Experiences

Depending on what life stage you are at, your career approach may look a little different and your depth of experiences will be unique.  To capture your work and leisure activities into a meaningful document that will help you in the future, consider creating a master resume.  Consider including many aspects of the career wheel, include your Dependable Strengths and focus on accomplishments and trends.  Portfolios are another way of capturing data that you can then use in your eventual job search.  It is not strictly for artistic careers, but also can be used to highlight works of accomplishment in a visual or written manner and provide evidence that supports any statements you make to employers.  There are online and offline ways of creating portfolios, but either option can be valuable in decision making and moving forward.

Work & Leisure Gaps

Having a gap in your work experience can be detrimental to your work search down the road, as employers make many assumptions about why you weren’t working, and worry about the risk of hiring you (health risk, employment risk, etc.).  Filling in these gaps with appropriate explanations is important in your resume, cover letter and/or interview as appropriate.

If you find yourself unemployed you may find that it is the perfect time to offer your volunteer time to keep your skills fresh and have a sense of purpose.  The time commitment is typically small, so you can still manage an effective job search while volunteering.  You can make new contacts or renew old ones which may help speed up finding employment.  Be sure to treat your volunteer work with the same grace as you would an employer, so that they offer a solid reference.

Your gap in employment should be factual, but you can put a potential employer at ease by minimizing their risk of employing you.  Share with an employer how you made use of the ‘down time’ and reframe it as appropriate as a sabbatical, health care leave or travel adventure – just be sure to show an employer why it is not a risk as you re-enter the workforce.

Work & Leisure Experience: A True Story

A recent business graduate had been working for a number of years in a middle management role.  When the next step in her career involved moving locations, she found herself having to make the decision to take the move or be unemployed.  She opted out of the move and found herself thrust into a job search, but spending most of her time in ‘retail therapy’.  At one of her favourite stores, the owner liked her spunk along with her enthusiasm for the products they sold.  Knowing she had been recently laid off, he suggested she work for him.  She agreed to come in part time, as she knew that retail jobs didn’t pay a lot of money, but this way she was able to meet some of her social needs and be in a retail environment without spending.  It also gave her free time to volunteer and job search.  She made the most of her time while ensuring any employment gap was filled with positive activities.

Work & Leisure Experience Assessments

If you want to assess whether or not your work and leisure experience is an appropriate fit for a potential career goal, you will want to stay tuned for the next blog on the labour market which will provide many excellent links and references to help you assess your career.  You know best what your past experiences have been, but if you are unsure of your past achievements, consider asking friends, family and colleagues to give you a SWOT anaylsis with the goal of using it to help you find success moving forward.

Next Steps

Start by creating your master resume and portfolio.  Stay tuned for next week’s blog on Labour Market Information before moving forward with your career goal, as it is one of the most critical factors in determining the most appropriate career path.  If you are stuck, or you just can’t wait for the next blog, consider meeting with a professional Career Development Practitioner who can give you some suggestions on how to gain information on your local labour market.

Sarah Nelson’s educational background includes education, linguistics, and career development. Professionally a Career Development Practitioner with a CHRP designation, Sarah has a vast array of work experience across several industries. Her early career began in the hospitality industry and has morphed into a career with a strong focus on education, including being a School Trustee in the public education system, a Learning Consultant in the career development field, and a college instructor.

Her main areas of interest include communication and the power of words, innovation and creativity, living with passion and purpose and a desire to see the world full of lifelong learners who want to ‘be the change’. Sarah is also a “midnight genealogist” with a desire to uncover lost roots for herself and others, with a desire to learn from the past to live in the present and create a better future.  Connect with Sarah on LinkedIn at or Twitter at!/sarahnelson71.

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