During the recruitment process, managers like to ask questions that give candidates an opportunity to demonstrate their skills and experience. But does it matter if those examples are not strictly work related?
The answer depends on the job, according to Anne-Marie Orrock, director of Corporate Canary HR. “From my experience it really depends on the role and the candidate,” she says.
“If it is quite a senior role I wouldn’t expect them to be giving me a real life experience around questions I ask about the role. I would expect at that level that they would have plenty of business examples,” Orrock explains.
However, Orrock adds that for junior candidates or women returning to the workforce after having children, “real life” experience can help to show a prospective employer that you have the skills necessary for the job.
“When you haven’t had a lot of recent work experience, employers are not going to expect that you do. It is always best to point out that you don’t have most recent experience, but that you do have strong skills developed through real life experiences,” she explains.
Orrock has had first had experience of this from a recruiter perspective and recalls an interview that took place recently. The candidate was a mother who wanted to return to the workforce after 12 years.
“I knew she didn’t have recent work experience but she tried to give me examples from her work 20 years ago,” says Orrock.
From looking at the candidate’s CV Orrock could see that she had moved with her family to three international locations.
“That takes quite some project planning, good organisation and coordination skills and the ability to adapt to new cultures. She didn’t draw on those experiences at all and that was her failing,” Orrock recalls.
Orrock says that it is appropriate for women retuning to work after children to draw on their “real life” experience during the recruitment stage. However she warns that in order for these experiences to be taken seriously it is important to quantify them with examples of achievements.
“For example, rather than saying ‘I managed the household budget,’ they should say ‘I slashed utility costs by 25%’ or ‘I re-assessed our budget and saved us $10,000 per year, which we invested’. It’s much more impressive, but more importantly is giving evidence of results. Everyone manages a household budget.”
Jenny Wong, executive director of recruitment consultancy Evolve People, says that she has heard many candidates refer to their “real life” experience during her 12 years as a recruiter. She notes that while it is interesting, it is probably best to stick to work examples as much as possible, at least in the first round of interviews.
However, Wong notes that “real life” experience could be a great way to build rapport or to demonstrate that a candidate would be a good fit with the company’s culture. She says that it is a good idea to add a “hobbies and interests” section to your resume.
“This helps a potential employer picture the type of person you are outside of work and your personality. Something you put down might catch their eye and spark and an interest in you,” Wong explains.
“Social skills, activities and personality traits are often just as important as technical skills and experience when it comes to an employer weighing up candidates for a job.”