How to Explain Your Career Path to a Hiring Manager (When It Barely Makes Sense to You)

How to Explain Your Career Path to a Hiring Manager (When it Barely Makes Sense to You)

Ah the military spouse career path. We all know it: it’s creative, curvy, seemingly disjointed and on paper often an absolute mystery.

We’ve reinvented ourselves many many times. Sometimes we get an itch to try a new adventure, but often we’re simply taking the jobs that are available at our new duty station. Trying to explain our career path can be done, but that’s a lengthy story many don’t have time for.

So seriously, how should you explain your career path?

Although a hiring manager is most likely to see your journey on paper first, I’m going to attack this a little backwards because I think it helps if you can explain things in person (to yourself and to others) before trying to put it down on paper or online.

How to Explain Your Career Path to a Hiring Manager (When it Barely Makes Sense to You)

Explaining Your Confusing Career Path In-Person

To start explaining your career path you need to break it down. Although the individual positions may seem unrelated, I’m sure there are threads you can pull to make things seem a bit more cohesive. Even if you feel like you “just took the job that was available” there had to be something that made you think you could do the job. Something made you feel like you could endure the job for some time. Those are the threads to pull.

Identify Your Passions

The strongest thread to pull are your passions. Although you’re defining where you’ve been, you should focus on where you’re going and how your passions can get you there.

Do you love working with people? Leading teams? Or do you prefer solitude and working on a project you can sink your teeth into alone?

Defining your passions should help you define which skills to highlight and hopefully will help others connect you to an opportunity within your desired field.

Focus on Your Skills

Right next to your passions should be your skills and your experiences. You may think you love leading teams, but if you don’t have the experience to back that up you may have a hard time convincing a hiring manager to put you in charge of a slew of people.

So identify your skills. Maybe you jumped from being an elementary school teacher to leading a nonprofit, but if both positions required you to document the progress of individuals (students in one case and clients or cases you helped in another) then that’s a thread you can pull and a skill you can document.

Your Elevator Pitch

Those passions and skills with just a dab of your experience are what should be rolled up into your elevator pitch which you will PRACTICE. I know you hate talking about yourself, but it MUST be done if you are to network your way into your next career opportunity.

Just remember, if you can’t make sense of your journey, no one else will either so PRACTICE.

That said, crafting the perfect elevator pitch is a whole article in itself, perhaps I’ll tackle that next, but I digress…

Explaining Your Confusing Career Path on Paper

Paper explanations are special. They’re my LEAST favorite part of any job search because they’re often the hardest place to show your personality and passions. They’re necessary, however, and you need to tackle them in a way that helps others translate where you’ve been, and more importantly where you’re going.

Once you’ve identified the passions and skills that have gotten you where you are, and define where you want to go, you need to put it on paper.

Traditional Resume

In my mind, a traditional resume may be the most challenging place of all when it comes to explaining your career path.

If you look at my own career journey (university recruiter – defense contract intelligence analyst – military exercise planner – nonprofit manager) as it stands, you’d definitely be scratching your head trying to jump from one piece to another, but if I pull the threads I referenced above it can make more sense.

All of my positions required speaking in public.

All of them required a variety of writing skills (student and family recruiting letters, lengthy reports, exercise findings), and over time the latter positions required that I manage a team.

Not only am I sure to highlight those skills on my resume, but I can use a VERY short executive summary at the top of the resume to highlight the fact that I want to use those skills to continue my passion in nonprofit work for military families. This is the written version of that elevator pitch you are practicing…

Functional Resume

Although I have seen some mixed thoughts on functional resumes, I personally love functional resumes for military spouses. They’re a way to highlight exactly the things I mentioned above. You group your resume by your skill set(s) and then add your work experience at the end. You can find some great examples of functional resumes here and here.

Cover Letter

The cover letter, whether in full form or in an email to the hiring manager, is another place to shed some clarifying light on your career path. In your cover letter, take your 30-second elevator pitch and expand on it SLIGHTLY. This still does not need to be lengthy or include a reference to every job you’ve held, but you can give a nod to your journey by simply saying something like,

“Although my job titles are extremely varied, you’ll notice that the following skills are common amongst my positions: public speaking, extensive writing and team management. I would welcome the opportunity to put these skills to work in the Manager of All the Things position you have available at the Best Nonprofit in the World.”

Remember: no matter what your career path looks like, or where you’re trying to go, you’re selling YOU.

You are awesome. You have weaved this journey together with skill and determination and you deserve an opportunity to keep moving toward your goals.

How do you explain your confusing career path to hiring managers? Share your tips in the comments section. 

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