At some point in your work life, you might take on a job or volunteer experience that doesn’t seem relevant to your overall career trajectory. The fact is: Any experience is valuable, even if its usefulness isn’t immediately apparent.

Whether you’re thinking about embracing a unique role or are looking to incorporate a past experience into your resume, here are some tips for making the most of an odd job opportunity.


1. Build Identity Capital

Expanding on the work of sociologist Ames Côté, clinical psychologist Meg Jay defined the concept of identity capital in her book, The Defining Decade, as an individual’s collection of personal assets, or how we “build ourselves—bit by bit, over time” through experiences.

Jay details the four years she spent between college and graduate school working with Outward Bound, a nonprofit that offers experiential outdoor education programs. Though this role wasn’t the obvious next step for a college graduate, Jay eventually entered the graduate school interview circuit with a hook: In every interview, she was asked about her experience with the organization and was introduced as “the Outward Bound girl” to faculty.

While Jay’s advice around identity capital—and her own personal experience—may be most relevant to recent college graduates, building identity capital is appropriate at any stage of your career. Embracing a unique experience provides you with an opportunity to create your own branding and differentiate yourself from other job applicants.

Though some job opportunities may have more identity capital than others, an unusual experience need not be as unique as working with Outward Bound. If you have a passion for karate and the skill level to teach beginner classes, make the most of a job layoff or post-degree period to pursue that interest and add something compelling to your resume.

Related: 4 Tips for Growing Your Professional Network

2. Network

There’s a reason LinkedIn has become such a vital part of working life. According to a recent survey, 85 percent of all jobs are filled through networking.

What’s the best way to make connections? In person. Every job or volunteer opportunity comes with a chance to make new contacts. Whether you’re building close bonds with your coworkers or establishing a series of “weak ties,” expanding your network expands your opportunities.

After all, your fellow volunteer at a food bank might work in an interesting industry, or their wife may have a career in your ideal field and know of potential job resources. Don’t be afraid to get to know new people and learn more about them—you never know how your perspective might shift or what doors may open.

3. Take Stock and Identify Useful Skills

Once you’ve accepted an unusual job, evaluate the work you’re doing and take stock of your daily and occasional tasks. Though many aspects of your job may not directly relate to another position, every experience is bound to have practices that are easily transferrable. Take the time to hone those skills.

If you’re working part-time at a local aquarium and transporting live animals, you probably won’t need to tout your deft animal-handling when interviewing with a consulting firm. Your attention to detail when carrying out transport schedules, however, or your decision-making when faced with a scheduling challenge are skills that will serve you well wherever you work next.

Additionally, while it’s important to always have a general version of your resume on hand, be sure to understand your work experience thoroughly enough so you can tailor your resume as needed. And don’t forget about soft skills. Whether you’re volunteering at the reception desk of a local senior center or working as a camp counselor, highlight the interpersonal qualities that make you a perfect fit for any professional environment.

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4. Tell a Story

When it’s time to seek out your next job, make sure your transferrable skills are more than just items on a resume. To truly make the most of the identity capital you’ve gained, reflect on your role and identify experiences you can codify into stories that offer colorful (yet work-appropriate) detail.

When it comes time to interview, you’ll be ready to ensure that your interviewer not only remembers you as the applicant who spent time working for a small landscaping company, but remembers the type of lawn mowing equipment that failed to operate when a client was set to host an outdoor party the following day (and how you located additional equipment to get the job done).

To that end, be sure that the stories you’re telling provide concrete examples of the transferrable skills you’ve listed on your resume. Your experience is valuable.

Related: How to Answer Common Interview Questions: A Cheat Sheet


There are many paths you can take throughout your career. Don’t shy away from tackling unique challenges and opportunities when they present themselves—they just may be the way to differentiate yourself in a crowded field.

Are you interested in more career advice? Explore our other articles on professional development, from "How to Get Ahead at Work" to “Tips for Transitioning from College to Your Career."

Quenby Solberg

About the Author

Quenby Solberg is a Program Services Coordinator at Harvard Business School Online. She is a lifelong resident of Massachusetts and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature from Smith College. When she’s not at HBS Online, you can find her in her seaside hometown, assisting with her mom’s real estate business, and occasionally setting foot on the beach.