What to do with your professional experience (and why you should go on exchange)

Using your professional experience going forward is something that sounds simple, but really isn’t. Do you want it to define your career, or are you more interested in the cross-disciplinary skills that your experiences have given? Are you using your experience to commit to a singular type of role or job, or are you seeking to try something else for a change? Your career experience is equal parts flexible and inflexible; it depends on how you see it and what you got out of it.

If you’re wanting to go down a certain path, use your experience to explain why. You’ll be able to find all sorts of examples to corroborate this: hobbies, interests, perhaps some useful life stories. This is easier expressed in a cover letter: you can explain your passion/interest in a field, with more freedom to elaborate (which you wouldn’t get in a CV).

However, if you’re thinking about a change of scenery, don’t discount your previous experience as a waste of time. If you’ve been looking for something for a while and your experience is all over the place, you can take a lot from it. The passion and willingness to try different things is already a good look, and you can demonstrate many transferrable skills too. Your experience in different fields will still come in useful, as no job or experience exists in a vacuum.

If your experience is focused, but you’re seeking a change, it’s still doable. Emphasis on transferrable skills will be very important, as well as highlighting the useful knowledge you gained from your previous experience. You should also emphasize your reason for a career change. This may involve a bit of research into whatever field you’re going into, so using your cover letter (if applicable) is the best way to demonstrate an interest in the new field.

A very good way to gain experience, or to bridge any career gaps, is an exchange program. An exchange can help you figure out where you want your career to go: if your exchange matches your career aspirations, then it’s a useful and relevant experience. If it’s not a perfect match, then no need to fret. You can still emphasize the skills you learned, and how you can apply them elsewhere.