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The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

Dear StopSign

The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

Does unpaid experience count?

Dear StopSign,
I have experience, but it’s unpaid. Does it count?

Ms. StopSign used to volunteer at an agency that helps inner-city people find a better job. One day she asked her supervisor, “Can I put this experience on my resume?” The agency person replied, “What business is it of theirs how much you get paid for doing work for me?”

Many people think work only counts if they were paid for it.
Stop doing that!

Many people equate their worth with what they have been paid.
Stop doing that!

Unpaid work—which can include internships, volunteering, parenting, and more—definitely counts!

Consider, as an example, the life of a home-maker or stay-at-home parent who typically is not paid for their work. According to Salary.com, if the average stay-at-home parent paid for their services, they would be looking at a median annual salary of $178,201. Why? Because many stay-at-home parents work around the clock.

Instead of counting dollars, focus on the qualitative value of the work.

Relevant unpaid work demonstrates that you can do the work.

Let’s again consider [unpaid] parents: Parents are tutors, negotiators, at-home nurses, chefs, and more. Experienced parents master a wide array of skills, including negotiation, finance, sales, cooking, time-management, leadership, and mentoring.

Any employer who values hard work will want to talk to a person with these skills.

Furthermore, by performing unpaid work, you show a willingness to learn. When you talk about that work and use STAR stories, you can convey a positive attitude, enthusiasm, dependability, attention to detail—in short, professionalism.

In other words, unpaid work can demonstrate your ability to do the work and convey you will want to keep doing the work.

In short:

  1. Don’t leave unpaid internships off your resume.
  2. Don’t leave relevant unpaid volunteer work off your resume.
  3. If you are a recent graduate, do consider including relevant coursework. (Hey that’s work, too!)

About The Author

Ed Lawrence is a National Certified Résumé Writer (CPRW), National Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE), and is certified in DISC, MBTI, and Skillscan. He has volunteered with the ICT for seven years. Learn more about him at www.linkedin.com/in/educate.

The StopSign is a job-search column offering serious career advice with a touch of humor to help you stand out among the crowd that follows the same-old, same-old advice you find all over the internet. Feel free to send any questions you’d like answered in these posts. We’ll tell you what not to do and where to go—not!

Do you have to do this?

Do you have to do this?

The Beautiful Truth of Who We Are

Do you have to do this?

It first began when I was driving to work.  Often I drove with the radio off, in silence, because there seemed to be so much to think about.  With work there was always a lot to think about.  For starters, what was I going to accomplish today?  What had I promised to get done?  As I mulled this over there was a tiny voice.

Do you have to do this?
Do you have to keep doing this?
What do you mean?
This work you’re doing, do you have to do it?  How long do you have to do it?

This would occasionally happen on the drive into the office, but it started to become a regular occurrence during the drive home. Later, I would hear the voice if I woke up in the middle of the night. And in the shower. And while on the exercise bike. And over the weekend.

Here was a voice I couldn’t really listen to. I had kids in middle school headed to college. I was still paying our loan for my older kids’ college degrees. There were many things yet to pay for, things I had promised to all my kids. To my spouse. The voice would have to wait.

But it kept asking.  Do you have to do this?

I was in my early to mid fifties when this voice experience began in earnest. I had begun to have my doubts about my career, but I had been able to push them aside. Then began a series of challenges.  Physical health issues. Surgery. Unemployment. Difficulty finding other employment. Difficulty getting even a phone screen. My mom became ill. I stepped up with my siblings to care for her despite her being out-of-state. After some time she passed away. I took on the role of executor for her estate.

Through all of this even more questions arose. What is this work thing anyway? What does it actually mean? Does it mean anything to me? You can work for almost an entire career and what do you have to show for it? Did it matter? If it did, then what exactly mattered? More often than not I realized there were aspects which did not really matter. My father worked an entire career to support his family. His work surely mattered to us but did it matter to him? These were the thoughts that spun in my head.

The work world seemed to agree with the notion that I didn’t matter as a worker. I was no longer on their radar. I could submit application after application and receive nothing in return. No feedback.  Nothing. Then the voice chimed in. Do you have to do this?  Can you do something else?

At this point, I began to think about work in earnest. I tried to figure out what was going on with work and me. I read many books. I went for many walks and bike rides. I filled up many notebooks and journals. I tried to decode the meaning of work so that I could get through this rough patch of not really connecting with work. I had worked in my industry for about thirty-five years, but somewhere I stopped understanding why I chose that career path. I couldn’t figure out when it stopped meaning anything.  It was sometime around when I first started hearing the voice.  Do you have to do this?

Work, I decided, was really only a transaction. Your employer has problems that need to be solved. You have skills to solve some of those problems. Work is just an exchange of services for pay.

Somehow that was not what work had meant to me. I began to realize that I had been trying to find validation in all my jobs. Work for me represented the potential to find a sense of worth I had been looking for. I was always looking for the “perfect job” where I was going to blossom into the exact right person they needed, and I would be valued and needed and showered with compensation, and it was going to be great. Seventeen companies later I started to realize that maybe it was not going to happen.  After all, it hadn’t happened yet. If not now, then when? Maybe that’s what the voice was about. Can you do something else?

So I write to you now from a position of having disassembled all my thoughts about what work and career mean to me. I spent a lot of time on the topic of identity. Surely if you understood your identity then you could match it to the work you do. Right? But then there was the topic of motivation. What actually has meaning to you? It is a personal question that we each have to answer for ourselves. The notion of motivation and the idea of meaningful work dance a tango together. Intimate. Dark. Mysterious. Intertwined.

I realized a mistake I had been making. I had always thought that people picked their career, got the necessary credentials, found their first job, and then worked continuously until they reached full retirement age. This strategy was what we were all taught. It seemed very straightforward. My experience, however, was anything but straightforward.

In my period of questioning and examination it became apparent that a career path could never go down a simple straight line. Why? It’s because the industry you are in is in a constant state of change. The country and the economy are in a constant state of change. Ditto for the world economy. Oh, yes, and ditto for you, too. As you work through a thirty- and forty-year career, you yourself change. Physically, for example. Your interests change. Your expectations. Your sense of meaning. Your motivation.  All of it, everywhere you look, is in a state of change. I had been wrong to think that I would just work an entire career until the magic day came where I could sign up for Medicare and reach my magical full retirement age – 66 and 10 months. Not 9 months. Not 11.  Somewhere a bureaucrat must have chuckled over that one.

I had been completely wrong about most of this process. It became time to rethink.

To me, it’s not really about work, believe it or not. It’s not even about income. I think it’s about engagement. What do you do when you have free time? You do something that interests you. You direct your intellect and energy towards a topic that fascinates you, compels you, and draws you along.

Many people view their work as something they have to do so they can earn money, and reserve doing the things that really interest them for their free time. Isn’t that completely backwards? Shouldn’t your work be the thing you would do just because it is what you would do if you had the time? Wouldn’t you want the two to be one and the same?

I have begun responding to the insistent voice.

Do you have to do this?
I do if I want to live fully.
Do you have to keep doing this?
want to keep doing this.
This work you’re doing, do you have to do it?  How long do you have to do it?

What I have to do is contribute my best to work that engages me. How long, you ask? For life, I answer. For life.

About The Author

Meet Ron Heerema, author and photographer: My ancestors were from the Friesland Province, a group of islands off the coast of the Netherlands. Theirs is a maritime history of people who prospered against the elements of uncertainty one faces when living off the sea. We all face such elements in our desire to do our best work whether it’s living off the sea or finding the best and most productive version of ourselves in the work that we do. In this sense I can say that I feel I navigate the crosswinds that bear upon older workers who chart their course to the realization of their best work toward the end of their career. I write articles that are a kind of “ship’s log” of my experiences to this end. Reach Ron at ronheerema@gmail.com.

Boost your credit rating

Boost your credit rating

Quick Tip

Boost your credit rating

Get a free credit boost by paying your utility and telecom bills on time.

Did you know Experian has a feature known as Boost? The feature is exclusive to Experian and allows a consumer to add certain monthly bills that you normally pay but not associated with credit.

For the first time, you can get credit for your Netflix, phone, and utility bills only with Experian Boost.

You can raise your FICO score instantly. Consumers on average see an increase potential of up to 13 points! FICO scores matter! They are used by over 90% of top lenders. The higher the credit score, the lower the interest rate you may qualify for to buy a new home, car, etc.

Experian Boost is free and secure. You are not paying to repair your credit. Experian Boost is a well-intentioned service and only reports positive payment histories. If you are working to improve your credit score, seeing your scores go up instantly can be extremely rewarding.

How does it work?

  1. Go to www.experian.com – Reports and Scores
  2. Create an account
  3. Select the “Start your boost” button
  4. Connect the bank account(s) you use to pay your bills (your information remains private)

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Give it a try!

Shared with you by Angela Pinette, The TAO of Angela, balancing your life through Feng Shui. You can reach her at arpinette@gmail.com

Photo by Lukas from Pexels

About The Author

Deborah Burkholder is the Executive Director for the Institute for Career Transitions. You can reach her at 617-468-7837 or deborah@ictransitions.org

The Wayfinder Chronicles

The Wayfinder Chronicles


The Wayfinder Chronicles

Welcome to the beginning of our shared chronicles of stories, musings, reviews, lessons, and inspirations for designing the life and career you want.

It is hard to get and keep one’s bearings in a rapidly changing economic and career landscape. Responding in a VUCA world, one that is volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous, challenges our sense of what we know or can predict. These conditions require intel on the constantly changing conditions and a team of fellow wayfinders to help us along the way.

Your journey may be a sprint or a marathon, no one knows how long it will take.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. 
If you want to go far, go together.”

Given the inherent uncertainty, it is best to plan for the long haul while implementing processes with the greatest probability for success.

No matter where you are in your trek, every perspective, helps us to learn together, and keep the momentum to move forward. The new ground we are breaking together requires a shift in our thinking from fear of the unknown to one of vision, understanding, courage and agility. A new framing of VUCA.

We hope you will share your discoveries in the Wayfinder Chronicles (and in the Wayfinder Collaborative coming soon) as we navigate this new job search reality together.

You can submit items to be considered for the blog using the link in the footer.

About The Author

Deborah Burkholder is the Executive Director for the Institute for Career Transitions. You can reach her at 617-468-7837 or deborah@ictransitions.org

The Stop Sign: Unpaid Experience

The Stop Sign

Ask a coach

The Stop Sign

Welcome to The Stop Sign – a job-search column offering serious career advice with a touch of humor to help you stand out among the crowd that follows the same-old, same-old advice you find all over the internet. We hope our approach will catch your attention and keep you coming back to read more.

We’re confident you will listen to us, because we at The Stop Sign monitor social media sites daily, present frequently to networking groups, and discuss often the effectiveness of job-search advice. We have years of experience in this business; tons of credentials, and plenty of satisfied customers.

On the other hand, we’re a bit frustrated. We know you’ve been to the state career centers and the networking and buddy groups, and in addition, probably peruse a dozen articles a day posted by experts on LinkedIn and other sites, but we’ve noted how in spite of all the available help, many people keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

For example, we’ve advised plenty of people how to present themselves on video properly—-Just do these 22 things we taught you during a two-Zoom session during which you may have multi-tasked or played Candy Crush— only to see the same mistakes at the very next session.

We asked ourselves, “Why is this?”

After a few not-so-intense debates among the staff, we decided to ask the customers. They basically told us, “There’s so much conflicting data coming from so many career experts; we don’t know who to trust and follow.”

Actually, one job-seeker said, “Ask 100 résumé -writers for an answer and you get 98 different answers” and another said, “It’s all recirculated schlock.”

Realizing how the usual methods don‘t seem to have a lasting effect on job-seeker behavior, our crack(ed) staff looked high and low for a new approach—one that would gain your attention and have a lasting impact. After an intense Google search, we were fortunate to find Dr. Switzer, whose counseling sessions are brief, direct, and extraordinarily effective.

You can view one of his counseling sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ow0lr63y4Mw

Using Dr. Switzer’s methods, I’m now going to list five typical mistakes made by job-seekers, and provide concise and clear steps that if followed will immediately improve your chances of landing a fulfilling job:

Mistake #1: Apply to ten or more jobs every day and think that the more jobs you apply for the better your chances are of landing a job.


MISTAKE #2: You created and rehearse often a thirty-second to one-minute elevator speech to use on everyone you meet.


MISTAKE #3: You submit the same résumé to every job for which you apply.


MISTAKE #4:  You composed and use with your job applications a generic three-paragraph letter that rehashes your résumé and hopes for a response, or even worse never submit a cover letter at all.


MISTAKE #5: Considering yourself experienced at interviewing, and fancying yourself a people-person, you think you know the drill; so, you just wing-it at interviews.


Why you need to “STOP IT!”

  1. Trying to land a job by mainly applying online has the same odds as winning at gambling. You may feel good the moment after you click the Submit button, but like a slots-player who feels great after pulling the arm of the one-armed bandit, you’ll lose more often than you win. The statistics prove that most jobs are landed via networking and referrals.
  2. Everyone goes to networking events to find a lead or referral for a job. Few go with the intent of listening or helping others. They all want you to listen to them. In other words, practically no one wants to listen to you sell yourself for 30 seconds to a minute. In this era when people allegedly have the 9-second attention span of a goldfish, a 15-second maximum networking introduction works much better.
  3. Most companies use applicant tracking software (ATS) to filter out the majority of submitted résumés by checking for key words. This means your résumé must include many of the words used in the job-posting. In addition, the professional summary should match the qualities and soft skills listed in the ad. After all, once your résumé makes it through the ATS, it must impress the human reader.
  4. The cover-letter is your chance to show your passion, declare your why and love for the profession, and thus differentiate yourself from the crowd. A manager once told me, “I don’t always read the cover letters, but I process the applications first, that have cover letters.”
  5. Job-interviews are stressful. If you don’t create and practice your stories and answers ahead of time, the odds are that you don’t come across as calm and prepared during the interview. Your stories won’t be focused and concise. You will lose out to candidates that took the time to prepare fully.

Why you’ll benefit by reading The Stop Sign

I’ve just presented five topics with answers in less than two pages. If you re-read the statements above, you’ll note how I didn’t tell you what to do. I told you what not do to.

And this is how The Stop Sign will operate. We won’t overload you with dozens of steps for success or reveal some secret sauce that will supposedly guarantee you a job. Instead, we will convey precise things that practically all career experts agree you should not do.

For example, 98 résumé -writers out of 100 may differ on a recommended format and wording of some bullets, but I’m confident 98 out of 100 will agree on what you should not do!

Remember, even if you aren’t sure what to do, your job search will experience a vast improvement by excluding what you should not be doing.

So, if you’re looking for career direction, be sure to watch for The Stop Sign. Feel free to send any questions you’d like answered in these posts. We’ll tell you what not to do and where to go—not!

About The Author

Ed Lawrence is a National Certified Résumé Writer (CPRW), National Certified Online Profile Expert (NCOPE), and is certified in DISC, MBTI, and Skillscan. He has volunteered with the ICT for seven years. Learn more about him at www.linkedin.com/in/educate.

The StopSign is a job-search column offering serious career advice with a touch of humor to help you stand out among the crowd that follows the same-old, same-old advice you find all over the internet. Feel free to send any questions you’d like answered in these posts. We’ll tell you what not to do and where to go—not!

How to Use Your Body to Think Effectively in Your Job Search

How to Use Your Body to Think Effectively in Your Job Search

Breathing, Moving, and Power Posing

How to Use Your Body to Think Effectively in Your Job Search

Most of us live in our heads all the time, caught up in our thoughts, worries, and questions. We forget that we have a body, or think of our body as a vehicle to carry our brains around. As a coach, I’m always reminding clients that our body is a powerful tool. We can use our body to think and feel differently, to feel calmer and more in control of our lives, even when so much is out of our control.

People in career transition can and should use all of the resources and help available. Please remember that your body is another resource to help you feel more empowered and think more productively during your days of job seeking, applying, and interviewing. Here are three ways you can use your body to feel calmer, more confident, and creative:

1. Reduce your stress by taking deep belly breaths. Job seeking can be stressful, and when we are in a stress reaction, a cascade of biochemicals circulate around our body and brains. Parts of our brain that do higher-level thinking are very sensitive to stress, and when these parts of our brain impacted by stress chemicals, our thinking is impaired. To return to productive and positive thinking, the most effective thing we can do is take deep belly breaths. To breathe deeply, put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. Then take a few deep breaths moving only your stomach. When you inhale, let your stomach out and expand. When you exhale, pull your stomach all the way back in to release all of the air out of your lungs. Deep belly breathing activates your vagus nerve and parasympathetic “rest and digest” nervous system, which can help you quickly feel calmer and reset/reboot your thoughts.

2. When you feel stuck, get up and move. When we are worried, we often stop moving; our body and breathing constricts. We get caught up in our worries, and they can take hold of our body and overwhelm us. This keeps us stuck and in the land of worry. Here’s what I believe: job seeking from the land of worry does not serve anyone! Feeling stuck and worried can be a clue that it’s time to move. You can re-harness your creativity and shift your mindset by moving your body. When you feel stuck, stand up, walk around your room, run in place, stretch, or do a yoga pose. Even better, leave the room for a few minutes, get outside, and take a walk. Moving your body will help your thoughts move and flow – to find another direction, think of another person to network with, or see another possibility.

3. Find and practice your confident body pose before and during interviews. If you’ve never seen Amy Cuddy’s TED talk about Power Posing, watch it and practice it now. Holding our body in a confident pose makes us think and feel differently. It helps us feel confident and clearer about our abilities and what we have to offer. Before every networking call and interview, take a few moments to stand in the body pose that makes you feel confident, capable, and enthusiastic. Then, during interviews, be aware of and intentional around how you are holding your body. If you’re doing a video interview, find the seated body position that makes you feel confident and in control. How do you need to sit on your chair? If you’re on a phone call, stand up and stand tall when possible. Confident body language creates a mindset of confidence.

Mindset is a big part of job seeking and can make the difference between an effective job search and an overwhelming job search. Using our body and breathing can help us get into a positive, calm, confident, motivated mindset. To think more effectively, we can breathe deeply to activate our parasympathetic nervous system. To get unstuck, we can get up and move our body and change our environment. And to convey confidence and believe in ourselves, we can sit and stand in our confident body pose.

Body and breathing strategies are free and always available – it’s up to you to remember and choose to use them, so you can manage your job seeking with as much calm and confidence as possible.

About The Author

Deb Elbaum is a career and leadership coach, whose specialty is helping mid-career professionals and leaders get clear about their next steps, build their confidence and communication strategies, and create a step-wise plan to make their goals happen. Her podcast In the Right Direction shares her most common coaching tips and tools. Deb can be reached at deb@debelbaum.com and or through her website.