In recent years, many large companies have started opening up their doors to more non-traditional candidates. That includes broadening the hiring pool to include capable, driven individuals who don’t have an elite academic background.

This is great news for job seekers. Too many strong candidates never get their shot at an interview simply because they fall short of some arbitrary educational requirements the resume-readers scan for.

If you make it through that initial scan, you’ll still need to prepare to make your case in interviews. In fact, the shift from degrees and hard skills to competencies and growth potential changes the approach for all applicants. Your resume probably tells interviewers where you went to school, where you’ve worked, and what titles and job responsibilities you’ve had. It doesn’t do much to communicate your potential, your values or your mindset.

Those intangibles and “soft” skills are valuable currency in today’s job market, so you need to be able to articulate yours clearly and convincingly.

Preview of skills for non-traditional job candidates

1. Weave learning activities into your resume

The modern workplace is a fluid environment, and career paths are no longer linear. Given this state of constant change, companies are looking for lifelong learners who are ready, willing, and able to adapt to whatever comes next.

Don’t just list your upskilling activities. Be loud and proud about lifelong learning, and make it explicit that you understand the value of a growth mindset.

If you’re someone who’s been taking online courses, attending professional workshops, or completing other skills training, be sure to weave that into your resume. Regardless of whether they’re directly tied to the jobs you’re applying for, you can point to your continued learning activities to show you’re a goal-oriented self-starter who’s not afraid to venture outside your comfort zone and tackle a new skill.

2. Share self-directed projects, side hustles

Companies want to hire well-rounded, curious individuals who will bring diverse ideas and inspirations to their work. While this doesn’t mean you should tell your interviewer about every pursuit you enjoy outside the office, think about your personal passions and pastimes and how they influence your professional life and include them on your resume.

Your side hustle might be something you do because you enjoy it or need extra income, maybe both. Either way, consider creating a personal website or online portfolio of projects that demonstrate your skills. If you’re successfully running a side enterprise, you show that you’re driven and are effective at managing your time and energy.

3. Be an interview STAR

The so-called STAR technique is a thing in HR circles that interviewees should know about, too. The acronym stands for Situation, Tasks, Action, Result, and remembering it will help you tell a story that hits all the right marks in response to behavioral interview questions. These give interviewers better insight into your thought process and other soft skills like problem-solving, managing team dynamics, and communication.

In other words, it’s one thing to claim you have skills; it’s another to show how you apply your skills in real-world situations to achieve desired results.

When you’re talking about past experiences, don’t dwell on “here’s what I did.” Instead, call out how your skills and attitude helped you reach your objectives. Keep the job description in mind too. Cite your most relevant skills and tie them back to what the hiring manager is hoping you can do for their company, too.

4. Be prepared, and be specific

If you had to give a talk to a room full of people, you wouldn’t go in cold, would you? No, you’d sketch out the main messages you wanted to deliver, you’d come up with examples to illustrate your points, and you’d practice your delivery till you felt confident you had it down.

Do that for job interviews, too.

Especially if you haven’t interviewed before or haven’t interviewed in a long time, you might not be accustomed to talking about yourself and your background this way. Even if you can tick off your technical skills, no problem, you might have to be more deliberate in linking your achievements to your soft skills. These things may seem obvious to you but need to be articulated to an interviewer. 

5. Maintain your energy

It would be nice to get hired for the job of your dreams after one interview, but, let’s face it, that’s probably not going to happen.

Not only will you have many job interviews at different companies, you’ll probably have to do a series of interviews with different people inside the same company. You will find yourself telling the same stories over and over. You’ll get tired of hearing yourself.

Here’s where you need to channel your inner Broadway performer. Those actors say the same lines and sing the same songs day after day, but the real pros make every audience feel like they’re seeing the performance of a lifetime.

You need to stay focused, energized, and self-aware at every point in the interview process because you’re being evaluated on the overall impression you make.

Soft skills could be what set you apart from a field of candidates with comparable hard skills and expensive degrees. Be proactive in highlighting them.

A version of this article appeared in Entrepreneur.

Page Last Updated: April 2021