1. Don't take a literal view of your experience. Instead, focus on the transferable skills you've developed in your past and current positions that will relate to new opportunities. Good careerists know that they can do any job, and indeed, every job utilizes the same basic skills. Examples include the ability to meet deadlines or the ability to communicate with a wide range of people—so don't discount your waitressing experience. Are there skills in your current job that will apply to the new position you want? How so? Can you articulate and communicate those in your cover letter, resume and interview?
2. Try an experience summary. Once you identify your transferable skills, put an experience summary on top of your resume that lists how many years of expertise you have in key areas. For example, you could list "5+ years in Staff/Volunteer Management, Training & Development." This will focus potential employers on skills directly applicable to the potential job, and provides a more focused summary than your resume alone may allow. Your experience summary can include all jobs (college, volunteer, internships, etc.), and the transferable skills you highlight should exactly match the job description of the position you want.
3. Focus on your results. When creating your resume and cover letter and preparing for your interview, always focus on results you have achieved, not a description of your job responsibilities. Your ability to understand and articulate the process of how you get results makes it clear you are a self-starter who can bring your expertise to a new position. Try identifying two to three key stories—a high-revenue marketing campaign or how you solved a dispute with a client, for example—and rehearse explaining the key behaviors, milestones, challenges and outcomes.
4. Don't rely on ideas alone. Whether it's a class, self-directed research, starting a blog or a volunteer position, make sure to familiarize yourself with the new industry or extra responsibility you want to take on. It's up to you to prove your passion, energy and enthusiasm toward this new challenge, and you can and should be creative in taking real action toward your goals, instead of just thinking about them and hoping a potential employer will choose you.
5. Find an open door. There's no job more guaranteed than the one in which a mutual acquaintance has personally recommended you. Don't be shy about letting friends, mentors and professional contacts know you appreciate their support during your search. Those who have already found professional success often enjoy helping others, particularly if you're smart and likeable. Just remember, you want to make your network look good, so follow-through and be especially considerate and prepared when applying for opportunities where someone has vouched for you.
Your past experience, no matter in what industry or position, is relevant to your next opportunity. Learn how to market yourself appropriately and you'll be prepared to knock it out of the park and land the new job.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.