Career Advice

Using Lived Experience to Change Careers

July 15, 2022

When looking for a new career path, try thinking beyond your resume. Your past work experience is only a part of who you are – but it is not all that you have to offer. Leveraging your first-hand, personal life experience can be just as valuable when looking for a new job.  Clearly highly skilled […]

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The Second Act Success Career Blog features articles to help inspire you as you navigate your career journey. Plus, you'll find show notes from podcast guests who have shared second act success stories. My hope is that these quick reads will offer advice and comfort knowing you are not alone on your path towards second act success. xo - Shannon


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teaching lived experienceWhen looking for a new career path, try thinking beyond your resume. Your past work experience is only a part of who you are – but it is not all that you have to offer. Leveraging your first-hand, personal life experience can be just as valuable when looking for a new job. 

Clearly highly skilled jobs like lawyers, doctors, pilots, etc., will be heavily focused on prior work experience, accomplishments and accreditations. However, there are a plethora of employers and job types that consider personal life experience to be an equally important qualifier. 

This is particularly relevant for older job applicants, who are looking to enter a new stage in their career and have decades of life to draw from. 


Putting Lived Experience to Work 

Every single person on this Earth goes through their own unique journey, whether through where they live, their childhood, physical or mental health issues, discrimination, disabilities, travel, hobbies, trauma, family or other experiences. 

These experiences, more than your job history, shape your personality and what you bring to the table. Many different categories of jobs recognize – and highly value – lived experience. Certain types of jobs require skills and practical knowledge that you just can learn in school. Often, they will seek out applicants with lived experiences that can relate to the job requirements. 


Examples of Applying Lived Experiences

Community Based Organizations

Many local organizations look for workers that are heavily entrenched in the community. Do you attend a lot of local events? Frequent the art or music scene? Volunteer? Showing a deep knowledge of your local area can be a valuable skill set. Not only do you demonstrate an awareness of happenings in your area, but you have an inner knowledge of the local market, trends and residents. This type of knowledge can go a long way. Look for jobs with an events company, a large corporation expanding in your area, as a social media expert, or with employers that prioritize community involvement and charitable efforts. 


Health Services

Health services organizations often prioritize employees with lived experience. Their clients are actively battling depression, PTSD, anxiety, drug addiction, domestic violence, and countless other persistent, damaging situations. Learning and understanding how to help these individuals can only be partially taught. Employers know that survivors and people who have gone through similar experiences are best equipped to help. They know the best way to approach situations, are more relatable, and engender a higher sense of trust. People with lived experiences are able to combine their endemic, practical understanding, with the skills and tools their employer has trained them to use.

We spoke with a great example of this recently, Kerry Holzschuh. Kerry was able to translate trauma from her life into something positive through multiple careers. Her career as a mental health counselor, as well as launching her own wellness retreat business both stemmed from her lived experience. 



Many workers in childcare have degrees in early childhood education, but not all. Many facilities, including pre-schools, day cares, in-home care, children’s programs and activities all value parenting experience. Moms returning to the workforce or looking to retire to something different can reference the lived experience they gained from raising their own children. 


Activism and Charities

Getting involved in an organization that directly addresses issues and areas that you have a shared experience can be rewarding for both parties. This can include employment across many areas, including political campaigns or lobbying groups, charities focused on specific health issues, social concerns, local or international issues, or anywhere in between. People with stories and personal experience contribute in myriad ways and give legitimacy to their efforts. 


Hiring Based on Lived Experiences Benefits Employers 

There are numerous benefits for employers to hire people with lived experience. Many recruiters are trained to look past resumes and focus on unique experiences that candidates may have in order to make hiring decisions. 

According to American Recruiters, these benefits include:

  • Deeper, more honest connection with your audience
  • Practical, real-world solutions to problems
  • Reinvigorate company culture 
  • Instill legitimacy to your brand, while improving image


If you are frustrated, burnt out and looking for a complete career change, take the time to examine your life beyond just traditional work experience. Look at the events and influences in your life that have made you who you are today. Take advantage of the opportunity to leverage your personal experiences to find a new career that is personal to you.