How to Demonstrate Willingness to Learn [Resume, Interview]

Patrick Ward Patrick Ward Follow May 12, 2021 · 11 mins read
How to Demonstrate Willingness to Learn [Resume, Interview]

Willingness to learn is a highly desired quality for employers, even when hiring experienced mid-career candidates.

I’ve worked with hiring managers from major FAANG companies as well as fast-growing startups, and they have one thing in common: a need for employees who can learn quickly on the job.

Willingness to learn has gone from a nice-to-have to a neccessity, thanks to the constant disruption by new technology. Job market studies show that 87% of workers will pursue continuing education to avoid getting left behind.

In this post, I’ll break down how you can demonstrate willingness to learn through real-world examples for your resume, interviews, and networking efforts.

What you'll learn
  • 9 specific ways to demonstrate willingness to learn on a resume and in verbal interview settings
  • Why employers value “lifelong learners” for productive teams
CV image.

How to Demonstrate Willingness to Learn on a Resume

Resumes are frequently the first impression a hiring manager has of you, making them an excellent place to showcase your willingness to learn.

Here are three ways to do so in a way that appeals to hiring managers:

1. Use the “before and after” framework

There is a saying that every screenwriter knows very well: Show, don’t tell.

The best resumes don’t feature a laundry list of tasks and responsibilities; instead, they highlight how the candidate delivers specific results and improves (learns) over time.

Try applying this formula to your past job, education, and volunteer experiences:

By doing {action}, we learned {lesson}. This allowed us to fix {problem} and deliver {result}.

Here’s an example from a resume of a recent graduate who had a work-study job in their college admissions office:

By asking visiting students to fill out a questionnaire, we learned that visitors were delighted by the gym and bored by the medical complex. We changed the order of visits in our tour to start with the gym, and saw 11% higher application completion among prospective students coming through our office.


Give an example that proves your ability to learn something new and apply it to deliver a tangible result or improvement.

2. Highlight unique combinations of skills

According to hiring expert Ricardo Sousa at the resume company JobSeeker, unique combinations of skills are one of the best ways to stand out from the crowd when your experience is limited:

A web developer who knows Python isn’t particularly surprising. A web developer who knows Python and is also handy with Adobe Illustrator? This is more interesting — particularly if highlighted in portfolio pieces — because it proves that the applicant is open to learning skills outside the obvious in their industry.

This proves that you are willing to learn, and can engage with tasks outside your educational background.

As an added bonus, unique combinations of skills can also narrow the pool of applicants for jobs that need a specific combination that’s not common. For example, data science students with an artistic bent can often find unique career opportunities in data visualization or data journalism.


Highlight unique combinations of skills to show willingness to learn skills outside your direct discipline.

3. Highlight the bottom half of the resume

Students who graduate with certificates are a dime a dozen; students who graduate with multiple volunteer, intern, and extracurriculars under their belt are far less common.

Interviewers call this the “bottom half of the resume,” meaning the part that gives a glimpse at what the applicant is actually about as a person.

When interviewing dozens of candidates, it’s easy to lose track of them. This is where you can stand out and hook into their memory. People with energy and enthusiasm are more likeable; so if you’ve taken a Sign Language class on the weekends or volunteered at your local animal shelter, be sure to include it on your CV!


Highlight your hobbies and soft skills as examples of your willingness to learn new skills. In addition to demonstrating willingness to learn, this also shows that you are self-directed and self-motivating — traits highly valued by employers.

Person conducting interview.

How to Demonstrate Willingness to Learn During an Interview

If applying to a new job for which you don’t have the needed experience is stressful, then the interview is the pinnacle of all that anxiety.

Any interview is stressful, with a study by Harris Interactive finding that 92% of Americans find a job interview stressful in some way.

All the more reason to be well-prepared for the interview with as many examples of your willingness as possible. This is applicable whether the interview is in person, by phone, or by video chat.

1. Ask questions, and plan them in advance

Asking questions during an interview doesn’t just help you understand the company. When done properly, it also shows the interviewer that you are keen to learn and willing to do your own research.

The trick here is to make sure your questions reflect actual research. For example, don’t ask “what does this company do?” Instead, ask: “I spent some time learning about the industry before this meeting and it looks like your main competitors are {similar company} and {similar company}. How would my role help differentiate us against those firms?”

Benefits of this strategy include:

  1. You come across as confident.
  2. It shows you’ll ask questions when you don’t know something on the job.
  3. It shows you did your homework regarding both the company and the position prior to the interview.

Employers want to hire people who are up to date on the state of the industry, and will continue to self-educate as their career progresses.

As such, it’s critical that you bring up industry trends and events during verbal interviews. Particularly if you’re new to the industry, showing an awareness of the following proves that you’re willing to learn and earn your keep:

  1. Who the major players and competitors are
  2. What technologies are changing or disruptive to the company
  3. What are people at the company discussing on LinkedIn?

As an example, if applying for a Media Buyer role at an advertising company, you could ask how changes in Google’s treatment of local business listings has impacted their strategy.

Another good approach here is to ask who would be the best mentor for you within the company. This pushes the interviewer to see you as a part of the team already, and shows that once hired you’ll actively seek mentors internally rather than simply “coast.”

3. Stay relaxed and practice active listening

Few things demonstrate willingness to learn quite like doing so in person, during the interview.

The best part is, doing so is simple: just listen when the interviewer talks, ask questions based on what they say, and don’t interrupt when they give answers.

Active listening is surprisingly rare, and interviewers appreciate candidates who are easy to talk to and don’t get “bubbly” under pressure. Of course, it also shows you’re willing to learn and react to new information rather than giving canned replies.

Here are a few tips:

  1. Take a quick note (on paper) if the interviewer says something you want to circle back to later.
  2. Use replies that start with “based on what you said…”, “that reminds me of…”.
  3. Breathe and allow pauses between sentences — this is interpreted as confidence, not a lack of things to say.

Why Willingness to Learn Matters To Employers

Hiring employees can be very stressful for employers. Getting it right with new people can be difficult to get right in today’s fast-evolving job market. One of the best ways in which an employer can assess a potential employee is to quantify their ability to learn new skills and become acquainted with new technologies and work systems.

People in job interview room.
Rapid change in the job market has made qualities like willingness to learn and self-direction highly desired by hiring companies.

Enter what is called the Learnability Quotient (LQ), which is defined as, “an individual’s desire and ability to quickly grow and adapt their skill-set to remain employable throughout their working life”. Bottom line: as with emotional intelligence (EI), LQ has become an important metric by which candidates can be assessed for their employability. Flexibility is key - and you need to be able to show that.

This new emphasis on factors such as LQ shouldn’t be surprising: the so-called ‘skills gap’ between needed skills in the job market and what prospective employees can offer continues to grow. This was the finding of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in its report New Vision for Education: Fostering Social and Emotional Learning Through Technology, released in 2016 and surely even more relevant today. The WEF devised the ‘16 skills’ needed for graduates to navigate the modern job market, which boil down to Curiosity, Critical Thinking, and Desire to Learn.

The skills needed for today’s markets are hugely different to those a mere generation ago, which is why social and emotional learning (SEL) has become so important.

Indirect methods of demonstrating willingness to learn

Experience comes in many guises. You may not have the exact experience required for a certain job, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other forms of experience that an employer may still find appealing. Microblogging, hosting podcasts, and other online initiatives can also boost your employability, while also being a way to learn new things as you host.

Freelancing Experiences

Seeking out freelance experiences means that you are:

  1. Self-motivated
  2. Have the ability to learn ‘on-the-go and on your own dime,’ so to speak.

Freelancing is great for recent graduates in particular because it shows willingness to learn as well as willingness to roll up your sleeves and do real-world, practical work.

There is also the growing perception in the business world that freelancers are often also highly talented. A 2018 Forbes article had a title which said it all: Why More Companies Want To Hire Freelancers (Hint: Talent Has Gone Indie).

Very often companies will want to bring that talent fully on board. In fact, some of the most talented people on our team at my company Rootstrap were acquired using exactly this approach.

Freelancers already number 57 million in the US and will comprise a majority of the American workforce by 2027 — possibly even sooner.

Join A Professional Community

Being a member of a professional online community can also be a great way of building atypical experience which still looks good on your resume.

This is particularly true of the IT industry, for example, with a host of communities available such as Pavilion, Indie hackers, and highly robust and active Substacks and even Reddit groups for your specific niche or industry. MBA alternatives like Quantic or ThePowerMBA are also worth looking into for networking benefits.

They can be a great way to grow your knowledge, collaborate with colleagues, and show that you’re an engaged self-driven learner in your field.

Experience In Other Forms

Niche certifications can prove learning beyond high school or generic college basics and are also indicators to employers that an applicant has a self-development ‘road map,’ itself an indication of career ambition. They also demonstrate a key specialization and, thus, an ambition to take your skills set to the next level.

The IT world is particularly ripe in this regard, given the sheer diversity and depth of the field. Network security is an example of an IT niche with a slew of certifications, including the Cybersecurity Analyst+ (CySA+), SANS GIAC Certified Forensic Analyst (GCFA, and ‘gold standard’ Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) certification.

Ultimately, an employer deciding to hire you is taking a bet on you. You will still need to prove yourself once employed, of course. Experience will come with time on the job. Showing a willingness to learn will at least give you a chance at getting through the door.

Patrick Ward
Written by Patrick Ward Follow
Hi, I'm Patrick. I made this site to share my expertise on team augmentation, nearshore development, and remote work.
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