Starting a Resume from Scratch

For those at the beginning of their career, the old adage of “I need experience before I can show experience” can feel like a stumbling block. The good news is that there are ways to show skills, expertise, and yes, related experience, even when one is new to a profession or is just starting out.

Education and Coursework

First, look to your education. If you have a degree, you can use coursework, and projects completed during those courses, to show various skills and capabilities. At a minimum, related coursework can be included to show which classes you completed that directly relate to the position you are seeking. Electives can be useful here as well, showing which courses you completed that may help you stand out from other candidates. Another selling point with coursework is a high GPA; however, only include a GPA if it is a 3.5/4.0 or above. If your overall GPA is lower, include the GPA for your major (again, only if it is at least a 3.5). This is often higher, and your transcripts will show that information.

Projects, papers, research, and other similar studies can also be included. For example, if you worked on group projects, you can include those to show teamwork, and when appropriate, leadership. These types of projects often include some type of presentation, so you can show speaking and related presentation skills. Research and thesis papers can be noted as well, showing the subject matter, outcome, and an idea of the length and extent of the research. If you traveled abroad or completed other studies that fall outside the “typical” classroom setting, include that information as well, as it shows an additional dedication to studies, and also a willingness to take risks.

If you completed an internship with your educational program, include that information on your resume as well. This is work-related experience, and you likely completed projects or research with quantifiable outcomes that can be used to show your ability to create results. Even if the work was not completed, note how much was finished while you were involved, the roles you played, and any contributions. Similarly, any education-related work experience, such as working as a teacher aid, supporting research, etc. can be included to demonstrate your ability to complete projects, follow directions, and so on.

Volunteer Work

For many, volunteer work is nearly a full-time job. As such, this can and should be included on the resume, whether shown in its own section or as part of a related experience section. Volunteer work can range from a couple hours’ time to high-level positions within an organization, and all levels of responsibility between. In general, volunteerism is looked upon favorably. The only instances that might require some consideration are organizations that are highly political or religious, as those can work against you. If you have volunteer experience with an organization that might be considered controversial, or that indicates personal information (religious affiliation, sexual orientation, etc.), consider how the work can be shown while minimizing emphasis on the organization. In some instances, the volunteer work may need to be left off if it can potentially work against you, even if it is not consciously done by the reader.

In many instances, however, volunteer work can show dedication to helping others, a willingness to provide your time and skills, and an opportunity to show how your expertise and abilities helped to make a difference. If you held a higher-level position with an organization, it can be presented much like you would a traditional job, highlighting your responsibilities and the outcomes you were able to generate.

Organizational Memberships

Similar to volunteer work, if you are actively involved in an organization, whether related to your education or profession, this can be information to include on the resume. Your involvement with the organization can show community involvement, a commitment to ongoing learning opportunities, and/or a dedication to moving your profession forward.

If you are a member of an organization and are not currently involved, consider contacting the organization to learn if any options are available. You can get to know your professional colleagues, learn more about the organization, provide valuable services, and gain experience to include on your resume.

Related Interests

Generally, including interests and other personal information is left off of the resume. However, for those new to the job market, including related areas of interest may be of value. If you have been involved in a hobby that is related to the job, or uses applicable skills (problem solving, for example), it might be worth including. Be careful of what you include, however. If you are an avid computer game fan, that would be useful if you are applying for a job in gaming design. However, it may not be appropriate for other situations.

Personal Attributes and Skills

While most resumes include some idea of personal attributes, such as reliability, and related skills, such as analysis, if you are short on experience, you can expand upon this information in the resume to give a clearer sense of who you are and what you have to offer. A bulleted list outlining your skills and traits can be used to present yourself as capable and ready for the job. As with all resumes, use information that shows how you are prepared for the specific position you are targeting. All information included on the resume should be directly related to and targeted toward your future in the position. Leave off unrelated skills and information. Instead, focus on the benefits that you bring to the company and position.

It can feel intimidating when you are starting out, when you have limited experience, or when your experience does not directly relate to your target position; however, with some reflection, it is possible to develop an effective resume. And, of course, as you gain experience, you will be able to continue building on that document, as well as your confidence.