Whether you’re a freshman in college or recent grad trying to make your foray into the working world, it can be difficult to create a résumé when you don’t have much work experience. When beginning your job or internship search, you might face the catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, but needing a job to gain experience. So, what are you supposed to do?
The good news is that employers recognize that everyone starts their career with little or no work experience. So, as long as you create a professional-looking résumé that highlights your strengths and transferable skills, employers shouldn't penalize you for a lack of traditional work experience.
Below, we’ve compiled four specific strategies to take to create an impressive résumé despite having little “official” work experience.
1. Emphasize your education
One of the first criteria employers use to weed out candidates is education level. For example, if you’re applying for a job in management consulting, you'll need to have a college degree, or be on track to receive one. So be sure to list your education at the top of your résumé, right below your name and contact information, as it will help qualify you for many positions and encourage an employer to continue reading.
You can also go one step further by including relevant coursework. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a marketing assistant, you could list classes such as Strategic Brand Management, Global Marketing Issues, and New Product Development that you've taken in college. If you attend(ed) a liberal arts college, don’t fret—you can still list courses that have provided you with relevant marketing skills, such as writing or graphic design.
2. Create an “Awards and Honors” section
If you have little work experience, you’re probably looking to fill space on your résumé. A great filler that can add a lot to your résumé is an “Awards and Honors” section. Here, you can include everything from academic honors to athletic awards. Did you win a prize in a prestigious art competition? Include it. Receive a leadership award at your high-school graduation? Add it here.
In your résumé, you want to include any line items that showcase your unique skills that will differentiate you from other job applicants. Since employers can’t refer to your work experience to determine your employability, they'll rely on other traits and qualifications you have that would make you a strong fit.
3. Get creative with your experience
You may be stumped on what to write in the “Experience” section of your résumé if you haven’t yet held a traditional job. However, this section can include a variety of unpaid experiences you’ve accumulated, such as internships or volunteer work. You can also mention your membership—or even better, leadership—in extracurricular activities relevant to your industry of interest. For example, if you’re applying for a job as a journalist, you should include your experience working as an editor for your school newspaper.
Don’t be afraid to break up this section as you see fit—perhaps you want to have two experience sections, one titled “Fundraising Experience,” which showcases your relevant internships and part-time jobs, and another called “Additional Experience,” which includes your extracurricular commitments and volunteer work. Don’t be afraid to get creative with it. But don't go overboard, either. Three "Experience" sections is probably one too many.
Once you gain real-world experience in a professional setting, you can start to replace some of the older and less relevant experiences you’ve had.
4. List your skills
Creating a designated “Skills” section is a great way for you to showcase your unique skill set that will differentiate you from other candidates. Perhaps you speak two languages; list those here. Or maybe you know how to code, or use a variety of social media management tools.
It never hurts to list specific skills you have that distinguish you from others and might prove useful in your new job, even if they don’t directly relate to the position you hope to attain. Who knows, you might apply for a position at a company with a satellite office in France, and your fluency in French could give you bonus points as a candidate because you could converse fluently with the team there.
Use any assets you have to your advantage when writing your résumé, and they will shine far above your lack of work experience in the eyes of a potential employer.
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