Is it possible to create an effective resume when you have little or no work experience? Absolutely.
By Abby M. Locke, IMDiversity Special Careers Contributor
As a college senior, this time of the year has great significance for you. Graduation is around the corner and the hunt for your first job is closely behind. Everyone around you is eager to offer advice on everything from interview attire to job search strategies. But before you leap into job hunting mode, make sure you are armed with the right tools. One very important tool will be your professional resume.
But is it possible to create an effective resume when you have little or no work experience? Absolutely. While recent college graduates and entry-level jobseekers have unique challenges when it comes to resume development, there are proven techniques that work every time.
Decide on job target
Like anything else in life, you need to clearly understand where you are heading in order to work on getting there. So before you grab a pencil and paper and begin rehashing every job you held since high school, think carefully about your career objectives. Are you looking to work for a few years and then pursue a graduate degree? Are you seeking a position with internal growth? Will any job do as long as it pays the bills? Although it is highly unlikely that your first job after college will last until retirement, it is the job that starts your career, so targeting should be taken seriously. If you are having a hard time determining the right career path, consult a career coach or your college career counselor.
Identify relevant skills and qualifications
Once you have decided on the types of positions you want to target, it is time to do your research. Visit major general and niche job websites to learn more about the daily responsibilities, academic requirements, technical skills, and other qualifications needed for your target position. Do you need previous work experience or can entry-level candidates apply? Do you have all or most of the skills required to handle the job? Gathering this information is critical for both your resume development and interview preparation.
Develop a professional summary
Place this section at the top of the resume under your contact information. This section allows you to introduce yourself to the reader and include your distinctive qualifications, skills, and talents. Are you are an exceptional organizer or planner? Have you held leadership roles in campus or student organizations? Do you enjoy research? Though you may not have extensive work experience, after four years in college, you should have developed unique strengths that are valuable to any employer. Avoid using superfluous statements like“Excellent interpersonal, analytical, and communications skills.” These statements are grossly overused and in today’s job market sound very generic.
Emphasize academic qualifications
As a recent college graduate, your education and academic coursework will be your biggest sellers on your resume. Make this section as substantial as you can by including details like your GPA (only list if you have a 3.5 or higher), coursework that is relevant to your target position, special awards and certificates, and honors. For example, an accounting graduate should list at least six to eight accounting classes to demonstrate his or her preparation in the subject. If you took extra credit classes or advanced assignments, be sure to add the scope of the project, the steps you took in completing the assignment, and your final grade. Keep in mind, you are putting details that will impress an employer; don’t include any grades that do not positively reflect your abilities and potential. For those of you who participated in study abroad programs, since it is part of your educational experience and growth, you can put it under the Education section. Provide an overview of the program and the courses you took.
Maximize your internship experiences
During the course of your college experience, you should have taken advantage of both paid and non-paid internship opportunities. Take the time to think carefully about what you learned and what new skills you developed from your internships. Were you given additional training or classes? Did you substitute for regular full-time employees when the workload was heavy? Simply indicating that you had an internship is not sufficient; give the reader a clear picture of your daily responsibilities and any personal achievements you are proud of.
Don’t underestimate your volunteer and extracurricular work
If you are concerned about not having enough jobs to list on your resume, take a closer look at your volunteer experience. Just because you offered your time as a volunteer, do not undervalue the amount of effort and talent you put into the assignment. Think of a title that would be suitable or appropriate for the same assignment if you were being paid. Employing this technique is very effective for college graduate who have only volunteer work to put on their resumes. While you will still need to indicate in the general description that you were a volunteer, it can still be included under a section called “Professional Experience” rather than “Work or Employment Experience”
Demonstrate your ability to multi-task
Graduating at the top of your class and getting all A’s will impress any employer, but they also want to see students who are well-rounded. If you were active in one or more student or campus run organizations, list them under a section called “Student Memberships” or “Campus Affiliations”. Indicate whether you held a leadership position or served on the board. You don’t have to list every organizational event you ever attended, however if you helped any major events, it is acceptable to include those on your resume for that position.
One page or two?
Probably one of the most hotly debated aspects of resume development is its length. While it is recommended that new college graduates limit their resume to one page, each situation should vary according to the individual’s background and experience. For example, a candidate who worked full-time while attending college may have significant work experience to justify two pages. On the other hand, a full-time college student may have several valuable internships and special projects that cannot be squeezed onto one page. More importantly, you want your final resume to be an effective, dynamic personal document, so two pages of irrelevant part-time jobs would obviously not work in your favor. When deciding what information to put on the resume, let your target position be your guide. Only incorporate the relevant experiences, coursework, and activities that would increase your chances of getting an interview.
Finally, the best approach to assembling your entire resume is to work on each section one at a time. Start with your contact information, including your name, address, telephone numbers (home and cellular), and your email address. Please get a professional email address with your full name only – the cutesy ones you use with friends will not work in your job search environment. Develop the rest of your resume in the following order: Professional Summary, Education, Work or Professional Experience, Student Affiliations.
Overall, your resume will require a lot of work and commitment on your part. Be prepared to spend at least five to six hours creating your resume and when you are finished, get several people to read it and give you constructive feedback. Last but not least, proofread, proofread, and proofread. Remember that the ultimate goal for your resume is to land your first job.