Most resumes rely on details of a person’s work history to make up the bulk of the document’s content. But, what about when you’re fresh out of school and just starting out in your career? If you’re a recent graduate, knowing what to include on a college resume when you can’t rely on experience is crucial.
When your resume is reviewed, you want to make it clear to the recruiter or hiring manager that despite what appears to be a lack of experience, you actually do possess the skills necessary to get the job done. Pay close attention to the job description and hone in on any key traits listed.
Using descriptions of your volunteer work, academic achievements, and internships, you can explain your experience with these specific skills to show that you have what it takes to land the role you’re after. Here’s how to approach each section of your college resume when you can’t rely on experience.
Even if your experience is lacking, any relevant work history you have should still be included on your resume. Use a detailed description of each job listed to focus on key attributes that will translate into the role you’re applying for. Every job, no matter how insignificant it may seem, likely has a skill or two that can be related to the job description.
For example, did you spend a summer flipping burgers at a local cafe? If you interact with customers, you have customer service experience. Maybe multitasking was required to make sure each order was filled in a timely manner and you can mention your experience with that skill.
Perhaps during your summer job you even picked up a thing or two watching the owner run a small business? Explaining how your limited work experience can connect to the skills an employer is seeking can help make even a seemingly unrelated job something worth including on your resume.
What were your primary duties? What skills did you use that can translate into the workplace? Answering these questions when describing your volunteer positions on a resume can help show a potential employer that you have the necessary skills to get the job done.
As a bonus, you never know how the recruiter reviewing your resume might connect to your volunteer work. If you cleaned dog cages at an animal shelter, your recruiter may in fact have a soft spot for shelter dogs. If that’s the case, including your volunteer work on your resume could help you stand out as an applicant.
Even if the person who reviews your resume doesn’t connect on a personal level with your volunteer work, including it on your resume still showcases your compassion, work ethic, and ability to follow through with commitments.
Even if a college internship you landed was unpaid, the experience you had still counts. On your resume, list what your primary duties were as an intern and describe the type of skills practiced throughout your time interning.
Just like with your volunteer work, you should treat any internships as if they were actual paying jobs when describing them on your resume. Be clear about the fact that it was an internship, but fill your description with key skills and duties. Once again, your work as an intern can show a hiring manager that you have what it takes to fill the role you’re applying for.
On most resumes, applicants will include the name of their school attended and the highest degree obtained. However, if you’re looking to boost the appeal of your resume as a college graduate, you can also include additional details to help your potential get a better idea of what you achieved while in school.
If your GPA was impressive, including it can demonstrate qualities like efficiency, dedication, and a strong work ethic. Any academic awards, honors, and even scholarships you include on your resume can also help convey these same traits.
Additionally, you can include any relevant or specialized coursework that relates to the job you’re applying for to help your resume stand out as well. Highlight skills that you learned in specific courses that may have been mentioned in the job description in your brief overview of the coursework.
Sports team participation, sorority and fraternity membership, club involvement, and other extracurricular activities are all worth considering adding to your resume when you’re light on work experience.
Keep the descriptions brief for extracurriculars, but be sure to mention any leadership roles or awards earned. Including these items on your resume shows an ability to follow through with the things you commit to, a willingness to be a team player, and could even show a hiring manager or recruiter that you have a passion outside of work.
Showing that you have held a leadership position in any extracurricular or volunteer work in the past can be a key way to snag the attention of the person reviewing your resume. It not only conveys leadership potential that might catch their eye but can also help showcase key skills without outright listing them.
Additional college resume tips
Because your experience is limited, following the best practices for resume writing is even more crucial than it would be for someone further along in their career. Keep The following general resume writing tips in mind to prevent your resume from getting overlooked.
- Utilize ATS optimization: If you aren’t already familiar with how to optimize your resume for an applicant tracking system, read up on what elements you should include to help make sure your resume isn’t passed over if it goes through an automated system before hitting the desk of an actual person.
- Include action words: Action words on your resume can showcase your abilities in a way that helps a hiring manager know what you’re capable of. Words like “led” when referring to a leadership role, or “performed” when referring to internship duties are verbs that can convey the dynamics behind your skillset.
- Quantify when possible: Did you graduate 30th out of 10,000 students? Were you the single person selected out of 27 other applicants for an internship? Quantifying the experience that you do have with numbers can help you stand out among a sea of job applicants.
- Polish your skills section: A solid skills section of your resume will include keywords that have been pulled directly from the job description. Pick skills that you can prove you possess. In an interview situation, you’ll want to be able to back up when and how you developed these skills by pulling from your work experience, volunteer work, extracurriculars, and education.
- Have a clear resume objective: Writing a resume objective that is purposeful and direct can go a long way when it comes to impressing a potential employer. Make sure yours encompasses what you aim to accomplish and how you plan to get where you’re going.
- Attach supplemental documents: Although polishing your resume should remain a top priority when it comes to your post-grad job search, it’s important to remember that you can supplement your application with a standout cover letter and stellar character reference letters to help you stand out from the crowd and convince someone to hire you.