Sometimes when I meet with students – particularly freshmen and sophomores – they express to me that they do not have enough experience to fill a resume. In most cases, it’s not a matter of the student lacking experience, but rather not drawing parallels between things he or she has done and how they could be relevant to a potential employer.
Whether you’re a college freshman or a graduating senior, chances are you have more experience than you realize. Beyond formal internships and paid jobs, there are probably many things you’ve done during your college years that you can draw upon. Let’s take a look at some different types of experience.
Have you ever completed a group project, written a research paper, or made a presentation to your class? (I’m assuming you have.) Sometimes the most compelling experience comes in the form of coursework. When I was applying for my first internship at an advertising agency, I had very little formal work experience under my belt. Instead of just listing my work-study job, I profiled two of my advertising class projects and described my specific role in managing the project timelines, conducting demographic research, writing ad copy, and presenting creative executions. All of these things effectively tied in with the work that I would be doing at the internship much more than the clerical responsibilities I held at my work-study job.
If you have especially impressive classroom experience, you may even want to consider keeping it on your resume as a graduating senior. When I applied for my full-time marketing job in Career Services, I took an internship off of my resume in favor of an advertising class presentation/pitch to an executive from Procter & Gamble. The presentation was recent, it was fresh, and it was a better indicator of my abilities than the internship that I had three years prior.
Student organizations and activities
Maybe you haven’t done many group projects, but you’ve gotten involved in a student organization or two on campus. Instead of just listing the name of the organization on your resume, try to identify what you contribute to the group and how this may be relevant to your career aspirations. It’s not a stretch to see that your membership in the American Marketing Association is relevant to a career in marketing, but what about if you’re a member of the Residence Hall Council? Perhaps you’ve done some marketing-related tasks within that group. Designing posters, recruiting new members, and conducting surveys all come to mind as things that you might like to display on your resume.
And maybe the groups that you’re involved in are totally unrelated to your career. That’s fine, too. Take a look at the broader skills that you’re developing within these groups. For instance, I work with lots of athletes who lack formal internship experience because their athletic commitments leave them with little free time, so we discuss the skills they hone through athletics. Interpersonal skills, time management, and teamwork come up frequently, along with the development of a strong work ethic and competitive edge. Though the skills are not acquired in a formal internship or job, and they’re not directly fit for one particular career field, they can still be featured on your resume. In fact, many employers would love to see these traits.
You may think that lifeguarding and waiting tables are not appropriate for your professional resume. Once you have enough relevant experience in your field, I would agree. But when you’re first starting out, sometimes the only experience that you have is a summer job or work-study position on campus. In this case, you need to examine the skills that you use and then frame the experience on your resume in terms of these skills (which should ideally be transferrable to your desired professional setting). As a waiter or waitress, you have to multi-task in a fast-paced environment, while focusing on customer service and operating as part of a team. As a lifeguard, you have to monitor lots of activities occuring simultaneously, ensuring that rules are followed and that everyone remains safe.
You can choose which aspects of the job to showcase on your resume. Let’s use waiting tables as an example. If you’re pursuing a PR internship, the customer service and interpersonal skills that you develop as a waiter or waitress would probably be most relevant. If you’re looking to get an internship in the emergency room of a hospital, it may be better to emphasize your familiarity with efficiently balancing many tasks in a bustling, fast-paced setting. Like everything else on your resume, the things that you highlight about your non-professional jobs should be tailored to the position for which you are applying.
In addition to coursework, student organizations, and non-professional jobs, you can draw experience from volunteer work, travel, and a number of other activities. The bottom line is that paid jobs and internships are not the only things you can use to display your qualifications. If you think that you are inexperienced, try broadening your definition of experience and doing a comprehensive inventory of the activities you’ve engaged in. You might be surprised with just how experienced you are.