No professional experience? No problem!
First-time résumé writers tend to worry excessively about their lack of experience because they don’t understand what a résumé is intended to do.
“A résumé is more than a reverse chronological list of where you’ve worked; it’s an opportunity to persuade others that, given a chance, you can do terrific work for them, not that you have all the sought-after professional experience,” says Quentin J. Schultze, author of “Résumé 101: A Student and Recent-Grad Guide to Crafting Résumés and Cover Letters That Land Jobs” (Ten Speed Press, 2012).
A résumé draws from life experience, not just employment history, to demonstrate that the candidate has the potential to contribute to the success of a particular organization, says Schultze, a communication professor at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The three foundational elements of a winning résumé are skills, knowledge and traits, all of which can be highlighted using non-work experience to answer an employer’s main concerns: What can this person do for us? What does she know? Will she fit in here and interact well with clients or customers?
“When you can’t highlight career-specific skills or experience, emphasize your related skills, knowledge and traits, drawing from life experiences including hobbies, travel, formal education, self-directed education, jobs and volunteer work,” Schultze advises.
Start by creating a “master list” of life experiences. Think about what each experience taught you to understand, and what it brought out in you. This will help you identify the skills, knowledge and traits an employer will value.
Not all experiences and pastimes are résumé-worthy. On the face of it, collecting stamps is not necessarily more impressive than collecting bottle caps or Happy Meal toys. However, establishing a campus philatelic club can demonstrate initiative, along with interpersonal skills and marketing knowledge used to recruit members and garner publicity.
Résumé entries should show, not tell. “Selected, invited and hosted six guest speakers” shows, with nary an adjective, that you are a self-motivated and persuasive club founder and president.
Underscore the relevance of these experiences by studying and adopting language used in job listings for your targeted profession, Schultze advises.
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