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How to Improve Your Resume When You Have Little or No Work Experience

Resume writing is no easy feat. Even experienced professionals cringe at the daunting task of updating their resumes — improving and tailoring it until it is deemed worthy by recruiters and employers. It’s no surprise then that those with little or no work experience draw a complete blank and shy away from the task of resume writing.

While not having much work experience is definitely not ideal when it comes to resume writing, countless recent graduates face this surprisingly common challenge.

If you are one of the many people who are worried about putting together your resume due to lack of work experience, fear not! From specific things to you may have overlooked or thought were unimportant, to external things you can actually do to fluff up your CV, here are some tips for improving your resume:

Start strong

There is much debate on whether it is still worthwhile to start off a resume with a short two-to-three line summary as opposed to an even shorter “headline.” While some recruiters consider summaries outdated, there’s no denying that a well-written summary is always better than a glaring blank space on a resume. Depending on whether you have content to fill your resume or not, you can choose whether to start with a summary or a headline. Obviously, when you don’t have a lot to put down on your resume, it’s a good idea to start off with a two-to-three line summary.

This summary should highlight who you are — attesting to qualities and attributes that make you unique. The summary section is a good place to showcase your strengths and allows for you to really pitch why you are the best candidate for a potential job. According to Online CV, “The idea is to summarize the important parts of your CV and give an overview of your work profile, without being too repetitive.” It also will take up some of the space on your resume page, which is especially useful if you don’t have a lot to talk about on your resume.

Alternatively, if you are running short of space on your resume due to educational and extracurricular activities, you can swap the summary for a headline. The University of Cincinnati notes that the headline is the equivalent to a “leading statement that tops a magazine or newspaper article.” Much like a summary, this component encapsulates the candidate and basically gives an overview of everything listed on your resume. An ideal headline should be 10 words or less and is an effective way to grab a recruiter’s attention

Embrace education

The education section of your resume is a good way to market some of your achievements. Whether it’s graduating with a high GPA or making the Dean’s List, listing down all your academic achievements shows potential employers that you are hardworking and reliable. According to an article by the Collat School of Business, it’s good to include why your academic results are significant and important to the world at large. The article states that “These synopses will greatly help non-experts, such as industry recruiters, to understand and appreciate your research contributions.” Not only is this advice useful for LinkedIn resumes but is extremely applicable to paper resumes as well.

Furthermore, any specific projects for classes you undertook, such as a thesis or dissertation, market analysis report for an external company or scientific research should also be listed in the “Education” section. External certifications you have accumulated over the years can go a long way, so don’t overlook them when putting together your resume. For example, a certification in First Aid and CPR can point to your ability to work well under pressure and stay calm in tough situations — so be sure to list any certifications you might have.

Based on the skills and knowledge required for the job you are applying for, you could even go back to school to complete some short courses that make you more of an eligible candidate. This shows the employer that you don’t lack initiative. Alternatively, consider taking up online certificate courses to make yourself more marketable. These can be done from anywhere and don’t require you to physically attend school, while still giving you a boost when it comes to job applications.

Venture into volunteer work

Even though volunteer work isn’t considered professional experience, it does show employers that you have a strong work ethic. It also highlights your concern for the greater good and different aspects of volunteer work can bring out different types of leadership skills. One of the things about volunteer work is that it’s always needed. Whether it’s helping out at your local food bank or retirement home, it’s not hard to find a cause you can help with that will immediately turn into some resume-worthy content.

Other options include volunteer programs abroad. There are many programs that allow you to volunteer around the world. Even though you might have to pay a minimal fee, the organization you volunteer with will most likely pay for your accommodation and food. In this way, you get to support a cause of your choice as well as travel and gain cultural exposure, which will no doubt help you with your career prospects. Volunteering is a win-win situation: not only will you be helping those in need, you will also come out having some content to beef up your resume.

Don’t forget about freelancing

The job hunt can be a long and tiresome process, especially for recent graduates. With this in mind, it is worth considering getting a freelance work gig as you apply to various positions. Even if you’ve done some freelancing work in the past (during college years, summer vacations etc.) it’s definitely worthwhile to list it on your resume. Freelancing has many benefits, the most obvious of which is the additional income. Other than this, freelancing is a great way to hone some professional skills to list on your resume and can speak volumes about your entrepreneurial spirit. Finally, freelancing (especially if it’s in the field you intend to pursue as your career) is usually considered a form of work experience, so it’s the perfect way to gain some experience to list on your resume.

Even though it may seem impossible, putting together a resume when you lack work experience is actually very common and doable — after all, we all have to start somewhere!

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About the Author Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a writer and mom in the Pacific Northwest. She's already managed a few career changes of her own, and loves to help others make their own just as smooth as hers. You can find more of her writing on Twitter.

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