A reader asks: With a degree and no experience, how can my son spice up his resume?

A reader asks how her son can spice up his resume with college courses and no work experience.

Question: My son does not have work experience, but does have a Bachelor’s degree. How can he use his education to make his resume more appealing?

Answer: Your son is facing a classic problem for new grads. The good news is this: while employers value experience, sometimes they also like (and even prefer) to hire young talent who they can mold, train and develop. The trick is to focus on skills. Here’s how:

1. Give yourself a title

Right at the top of your resume, give yourself a title. Even though you are just beginning, you can still go with something like “Finance Grad with Focus on Capital Budgeting” or “Biology Graduate with Interest in Botany.” Very important: the title MUST be in line with the job you are applying for!

2. Include a summary

In 3 to 4 sentences, a summary should answer the question (briefly): “What can you do for me?!” Focus on your skills and education, and any accomplishments that are related to either. You can also include one or two personal attributes (like team-oriented, articulate, high-achieving) but don’t go overboard.

For the best guidance on what to include in your summary, reference the ad of the specific position you’re applying for. It will tell you what the employer is looking for, and even suggest the priority of those needs. Target your statements to echo those the employer is seeking.

If you're not responding to a specific ad, do some research and find some typical jobs on Indeed.com or another job board. Look for patterns of skills that appear over and over, and choose your skill statements to suit those. And only include skills that you can claim legitimately. Don’t even think about fibbing.

3. Skills highlights / key qualifications

The next section should focus in more detail on your skills, or key qualifications. The approach most experts recommend for candidates that lack experience is to refer to the job description or emphasize the same skills that you mention in your Summary. Then, group your experience under some major headings such as research skills, time management skills, etc.

This is a place on the resume where you can really do some selling. Remember: the employer wants to know what, exactly, you can do for them, and they give you clues in job ads. This section is where you can let them know you have all (or most) of what they are looking for!

4. Education

As a recent grad, your degree is one of your most relevant selling points. Add bulleted items under your degree that might entice employers. Some examples:

• GPA (if it’s over 3.0. If not, leave it off.)

• Leadership of clubs or organizations related to the profession

• Sports participation (shows vibrant health and good time management skills)

• Awards, scholarships, recognition

• Concentration of coursework (even if not technically a Minor, you may want to add this to show where you have depth of knowledge)

• Software or technical skills (if appropriate)

5. Work history

It is acceptable to include volunteer or other unpaid work in this section. What you were paid (or not) is your business. Examples might include coursework, class projects, volunteer work or extracurricular activities that are related to your target job.

Keep it simple. Since employers inevitably want to see dates and positions, include this information in the Work History section. You've already described your experience, so you don't need to describe what you did in each position.

Finally, if you absolutely do not have any work, volunteer or extracurricular experience at all, then leave this section off. Remember, employers are more interested in what you can do for them now (as a college grad) than in what you have done already. Sell those skills!


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