You've donned the cap and gown and you are staring down years' worth of student loans – congratulations, you've graduated! For those looking to enter the job market, you probably triumphantly added your new degree to your resume - and nothing else. After years in academics, any area of your resume except education might feel a bit empty. Here are a few tips to highlight your true potential to your first employer.
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Highlight the Experience You Do Have
Consider using this trick. Look up your ideal job and read through the posting (it doesn't have to be geographically desirable, just the right career opportunity). Highlight or keep a list of the keywords used and find a way to incorporate them into your own resume. Even if you don't have the exact experience they are requesting, think about parallel experience that you do have. For example, that perfect job posting may request experience in project management; you may never have done that in a formal office setting, but organizing the large charity event you ran last summer will undoubtedly have required a similar skill set. Make sure you do yourself the credit of highlighting all of your relevant experience – there's likely to be more than you think! (For related reading, see Summer School Or Summer Job? How To Decide.)
Add Unpaid Experience
Just because you didn't get a paycheck doesn't mean you didn't walk away with something valuable. Consider any volunteer experience you might have as if it had been a job; list the responsibilities you had, the skills it required, and the goals you achieved.
Include Soft Skills
We've probably all found ourselves in this situation: your interviewer asks if you have any experience in a particular field or situation, for example, conflict resolution with a coworker. Luckily, you remember a time when you had to resolve a scheduling issue with someone you worked with. You do have conflict resolution experience! But is this skill listed on your resume?
Mark Jeffries, a leading expert on soft skills in career management, describes soft skills as "anything that enables you to influence others, to pitch ideas, and to successfully persuade others to take action," according to CareerJoy.com. Do you take initiative on new projects? Do you have a tendency to rework organizational systems for the better? These are all highly marketable skills.
The catch is that you can't just list them out on a resume. Imagine if you were the hiring manager reading a list of 30 soft skills: leadership, communications, people skills, zzzzz… Don't do yourself the disservice of boring the person who is reading your resume. Instead, look for ways to incorporate these keywords into concrete examples. It will keep a human reader engaged, and still help an automated resume scanner or bot to flag you as a possible candidate. (For related reading, see 6 Extreme Ways To Land Your Dream Job.)
Consider Your Education
Completing your education is nothing to sneeze at. It may seem to you as if everyone has a degree, but that's simply not the case; and having that diploma means more than just a framed piece of paper. Successful students must exhibit exceptional time management skills, project management, attention to detail, and be strong readers, writers and (though it may seem obvious) learners. These are all skills your potential boss needs to know about.
Beyond the skills it took to get you through school, consider highlighting what you actually did. Did you earn any scholarships? Take on extra-curricular responsibilities like student government? Perhaps you organized an event for your dorm-mates. On the academic side, did you complete a thesis? Assist a professor? Go over your academic career carefully and make note of all of your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem.
Highlight, Don't Lie
There's a slippery slope between shining a spotlight on an accomplishment (and, let's be honest, polishing it up a bit) and outright lying. If you really did start a small summer business selling homemade greeting cards, play it up! You probably did some marketing, client schmoozing, and kept your own books. But don't lie about the size or profits of your business just to make it seem more legitimate. Lying on your resume, even seemingly harmless lies, is the fastest way to get your resume ripped up. (For related reading, see No Wonder You're Not Getting Hired!)
The Bottom Line
Recent graduates face a unique challenge when they enter the working world for the first time. But just because you've been in school for the last few years doesn't mean you aren't a desirable candidate. It just means you need to find a way to showcase your best without relying on a ton of work experience. And really, marketing yourself effectively is the goal of all jobseekers. (For related reading on applying for jobs, see Applying For A Job When You're Overqualified.)