If you graduate from college with a resume lacking experience, internships or extracurricular activities in your field, finding a job can seem daunting. But much of this worry is unfounded. In fact, getting a job with limited experience is typically easier than you might think. We’ll explore some reliable ways to get a job right out of college with limited experience on your resume. [Related read: Tips for Creating a Great Resume]
How do you get hired with limited experience?
If you’ve just graduated from college and are heading into the job hunt with limited experience, take the following steps to increase your chances of getting hired.
1. Create different resume variations.
By tailoring your resume to the job instead of using a generic version for each application, you improve your chances of standing out in a stack of resumes. Spend time adapting your resume to each job while noting the position’s broader category and the job description’s keywords.
When creating resume variations, here are some elements to keep in mind:
- Highlight relevant experience. For example, if you’re applying for a management position, include relevant leadership experience in clubs or internships that show you’d be a strong fit to become a first-time manager. On the flip side, sharing that you were a food columnist at your college’s student newspaper likely has no relevance to the position and doesn’t merit space on your resume. If you’re applying to be an entry-level chef, however, your food column may regain relevance and demonstrate your culinary knowledge.
- Find the job’s broader category. Alexander Lowry, a professor of finance at Gordon College, advises breaking down the job description to understand which broad category your job falls under. From there, you can tweak your resume. “Someone is hired to do one of three things: Make the company money, save the company money, or make the boss’s job easier,” Lowry said. “Find out which the job fulfills. Then, tailor your resume to address that problem.”
- Use the job listing’s keywords. It’s also important to read the job description in search of keywords. Many companies use applicant tracking software to help sort through the early resume rounds. If your resume doesn’t address what the employer is looking for in the job description, there’s a good chance the hiring manager won’t ever even see it. “Your [resume] … should effectively communicate that you’ve developed a variety of skills that allowed you to make a real impact,” said Alex Sereno, who works in talent acquisition at Riot Games. “Define the skills in a way that online resume technology will recognize, and keep your formatting very simple for that same reason.”
2. Showcase your skill set and meaningful extracurricular experiences.
While candidates may lack formal work experience, they still likely possess relevant skills or meaningful experience in related work. Showcase experiences that can translate to the workforce by highlighting extracurricular activities in which you excelled in college.
- Highlight leadership experience. For example, serving as your school’s club lacrosse president might not seem like it’s connected to a job as a project manager, but the leadership experience may separate you from other candidates. “College students who were elected team captains, elected members of the college’s student council, editors of a college publication, stage managers, student directors of a college theater production, or officers in any student organization can likely recount some recent leadership or management experiences,” said Timothy Wiedman, a retired associate professor of management and human resources at Doane University. “Accomplishing group goals while directing the work of other students is a skill that can often transfer to an employment setting.”
- Showcase unique experiences and accolades. Include volunteer experience, athletic achievements and GPA to indicate your value. These accolades and experiences don’t necessarily need to be in a separate portion of your resume. “Unpaid positions can be listed just like jobs within the experience section of your resume; they don’t need to be relegated to a volunteer section,” said Kelly Donovan, a writer of executive resumes and job search coach. “Your description can make it clear that this was an unpaid volunteer role.”
- Share student roles. Donovan noted that your role as a student can be listed just like a job in the experience section. “You can write bullet points highlighting interesting projects you worked on while in school that would be relevant to your target jobs.”
3. Develop your personal brand through an online portfolio.
LinkedIn and various social media platforms let students showcase their talent to employers 24 hours a day. Include a well-designed resume, detailed skills explanations and a portfolio of work from internships or classes to impress potential employers.
For those with limited work experience, an active and professional LinkedIn profile can make a world of difference in the hiring process.
“Recent graduates should know that a paper resume can only do so much for them,” said Andrew Selepak, director of the graduate program in social media at the University of Florida. “I encourage all of my students to create portfolio websites and LinkedIn accounts, and to list both at the top of their resume. Unlike a paper resume, an online portfolio can include multimedia as well as projects the students have completed at an internship.”
Online portfolios are an excellent way to showcase your skill set with a more interactive and visually appealing resume. Incorporate photos and videos to help the portfolio stand out.
Remember, employers want to know that you’ll add value from day one. With a great resume, portfolio and personal brand, you can showcase your abilities and impress hiring managers.
“In a world of unique disruption, allowing the resume to showcase the skills a candidate can deliver helps immensely when work experience is limited,” said Carole Stizza, work success coach at Relevant Insight. “Limited work history doesn’t mean you don’t have immense value.”
Opt for an online portfolio over a digital resume. This way, you can more vividly and dynamically show employers your value.
How do you gain relevant experience while in school?
If you’re still in school, you can take steps to gain relevant experience that will appeal to future employers – and you don’t necessarily have to work while completing your degree.
- Network with people in your field. They say it’s all about who you know, and often, they’re right. While a hiring manager might not think much of your low-experience resume, someone who knows you might see your potential. That person can vouch for you with hiring managers they know or even hire you at their own company.
- Participate in relevant extracurricular activities. Let’s say you’re double-majoring in mechanical engineering and computer engineering, and your double-major has you too busy for much else. With your limited time to spare, low-key involvement with your school’s robotics club can give you excellent experience to list on your resume. Detailing your accomplishments with the club can sway hiring managers in your favor.
- Take an internship. If you can afford to take an internship, doing so is arguably the best way to gain experience while you’re in school. Try turning your summer internship into a school-year experience – you can list that entire period on your resume to make it seem more job-like. See if you can get college credit for your internship so you can kill two birds with one stone. And if you find a paid internship, even better.
If you’re on the other end of the spectrum (a workforce veteran), it’s important to age-proof your resume by focusing on recent experience and omitting older positions.
How many entry-level jobs require prior experience?
According to an August 2021 LinkedIn study, 35% of roughly 3.8 million entry-level jobs posted on LinkedIn from December 2017 onward required prior experience. The study’s authors noted that, upon posting the survey in August 2021, the percentage of entry-level jobs requiring experience was 38.4%.
The study also found that the percentage of entry-level jobs that require prior experience varies tremendously by industry. In software, the corresponding figure was 60.3%; in retail, it was 8.2%.
Max Freedman contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.