So you need a resumé but you have no relevant work experience? Perhaps you have no professional work experience at all? Or maybe your resumé just has too much white space? You may have to get a little creative, but it’s still possible to put a great resumé together with no relevant work experience. Here are my suggestions:
Irrelevant Work Experience
Hiring managers won’t hold it against you for having irrelevant work experience as long as you’ve demonstrated that you have the skills (or the capacity to acquire the skills) needed for the job and that you are capable and motivated to take on a large workload and steep challenges.
How? Add one or two sentences to your resumé describing irrelevant work that honed your transferable skills. These activities don’t have to be grandiose, but they can highlight your role as a [fill in the blank] in a way that is impressive to future employers.
For example, I recently helped a stripper successfully obtain an executive assistant role in a well-known company. Here’s a snippet from this candidate’s resumé:
Starting in May 2013, I worked as a professional dancer. During this time, I also served as an assistant producer for several films and took 4 Coursera classes on accounting principles and auditing, allowing me to become proficient in recording and analyzing financial transactions.
This works just as well for those with other non-traditional “career” choices, like a professional Twitch video gamer that wants to transition into an engineering role. List this experience just like you would a job experience, like:
Professional Video Gamer, Twitch (Month Year – Month Year)
• Trained 10 hours per day …
• Crowdfunded over $600k in less than 3 months…
• Placed 1st in 26 competitions over the last 5 years, earning 9 sponsorships and 106 press appearances…
This will look impressive to a hiring manager, particularly if you’re applying for a role where independent, media-focused skills are important.
I’ve recently worked with many engineering graduates that have no professional work experience to list on their resumé. Instead, we’ve listed the projects they worked on both in college classes and on their own time outside of school. List projects in the same manner you would work experience with subsequent bullet-pointed descriptions like:
Project, Class (Month Year – Month Year)
Use measured achievements and lots of details!
Work Experience for a Family Business
Many of my clients are afraid to list work experience because the employer was a family member. I say, if you actually did work and your responsibilities can be attributed to a working title then you should get “resumé credit” for your effort and experience. I would list the experience just like you would any other professional position. If you did extensive work for a family member, such as assisting your father who is a freelance contractor, but he doesn’t have an official business, then I would note your work just as I outlined in the Irrelevant Work section above. There’s no need to point out that you were working for a family member in your resumé, and it won’t be considered misleading by a future employer unless you are asked directly about any familial connection.
Employers don’t care whether you were paid for previous work you’ve done, as long as you have the skills they need for the open role. List your volunteer experience just like you would professional experience. Use the title you were provided, whether or not it actually includes the word “volunteer.”
Academic Honors and Activities, Publications or Major Presentations
Academic honors and activities can look great on your resumé and can make up for a lack of professional experience. Many companies only consider candidates that have top academic credentials and other honors. Add any awards, honors, academic achievements, activities, publications, etc. to your education section (i.e. “Received highest grade on Statistical Analysis final examination” or “Activities: Co-captain of Vanderbilt’s recreational tennis team.”)
List any publications or major presentations you provided in a separate section from your experience. Note the publication/event, the title of your writing/presentation, and a brief description.
Notice how your participation in even minor extracurriculars, like doing part-time cashier work at a local ice cream stand or tutoring your brother and his friends after school three days per week, can demonstrate your organizational, administrative, and detail-oriented skills, among others.