Job hunting can be stressful -- even for seasoned professionals with years of experience, training and education.
And that challenge can be magnified in the case of recent graduates, who often send resumes out with little or no professional experience to back it up.
Nevertheless, many are hired for a range of entry-level (and beyond) positions every year, and career experts agree that a lack of job history is no reason to stop you from writing a resume that can grab the attention of hiring managers.
There are two key strategies for entry-level success, according to experts: Leverage the opportunities your school offers that can help you connect with employers, and write your resume in a manner that tells the best possible story about you and your background.
Do these things and you may find that you have more to say than you realized.
There are plenty of resources your school offers that help identify ways to illustrate your value to potential employers and get a jumpstart on career planning, says La-Shena Tatum, a recruiter for international telecommunications firm Ericcson. Some examples:
If you were involved in campus activities or worked while a student, keep track of memberships and accomplishments. Even if your activities weren’t directly related to your chosen field, you may have done things in those organizations that employers value, such as budgeting, recruiting new members or planning events. Those things demonstrate valuable skills and give you plenty to say about what you’ve done and can do, Tatum adds.
An important but often-neglected component of the job search process, networking can get your foot in the door. While some are intimidated by the concept, a good way to get started is with your professors, suggests Tatum. Meet with them, express your career interests and be sure to ask industry-specific questions to get a better understanding of what it takes be successful in a given field and what employers are looking for.
They may even be able to point you in the direction of potential mentors or employers, Tatum says. “Your professors will likely have their own professional circle, and can help connect you with the right people.”
While having a degree is important, employers want to know what you’ve learned off- and on campus, says Anthony Spadafore, director of Alexandria, Va.-based career consulting firm Pathfinders.
If you volunteered in your field, had an internship or joined a professional organization while a student, that experience will help you stand out from other candidates. You’ll already have knowledge of your targeted industry, while also showing potential employers your initiative.
Your cover letter and resume are all about you, but when it’s time to start writing you should take an employer’s point of view, says Louise Fletcher, president of New York-based resume writing firm Blue Sky Resumes. Ask yourself: What is the company looking for? What skills do they need? How can you show them you’re a valuable asset?
Before applying to a job, Fletcher suggests reading the job description carefully, highlighting the key requirements -- then address them right away at the top of your cover letter. “Show them that you have what they want,” Fletcher says.
This goes for your resume too. Fletcher suggests that you follow a format that combines both functional and chronological aspects. (Functional resumes focus mainly on experience and skills, while traditional chronological ones are essentially a timeline of employers and duties.) This approach, she says, will help you target your application to the employer’s stated needs.
A strictly functional format, says Fletcher, sets off alarm bells in the minds of some hiring managers: “Recruiters tend to look for what you’re trying to hide” when they see functionary resumes, she says, because they are commonly used by job seekers who hope to de-emphasize long employment gaps or look qualified despite irrelevant experience.
With most graduate applicants, the lack of experience is self-explanatory -- which is why Fletcher says to avoid a strictly chronological format that would only reinforce that fact.
Instead, open with a profile that highlights your skills and individual strengths -- the things that will help you stand out. If you worked while in school, it would be wise to mention it here even if it wasn’t in your field, Fletcher says, because you’ll show determination and work ethic.
Next, discuss your educational information -- schools you’ve attended, degrees, your major -- and highlight especially relevant or meaningful coursework, publications or projects.
Follow up with a job chronology. Here, list jobs that allowed you to utilize skills required of your chosen field and explain any accomplishments you may have achieved -- even if they weren’t in the field you’re targeting, the employer will see the skills you learned and put into action.
Finally, close with a section that lists community work, awards received and other details you find noteworthy to round out your profile. This section is essentially a “catch-all” for accomplishments that don’t make sense anywhere else, Fletcher says.
Because you’ll likely have little working experience, there’s no need for your resume to be longer than one page, says Fletcher, and this simple format allows you to put your strengths and accomplishments at the forefront.