Entry Level Students: Ways to Boost Your Job Prospects even With No Experience

Posted December 16, 2014 by
Cheerful young volunteers with garbage bag after cleaning the streets

Cheerful young volunteers with garbage bag after cleaning the streets. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

For anyone approaching college graduation looking to step straight into the world of work, it’s surely about time you began an active job search. However, as many of you begin writing your first resume, you may start to feel that a lack of professional experience is going to jeopardize your chances of landing an interview.

Job-hunting with minimal experience has always been difficult, regardless of the economic climate, and with record levels of graduates entering the American job market, your concerns are well founded. However, it’s not all bad news. The growth of websites like LinkedIn now offer new ways in which you can network within a specific industry, and a plethora of job board websites also help open the door to more job openings than ever before. If you prepare well and do the right things early on, it’s quite possible to land a really great job fresh out of college. However, this preparation means taking immediate action to gain the experience you need, along with writing an inspirational resume that a fairly represents your potential as an applicant.

To help you achieve these two goals, I’ve outlined a two-pronged approach that will ensure you maximize your job prospects; here’s how to overcome a lack of experience, and craft an effective entry-level resume.

Phase One: gain experience and help your resume help you

Regardless of whether you’re still a sophomore, you’re currently sitting your finals, or whether you’ve already graduated, you need to avoid the temptation to think it’s too late to gain experience. A lack of experience can mean spending months and months looking for a job, where someone with experience may find meaningful employment within only weeks. Instead, remain motivated, bite the bullet, go earn some experience and then approach your job hunt with added value and confidence. The quickest and easiest way to achieve this is to apply for internships or do some volunteer work.


Internship placements at industry leading corporations aren’t that easy to land, but such opportunities are well worth applying to and someone has to be the lucky one, so give it a go. However, if you have already been unsuccessful, consider applying to organizations from within the same industry but that are slightly less well known. These companies are less likely to have herds of interns cluttering the office, so you are more likely to be given greater responsibility. You will likely earn more valuable experience, and actually acquire skills that can be taken into a new job.

Volunteer Work

Volunteer work is easy to find and actually contributes towards a good cause. It offers the chance to gain professional experience, earn references, and develop a range of valuable work-place skills. A trip to your local library or community center, or even a Google search will provide you with plenty of openings to which you can apply. Also, if you take the time to research fully, you are likely to find volunteer work openings specific to your industry. Over the past year I’ve worked with students that have found volunteer work serving hot meals to the homeless, working on the beaches of California arranging rescue and veterinary treatment for beached sea creatures, and one client even found work within the accountancy department of a high profile non-profit organization. There are some great positions out there that can really benefit you in the long run.

Phase Two: Write an Effective Resume

The job of an entry-level resume is to tie together your experience with your education. You want to create a targeted, concise document that markets your skill set, your knowledge, and successfully captures your motivation and ability to achieve. You need to consider your resume a marketing tool that you use exclusively to generate interviews. Keep it interesting, high impact, and avoid including irrelevant information.

Formatting: Which Sections to Include

My professional recommendation is to use a combination resume format. This typically begins with a Profile section – a paragraph of text introducing yourself in 3 to 4 sentences that incorporates 2-3 of your key achievements relevant to your target industry. While writing this section, avoid making generic claims like “I am highly motivated” or “I am hard working”. Instead try to strategically incorporate these ideas by attaching equivalent adjectives to more tangible claims. For example, to convey the ideas of being motivated and hard working you could say:

“Motivated finance graduate with an exemplary record working within a fast paced accountancy department, consistently meeting and exceeding all targets…”

This effectively conveys the idea of being a motivated hard worker, without using the sort of unsupported generic statements that often appear on low quality resumes.

You can view an example of a well-written student resume here:


Highlight Core Competencies

Recent studies have shown that a hiring manager only reads a resume for a matter of seconds, so there’s a great importance placed on incorporating your key selling points early on in your resume document – ideally within the first one-third of the first page. I therefore recommend including either a Summary of Qualifications or a Summary of Skills after your Profile (alternatively you can combine these together and name the section Core Competencies).

This section is where industry specific skills attained through internships/volunteer work along with key academic qualifications can collectively be showcased, in short bullet point form. Be sure to review the jobs you are applying for and consider what skills are needed to perform that job.

Here’s some examples of what you can put as a key skill or qualification (taken from a range of industries):

  • Information Systems,
  • Java Script,
  • Project Management,
  • Data Entry,
  • Account Receivable/Payable,
  • Business Development,
  • Profit Analysis,
  • Inventory Management.

Boosting the Impact of your Education Section

A well written, inspiring Profile Section followed by highly relevant Key Skills and Qualifications Summary will certainly work to engage the reader. The next step is to tailor your Education section to include the specific classes you sat that are relevant to the jobs you are applying. Begin by reviewing the specific responsibilities from your target industry, and then think back to each class that relates.

For example, a Business Administration graduate applying for a job at a business consultancy should highlight within his Education section any classes where he learned about cost analysis, profit forecasting, company streamlining, etc., since these are all relevant to business consultancy work.

Admittedly, this is easier to do for those with a more vocational degree subject, but regardless of your field of study, try to adapt accordingly.

Another technique to boost your education section is to include your departmental GPA (if it was over 3.5). This can be useful if your overall accumulative GPA isn’t worth shouting about (i.e. less than 3.0).

Leave Out Pointless “Professional” Experience

It’s imperative that while writing an entry-level resume, you remember that hiring managers looking to fill entry-level positions do not expect you to have years and years of working experience. A common mistake made by many students is the inclusion of unnecessary experience – like cutting the grass for your neighbor when you were 12 years old, or baby-sitting jobs. Plenty of times in the past, while reviewing student resumes I‘ve read lengthy 2 to 3 page documents that actually included a lot of highly valuable experience, however this information had little impact since it was heavily diluted amongst lots of irrelevant, uninteresting experience. A recruiter simply wont waste their time reading through 3 pages of nonsense experience. One job working within your field will provide enough material for you to work with to construct an effective resume; so follow phase one of my advice listed above! A shorter, targeted one-page is always more impressive, as long as it is populated with relevant content. Remember: you’re only trying to garnish enough interest to land an interview.

Overall, the advice in this article should give you the boost you need to give you an edge over other applicants. Remember, most people struggle to write a truly amazing resume, so anything you do to improve your resume will significantly impact it’s ability to generate interviews. Once you’ve accumulated a few months experience, and you’re happy with your new resume, make sure you plan out an efficient job-search strategy, stay optimistic, and remember: someone’s got to land those big-shot opportunities, so why not you!?

Howard Davies is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and the Director of Operations at ResumeWriterDirect, an online resume and career services website based in Wilmington, DE.

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