How to Make Up for a Lack of Work Experience

Are You Experienced?

Think you don't have a lot of work experience? A close look at your skills may reveal that you have more experience than you think.

Feeling a bit inexperienced? You may be hurting your chances of getting the job you want. If you think you're short on work experience, you should investigate your past. You probably have more skills than you think.

Joyce Lain Kennedy is a syndicated career columnist and author of Resumes for Dummies. She recommends you use every bit of experience you have to your advantage. "Your challenge is to maximize every atom of marketable experience in your background."

Deciding on a Resume Format

The first thing you have to do is to connect the requirements of the job you want to your own qualifications. The resume format you choose can help match your experience to the job you're applying for.

Kennedy recommends using a functional format, which describes both paid and unpaid experience in skill clusters. Skill clusters are used on the functional resume to group skills and experiences by category.

She also suggests using the term "work history" instead of "employment history."

"An employment history suggests paid work, while a work history includes unpaid work as well," Kennedy says.

Kevin Davidson the owner of a resume company in Texas. He also suggests using the functional format.

"A functional resume, with chronological information, would be most applicable. The functional section should include an employee candidate's explanation of their skills and abilities," he says.

Teena Rose is a certified resume writer in Ohio. She notes that a job seeker with limited experience should be creative when designing an entry-level resume.

"Identifying and highlighting transferable skills within an objective or unique category, e.g. skills-at-a-glance, will tell prospective employers what's relevant and present the job seeker as an advanced entry-level candidate."

Are You Experienced?

Don't think that paid work experience is the only experience you've got. Instead, look closely at all of your past activities and see how they relate to the job skills an employer is looking for. It all adds up to experience.

"A person's abilities can be developed to make up for the lack of direct experience. Experience can be viewed several different ways," says Davidson.

Kennedy recommends you use unpaid experience in the exact same way you use paid experience. She explains, "The fact that you were paid in psychic satisfaction or school credit is not important. The important thing is that you learned the skill, not how much you were paid to learn it."

Are you a volunteer or have you done any volunteer work in the past? Rose says volunteer (pro bono) work can replace actual work experience if the job responsibilities mirror the job seeker's career focus. She recommends getting as much experience as possible from volunteer work.

"If the unpaid position offers no value, request special projects or responsibilities that will be more of an asset."

Wondering if school-related activities can be used in place of paid experience? Rose says that activities that would be relevant to prospective employers, whether paid, unpaid or school related, are perfectly acceptable within a resume.

Potential Isn't Experience

The proof is in your experience when it comes to your resume. You may know you can do the job and have the potential to achieve great things, but be careful to back up any claims.

Rose warns, "Today's resumes are avoiding the use of soft skills, such as 'team player' or 'hardworking individual.' Hiring businesses seem to be more interested in quantitative results or hard skills that measure an employee's worth."

Kennedy advises that "have done" is always rated higher than "will do" because the former is proof and the latter speculation.

"Nevertheless, you can quote statements of outstanding potential by professors and other professionals who know how you function and that vibrancy will help lift your resume above the crowd. The technique of getting others to do the bragging about your potential is more effective than saying it yourself," she says.

No Experience? Get Some

You've investigated your past and still feel like you're lacking the experience you need. There is hope. Just get some experience.

Kennedy stresses the importance of experience. She suggests, "Do volunteer work immediately. Join the Peace Corps. Wait tables. Hide out in grad school while you major in internships. From now on, your mental campaign button should read: 'It's the experience, stupid.'"

Rose also offers some hope. "With the resources available today, a person can obtain hands-on experience through not-for-profit groups, volunteer opportunities, internships and so on. [Possibilities are] limited only by a job seeker's imagination and drive to succeed."

Davidson suggests volunteering your services to an organization similar to the one you want to work for. He says this would give you the opportunity to understand the dimensions, qualifications, knowledge, skills and abilities an employer is looking for.

Use Your Experience

Now that you've done a little detective work and found you really do have experience, you've got to use it to sell yourself. When matching this newly discovered experience on your resume to the job requirements, you need to separate your work into fragments and explain each of them.

"Don't say you worked on a digital help desk for an Internet service provider and let it go at that. Divide the job into such activities as hardware reviewing, investigating settings, handling protesting customers with courtesy...and so forth," says Kennedy.

"Where possible, sum up the outcomes and mention outstanding accomplishments. (Solved 80 percent of troubleshooting assignments, including three customer accounts saved because of my quick and correct actions.)"

Rose says to analyze which skills are top-ranked in the target position. Examine your background, she suggests, and see if you can come up with any matches. For example, if careful control of a budget is important, you might mention experience as the treasurer of a campus organization and your excellent stewardship of its funds.

Got the idea? Keep investigating your past and keep looking for new ways to gain valuable knowledge and skills. Then you'll have all the experience you need to land that job.


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