Show, Don't Tell
A lack of job experience doesn't have
to be a liability. Using a functional resume can highlight other things
that make you stand out to employers.
Without a lot of work experience to help pad your resume, you may end
up with a document that looks small and insignificant. It certainly
does not do justice to the skills you have.
For the first-time job seeker, a chronological resume, which lists your
work experience in sequential order, may actually be a liability. But a
resume is still the first and best way of introducing yourself to your
So, how do you turn lack of paid work experience into something that
would appeal to a prospective employer?
Try a different approach. Opt for a functional resume instead.
What Is It?
A functional resume highlights your skills. It allows you
to put them in an order that will draw attention to the contributions you
can make to the position in question, not how many other jobs you have
When you use a functional resume, you have to present yourself in a
way that the reader will quickly get to know you.
Categories or headings are used to separate or highlight particular
skills you have. Each category is then further explained by using
vivid, descriptive statements that detail the responsibilities you had,
the duties you performed and the results you achieved.
The more information you give your reader, the more they will learn
about you and perhaps see past the lack of work experience. Make them
focus on talents and attributes that you have and what you can bring to
"Functional resumes allow you to group skills areas together in order
to convince an employer you can fill the specific requirements of the job,"
explains resume writing professional Lynne O'Connor.
Functional resumes help to separate the job from the skill. They
can take an ordinary job, such as babysitting for a neighbor, and translate
it into very marketable skills about infant and child-care experience.
By being creative, you can introduce to your prospective employer the valued
attributes of patience, responsibility and dependability.
"High school students will not have had extensive job history and experience.
The functional format can better represent their value to a future employer
than would a chronological format," says Frank Fox, executive director
of the Professional Association of Resume Writers.
By using a functional resume, you are not presenting yourself as someone
who has never worked before and who doesn't have any specific talents to
offer -- which would be the result of a fairly blank chronological resume.
"Try answering the question: Why should this company hire me?"
Use your past experiences to support your answer.
Have your functional
resume sum up all of your skills so that the answer is evident to both
you and the person reading your resume.
For example, if you are applying for a job at a busy retail store, describe
experiences that you have had keeping calm under pressure in other situations,
such as athletics or academics. Put this information under a heading
called character traits.
"These sections should convey personality traits that would make the
candidate a valuable addition to the company's staff," says Fox.
If functional resumes are done carelessly, they may serve to confuse
your prospective employers rather than entice them. Take the time to
devise thoughtful headings and categories that really underscore the skills
and talents you bring to the job.
For example, make sure you avoid cliches like "people person."
Rather, talk about strong communication skills and give concrete examples
of them to illustrate your skill.
Make sure that you describe in precise detail what skills you have
gained in a certain activity. You might want to add a short paragraph
relating what the incident was and what you have gained from the experience
to give the reader a broader perspective of your skill set.
Another disadvantage is that since chronological resumes are the more
typical example of a resume, an employer may be puzzled by the appearance
of a functional resume.
One way to surmount that is to do your homework.
Make sure that you thoroughly research the company before sending
in your resume. That way, you may have an upper hand in customizing
your functional resume to the type of work that the company does.
"Knowledge of the company, the position, the industry and the field
will be the student's best weapon in the job-hunting jungle," say Gail
Taylor, a resume writing professional.
Setting It Up
A functional resume allows you some creativity and freedom to showcase
your talents by using headings and short, descriptive paragraphs to describe
Some possible categories or headings may be leadership, initiative,
communication and skills. If you played an active role in a youth
group at your local church, you can parlay that experience into qualities
that are desirable and valuable in the working world.
By writing brief but good descriptions about what you did at youth group
(setting up meetings, organizing activities or just leading the group through
its regular meeting), you are communicating a very valuable skill set to
your potential employer.
By organizing your life experiences into headings that describe or
detail a particular skill, you can show off your talents to a prospective
employer without having had many years of work history.
Think about other skills that you have learned from other jobs or volunteer
situations. For example, if you worked on a fund-raising project
at school, you may have learned budgeting skills, basic accounting practices or
advertising and marketing techniques. Use those activities and play
up your skills by detailing what you have learned.
But don't forget to proofread. Read it and read it again.
Show it to others and ask their opinion.
"Take your time to create a first-class resume that showcases your skills,
experience and who you really are," adds O'Connor.
"Grammar, punctuation, spelling, spacing, layout and format are the
tools you use to distinguish yourself as someone who pays close attention
to detail, has excellent communication skills and makes an extra effort."