How to highlight your experience – when you think you don’t have any.

I’ve been conducting a number of resume workshops lately, and I’m still struck by the number of students who don’t think they have any “experience.” But they’re usually wrong and here’s why:

Experience isn’t just a formal internship where you were paid to do work exactly in line with your major.

Experience is where you learn a skill that you can later deliver to an employer, even in a different context. On-campus jobs, whether in food service or general office help, require students to balance time a priorities – a useful skill in any role. Additionally, many require contact with external audiences and answering queries for “customers” – even if it’s just fielding questions for other students… or, in other words, communication skills.

In engineering and other STEM disciplines, coursework provides the best case for demonstrating “experience” that is not in a traditional job. Take a look at the second sample resume on this page of the CCD website.

In this case – as with many senior engineering resumes – the capstone Senior Design project take center stage, while the past jobs offer the sort of transferable skills mentioned above. What sets this example apart, however, it its inclusion of a “projects” section, just like a LinkedIn profile. Here, the student highlights technical projects that likely took place as a class or lab assignment, but the net result is that it provides a showcase for demonstrating real hard skills to employers. Rather than merely listing a software program in a static “skills” section, this project-based listing provides the employer with context to not only understand that the student knows a particular computer skill, but also how a student used the tool to good effect. This is most helpful to technical projects, but is not limited to engineering – chemistry, biology, physics, communication, allied health, and other majors can use this sort of section to really demonstrate the value that they can add to an employer.

Look at the items listed in your resume’s skills section and think about where you picked up those skills. Now get to work on that “projects” sections and show the employers what you’ve got.

By John Bau
John Bau Career Consultant, School of Engineering John Bau