What to do when it seems like you have nothing to put on your résumé

As a student, the pressure to build a strong résumé is high. There are lots of sample résumés out there – perhaps some that belong to your friends and classmates – that seem to have endless experiences and accomplishments listed on them. While it can sometimes be great to include a long list of experiences on a résumé, that isn’t necessarily the best way to impress employers. Remember that when it comes to résumés, quality is always more important than quantity.

According to Indeed, one of the world’s largest job sites, “your résumé is often your first and best chance to get noticed by recruiters and hiring managers. Your goal is to make it easy for them to see that you have the qualifications they’re looking for.” Notice that this advice doesn’t say anything about the number of experiences you have; rather, it focuses on the strength of your candidacy as demonstrated by your qualifications. In other words, the quality of your experiences, and the way they are presented is what employers are looking for.

So, how do you get started? First, know that regardless of the number of your past experiences, you definitely have some quality (in the form of transferrable skills) to highlight. Keeping that in mind, try following these three steps:

  1. Choose a transferrable skill that you are hoping to highlight on your résumé. Some examples of transferrable skills include problem-solving, communication, leadership, teamwork, and technological savvy. How should you choose a transferrable skill? Consider one or more of the following:
    • Look at the qualifications of the opportunity you are applying for
    • Think about what you would consider being your greatest strengths
    • Choose some class assignments you consistently get good grades on and think about what skills are associated with those assignments
    • Look at the LinkedIn profiles of some people who are currently in roles you want to have in the future and see what skills they highlight
  1. Figure out where you learned this transferrable skill. This step requires a lot of reflection on all of your past experiences, both inside and outside the classroom. Students often shy away from including classroom experiences on a résumé, but they can be just as valuable as (or even more valuable than) other experiences depending on what they entail. When reflecting on your transferrable skills, be sure to consider all of the following:
    • Independent projects for classes (ex. research, papers, presentations)
    • Group projects for classes
    • Part-time jobs, including at family businesses
    • Student organization involvement or leadership
    • Volunteering
    • Professional development workshops or conferences
    • Independent projects outside of school
  1. Decide on the best way to feature this transferrable skill on your résumé and add it! Once you have reached this point, the hard part is over! Now you just have to decide which existing content or new content would best reflect this transferrable skill to employers. You could consider tweaking the wording of some existing content or adding:
    • An extra bullet point to an experience already on your résumé
    • An experience you had previously left off
    • A whole new section

Repeat these steps as many times as you’d like until you feel that you have exhausted the transferrable skills you are looking to feature on your résumé. By the time you are finished, you should have a résumé features skills employers are looking for.

If you are interested in some more inspiration, check out these sample résumés on the Center for Career Development website that features strong examples of extracurricular experiences, volunteer experience, and academic projects/research.

At the end of the day, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion on your résumé to make sure the transferrable skills you have chosen to feature are the ones that are coming through to the reader. Schedule an appointment with the Center for Career Development whenever you are ready!

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