I remember staring at my resume when I was in college, internship-less, wondering how I could possibly stand out without any “real” work experience. I spent my summers in high school working as a lifeguard — a job I loved — but between that job, my swim season, and my schoolwork, there just wasn’t room for anything else.
Now that I’ve hired my own interns, I can tell you that there’s no reason to stress out about filling every line in your resume. In fact, it’s a red flag for an entry-level or intern position to have a resume that’s too crowded or two pages! You’re not expected to have saved your high school from evil madmen in between algebra tests (call me, beep me, Kim Possible) so don’t worry if your resume feels…empty. Here are a few small ways you can add to your resume, right now:
Add your objective or statement of purpose
If you don’t have a ton of experience on your resume, you may have space to add an “Objective” or “Purpose” statement at the top. This can take several different forms, but in general, it should be one to two sentences written in first person about who you are and how you can best add value to the company. Your cover letter will do the rest.
Right now, mine looks like this: “I’m a marketer with six years of experience looking to help your business tell stories that build your brand and drive meaningful engagement with your audience.”
Highlight your volunteer experience
When I was in high school, I volunteered at my local library reading to kids. It taught me how to be a better public speaker, and how to maintain the attention of wandering 6-year-olds. This prepared me surprisingly well to be a marketer! In marketing, attention is everything — and I learned how to effectively communicate to an audience with a short attention span, be creative in how I presented information, and most of all, be entertaining.
When you add your volunteer experience to your resume, highlight the portions that are most relevant to the jobs you’re looking for, whether that’s helping an organization rebuild their website, creating a project plan for an upcoming fundraiser, or coordinating other volunteers for a larger effort. If you haven’t volunteered recently, there’s no time like the present to make the world a better place.
Include a skills section
Another area that often gets missed is a “Skills” section, which you can include at the bottom of your resume, or at the top underneath your objective. It’s an important section to have because the first person who “reads” your resume, especially at larger companies, is typically software looking for keywords related to the position. Adding your skills (or learning new ones!) allows you to put in those keywords that may not be reflected elsewhere in your resume.
Keep this to no more than two or three lines. You can include hard skills, like HTML, or soft skills, like leadership. I usually include tools and skills most relevant to the jobs I’m applying to — in my case as a marketer, skills like proficiency in WordPress, HTML/CSS, editing, project management, and copywriting. If you’re not sure what to include, look at the job descriptions for clues (as long as you have those skills, of course!).
Let your personality shine through extracurriculars
If you’re early on in your career, it may make sense to include hobbies or extracurriculars, particularly if you hold a leadership position within those activities. I know sales managers who often take on athletes for entry-level roles even if they don’t have direct experience, because they know an athlete will understand how to be competitive and work as part of a team, important skills for sales.
Either way, it’s a good way to let your personality shine through, particularly if it matches up with your targeted brand or industry.
Use coursework to show you’re ready to learn
When you’re a student, employers understand that school is your top priority. If you’ve taken courses that directly apply to the position you’re looking at, include them in a section titled “Relevant Coursework.” This shows not only what you’ve learned, but also that you’re ready and able to apply that to a real-world experience.
Part of what helped me stand out in early interviews at travel brands was my study abroad experiences in college. A friend of mine didn’t have a job during school, but did substantial research work with their environmental science professor that helped them land a job in environmental consulting.
If you’ve been out of school for more than a year or two, you can add a line underneath your education to include study abroad, coursework, or research, but don’t elaborate more than that.
Show off your design skills
If all else fails and your resume still seems too light, design can be your friend. Most recruiters spend no more than a few seconds reading your resume, so the more scannable it is, the better off you’ll be. Add more space between experiences, make your headers larger and bolded, or experiment with a more creative template that organizes the information differently.