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Taylor McKinney

SFU Student
Arts + Social Sciences › School for International Studies

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A man staring at a laptop screen. He looks frustrated and has a cardboard piece in his hand with the word help written on it.
... when you sit down to draft your first resume don’t be afraid to be creative. Rather than focusing on a lack of work experience, analyze your collective life experience, to draw out the skills and attributes that you’ve developed...

Drafting a resume can be difficult at any point in your career. However, it is particularly difficult if you lack work experience. As a student, you may have very little relevant or local experience to get yourself started on that first resume. However, experience isn’t everything and with a little creativity, and a lot of heart, it's possible to create a competitive first draft.

You May Not Have Experience but That Doesn’t Mean You Lack Skills

As a university student, you have already written countless essays; developed a body of knowledge about your major; worked on a few projects, and acquired strong multi-tasking skills. Additionally, throughout your life you have likely explored personal interests and hobbies – some of which may be relevant to your future career. These experiences have given you both soft and hard skills (note: soft skills are the personal attributes that allow you to work well with others whereas hard skills are quantifiable abilities that can be defined, taught and measured).

Before you sit down to write your resume conduct a mini-inventory of your soft and hard skills. Perhaps you like to write; have a talent for design; speak an additional language or are particularly skilled with a camera. You may also be adept at juggling multiple projects at once; thrive in a team environment or are just an all-around great person. Incorporate this information into your resume by demonstrating how these skills transfer to the position you’re after (note: transferable skills are abilities that can be applied to a wide range of jobs and industries). An example of a transferable skill would be the teamwork and communication abilities you develop through working on group projects or being part of teams and clubs.

  • Tip: to incorporate this information into your resume, try using the S.T.A.R. approach to create accomplishment statements that demonstrate the context in which you acquired the skill, the task completed, the action took, and the result achieved.

Finally, consider that you may have an arsenal of additional technical skills that you hadn’t thought of. Many of us are more tech savvy than we realize. If you have experience with Photoshop, Adobe Creative Cloud, WordPress or other design and software programs -- mention it on your resume. If you haven’t yet developed your technical edge – don’t worry – instead, highlight your adaptability and willingness to learn.

  • Tip: build your technical skills by utilizing online resources like Linda.com to access hundreds of tutorials on a wide-range of programs

Demonstrate That You Want the Job More Than the Competition

What you lack in experience, make up in effort. It’s safe to say that the competition for your coveted co-op position will likely be students who have more experience -- perhaps students who have much more experience. That’s okay, for what you lack in experience you can always make up in effort. Take the time to research the organization and tailor your resume specifically to the position; be meticulous with your language and grammar; and clearly demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in the job you are applying for.

One way to do this is to go through the job posting and gather the information you will need to shape your resume. Pay careful attention to language. Often employers will clearly state the qualities and qualifications they are looking for but if not imagine yourself in their position. Whether you are applying for a position with Tesla or Teach and Learn Korea -- it is crucial to consider the specific attributes your chosen organization will be looking for. While there are a few qualities that are universally desirable, your prospective employer may be much more inclined to hire an ‘analytical problem-solver’ over a ‘creative risk-taker’. Do your homework.

Investing time into the detail and design of your resume demonstrates not only that you are interested in the position, but also that you are qualified for it. Use this opportunity to put your best effort into making your resume as well-researched, well-written and visually appealing as possible.

Utilize on Campus Resources to Build Your Experience

There are dozens of on-campus opportunities designed to help students build experience. Take a look at the resources available to you and think of the transferable skills you can gain through them that will be applicable to jobs you may want in the future. Would your future dream job require research, writing, web-development, advocacy or leadership skills? If so, there is probably an on-campus opportunity that will help you develop that experience. Here are a few resources to get you started:

 Remember That Everyone Starts Somewhere

The hardest part of co-op is landing your first job. However, any senior co-op student can attest to how easy the job hunt becomes once you’ve completed your first position. That being said, when you sit down to draft your first resume don’t be afraid to be creative. Rather than focusing on a lack of work experience, analyze your collective life experience, to draw out the skills and attributes that you’ve developed through your education, hobbies, and personal interests. If all else fails, utilize on-campus resources to build-up your experience. You never know where these initial opportunities will lead you.

About the Author

Taylor McKinney

SFU Student
Arts + Social Sciences › School for International Studies
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