If you’ve looked at any job boards recently, you know the struggle is real. So-called “entry-level” jobs requiring years of experience.
What? If that’s the case, how are fresh college graduates ever supposed to get experience for their college student resume?
Here’s a secret: “experience” doesn’t always mean what you think it means.
Truth: you need skills to get a job. But, there are two kinds of skills that employers look for in job applicants. Hard skills and soft skills. Both are important.
Hard skills are the technical skills that take years to learn, and colleges and trade schools accept tuition to teach you. Soft skills, however, are harder to teach and aren’t usually part of your class curricula in school. But they probably should be.
So, if you don’t learn these important skills in school, how do you acquire them for your college student resume?
In this guide, we’ll go through several options for gaining experience and learning the soft skills you’ll need in your career. We’ll also touch on how to add these skills and experiences to your college student resume so you stand out to potential employers in all the right ways.
Soft Skills (What They Didn’t Teach You in College)
The technical demands of today’s world are increasing pressures on colleges to focus on teaching hard skills over soft skills. However, the lack of soft skills is being felt by employers as they interview and onboard fresh college graduates.
According to a 2019 survey, 73% of employers said it was “somewhat or very difficult” to find qualified candidates and 34% believe schools have not properly prepared students for jobs.
The survey revealed that employers valued the following skills the most:
- listening skills
- attention to detail
- effective communication
- critical thinking
- interpersonal skills
- active learning/learning new skills
These are skills that professionals need every day in the workplace. However, finding fresh graduates that have the skill set to thrive in a professional setting is getting harder all the time.
It is now up to the graduates themselves to round out their education and ensure that their college student resumes are up to par for their first jobs.
Fortunately, there is a silver lining. There are many options for you to gain the soft skills employers want to see on your resume, even before you land your first job.
You can start while you’re still in college, over the summer, or right after graduation. But the sooner the better.
In January 2021, a peer-reviewed study was published in the Journal of Experimental Education, which concluded that there is a direct correlation between extracurricular activities and the development of soft skills.
It also showed that “soft skills predicted self-regulated learning and motivation at school.”
While a single study is far from conclusive proof, it is powerful evidence to consider extracurriculars when exploring your skill-building options in college.
Extracurricular activities can offer a wide range of options to broaden your experience and learn soft skills.
In fraternities or sororities, you can develop leadership, teamwork, and communication, among many other valuable skills.
In sports, you’ll practice such skills as determination, work ethic, and collaboration.
Departmental clubs can offer opportunities, including fundraising, presentation skills, and time management.
The groups to which you belong speak to your interests and personality. Having these listed on your college student resume helps employers get a better idea of who you are and how you might fit into their company culture.
Like any other commitment, the time you spent with the organization tells the story of your level of dedication. As well as how well you work with others, or even what kind of leader you might be. Make sure you tell your whole story on your resume.
Pro Tip: Be sure to include any awards you earned while participating in extracurricular activities on your college student resume. Not as brags, but as straightforward statements of accomplishments.
Many people discount the value of part-time jobs they had in high school or during college, but that can be a mistake. Those jobs often teach soft skills well, especially if they fall into the vein of customer service.
Consider this: a teenager working at a fast-food restaurant learns the following skills:
- Attention to detail
- Customer service (under stress)
- Time management
Those are all extremely valuable soft skills that professional hiring managers are looking for.
If you worked part-time jobs as a teenager and did them well, put them on your resume. Period.
Federal work-study programs provide part-time or full-time work to students with financial needs in order to help them pay for expenses related to their college education.
They prioritize the jobs provided according to the student’s course of study and community service work.
When looking for work while in school, start by visiting your college’s career services office. They often have leads on jobs and internships, and there may also be job boards where individuals can post employment opportunities in the community.
Many college departments have budgets to accommodate hiring part-time students. You just need to ask where you can help.
If science is up your alley, working alongside university staff on a research team allows you insight into your field of study and looks impressive on your college student resume.
Research work gives you the chance to strengthen your skills in time management, leadership, and collaboration, as well as your analytical, research, and presentation skills.
Any way you look at it, this is a golden opportunity to advance your career prospects, especially if you intend to apply to graduate school.
Pro Tip: When listing your part-time jobs, list and emphasize the skills you mastered and projects you completed while in each position, rather than simply listing your responsibilities. This brings into focus your current value and what you learned from the job.
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Work-study programs are valuable, not only because they provide financial aid, but because they also provide ample opportunity to gain professional skills and experiences.
Many people get their first taste of what employment feels like by volunteering. While not quite the same as having a job, you’ll still learn some valuable lessons and skills any time you volunteer for an organization.
You’ll work with a team of diverse people toward a common goal – that’s at least four valuable soft skills right there! Teamwork, collaboration, inclusivity, and communication. Checkmate.
There can also be opportunities for confidence building, customer service, time management, work ethic, and the list goes on.
Volunteering is a fantastic way to put yourself out there and learn some skills that will benefit you for the rest of your life and career. All while benefiting a worthwhile cause.
Pro Tip: Remember to track and record your volunteer hours for your resume. Data makes an impression on employers and you don’t want to miss an opportunity to showcase your dedication.
In a word, no. Internships are a phenomenal way to gain real-world experience prior to joining the professional world.
They may be paid or unpaid, but regardless of financial reimbursement, their value in skills and experience cannot be overstated. Few things will teach you more about your chosen career path than an internship at the right company or with the right person.
To find out about open internships, try talking to your professors. They are usually among the first people to know when industry internships become available.
You’ll also have a better chance of landing an internship with one of your own professors or with their letter of recommendation than you would on your own.
Another option is to visit your campus career services office. They may also have leads on open internships and can offer you a reference.
Pro Tip: Throughout your internship, save your work! It will add up to a portfolio that you can present to a potential employer as an example of your capabilities and experience.
No Experience For Your College Student Resume? No problem.
Writing your first resume can be intimidating. But there are plenty of tools available to help. Big Interview’s templates are a great place to start.
If you don’t have paid work experience, list volunteer experience instead. Or internships. You get the idea. List whatever experience you have in the format of work experience.
As stated above in the internship section, keep any relevant work as a portfolio. Show it to prospective employers when appropriate or when asked about samples or projects you’ve completed in the past.
Feature your relevant skills on your resume. Highlight both hard and soft skills specific to the job you’re applying for (as long as you actually have them, of course). Make it clear exactly why you are the perfect fit for the position.
Another way to give yourself a leg up is to get on LinkedIn, create an optimized profile, and take some LinkedIn Learning courses. Many are free to take and they offer a ton of helpful information on a wide variety of topics, from preparing for an interview to business marketing.
Start and don’t stop
Upskilling is a tactic employed by every serious professional, and it’s never too early to start. When you develop professional soft skills in college through your participation in groups and organizations, you set yourself apart. This has never been more important than it is today.
By taking online courses to up your game, you’re showing potential employers that you take your career seriously and are a lifelong learner. That is evidence of soft skills that they need even more: confidence, problem-solving, active learning, and global thinking.
Do yourself a favor, never stop learning and never stop gaining value. It’s things like this that add up to make your resume stand out in the crowd. Even if it’s your first.
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