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Highlight your abilities and strengths

When you’re starting out in your career, you likely don’t have a lot of formal work experience to share with employers. But don’t worry. Employers don’t expect a lot of work experience from someone just out of high school or just entering the workforce. Plus, you likely have informal work, school activities and volunteer experience that you can highlight. We can help you get a great career start. In the meantime, here are some helpful tips for creating your resume and writing a compelling cover letter.

Resume tips

Make a list of all your work and volunteer experience.

  • Even if you don’t have any formal work experience, chances are you have at least some informal work or volunteering experience you can highlight.
    • Babysitting, lawn mowing or other work experience shows you take the initiative to work and that others have paid you to do important tasks for them
    • Volunteering in your community shows you care about others
    • Directing a school play or participating in student government shows you have leadership abilities
    • Designing websites or creating videos for school or extracurricular projects reveals your technical and creative talents

  • For each volunteer or work experience, include the name of the employer or volunteer organization, when you worked with them, your role and a bulleted list of your responsibilities and accomplishments during your time there.
    • Use action verbs to describe your work and volunteer experiences

Identify the skills you gained through your work and volunteer experience.

  • Our skills matcher lets you plug in past work or volunteer experience to match typical earnings with skills. Take the CareerForce skills assessment to see where you stand today. (link to create an account/register page)

  • Employers want to see soft skills—skills that aren’t necessarily tied to past work experience but are essential for succeeding in a job. These skills include things like being on time, getting along well with others and being able to communicate clearly and effectively. Mention experiences that have required these skills. For example: You’re the captain a sports team, which requires you to communicate well with others (communication) and motivate peers to perform as a team (leadership).

List any awards you’ve earned, special technical skills you’ve learned or languages you speak fluently.

  • For example:
    • Student of the Month award from your school
    • Experience editing in HTML
    • Fluency in English and Spanish

Start writing your resume.

  • Take your work, school and volunteer experience and use it to highlight your skills in the professional experience section of your resume. In the education section, list where you go to school, when you are slated to graduate and if you have any academic distinctions like a GPA of 3.5 or higher. Also make sure to note any awards, honors, activities and special skills in the appropriate sections.

  • Remember to keep your resume short while including all necessary information. One page with 10- to 12-point font is great. Make sure to make it easy to read and visually appealing with enough white space. Ask a friend or family member to read it and offer suggestions for improvements. Then run spellcheck, proofread your resume and make any necessary corrections.

Cover letter tips

Address the hiring manager by name at the top of the letter.

  • If you know the hiring manager, use Mr., Ms. and the last name.
  • If you don’t know who the hiring manager is, address the head of the department for the open position.
  • If that’s not possible, address the letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.”

Make your first paragraph matter.

  • Highlight your interest in the organization and the position you’re applying for.
  • Drop a name if possible. If you can say that a respected mutual acquaintance puts in a good word for you, do so.

Make the middle paragraphs specific to your skills and experience.

  • Showcase why you’re a great fit for the position.
  • Illustrate your skills and experience with a short real-life story or two.
  • Or have a short block of bullets that align your skills with the most important requirements for the position.

Here are some helpful resources to get you started