School is back in session! If you’re entering the fall semester sans internship, don’t fret. While you may feel like your career skills are getting rusty, there are plenty of other activities that you can do during the semester to keep your resume up-to-date, interesting and competitive. Here are five tips to boost your resume during the semester that will keep you ahead of the curve!
1. Take a leadership role in a student club or organization
Participation in a club, society or sorority is a wonderful opportunity to grow outside of your academic major, but taking a leadership role in one of these organizations will help you stand out professionally.
Rachel Walden, Career Development Specialist at Belmont University, says that companies are definitely looking for strong, involved leaders. “Employers seek job candidates who have student leadership experience because it shows that you can balance multiple priorities at once – schoolwork, student leadership and oftentimes an internship or part-time job,” she says.
As you get more involved in your organizations, you’ll also gain new skills. “Leadership roles can demonstrate many transferrable skills: teamwork, initiative, people skills, mediation, project management, etc.,” says Marianne Brigola, Assistant Director of Career Services for the School of Communications at Elon University
If there are leadership roles available that don’t speak to you as much as others, you can still make them work for you. For example, being your club’s secretary may sound dull, but it’s a role that’s visible and requires accountability and organization, which are great skills to have on a resume. Even if you were only selected because you type the fastest, you’ll be a point of contact for all of your club members, other officers will come to depend on you and you’ll be taking an active role in a group that’s important to you.
You can also gain leadership experience in a student organization even if there aren’t any actual leadership positions available. If you think that the only way to be a leader is by being the president of a club, you’re missing out on valuable chances to show what you have to offer to your peers and potential employers! “Leadership doesn't have to mean leadership of the organization as a whole--it can also be demonstrated by your willingness to lead a committee, to organize an event, to manage publicity efforts for your organization. Leadership can take on many different forms,” Brigola says.
And if you think hiring managers will gloss right over your involvement in clubs or organizations, think again. “I have been asked several times during interviews about my involvement in the clubs and activities on my resume,” says Meghan Gibbons, a recent graduate of Boston College. “To be a leader and to tell the person interviewing you the different roles you took shows organization, time management, dedication and commitment.”
Volunteering is awesome--our career experts agree!
“I highly recommend that students volunteer during their time in college,” Walden says. “Not only is it a great way to gain relevant skills and experience, but it is a great way to give back to the community!”
Brigola agrees. “It's something that employers like to see on resumes, as it not only demonstrates civic engagement and social responsibility, but it also tells employers what you're passionate about,” she says. “Sometimes students come in with the misconception that it's not as valuable as an internship or other type of professional experience. Volunteering can be just as valuable as an internship in developing transferable skills and exploring potential career options.”
Walden says students should find volunteering opportunities that align with their career goals. This is one way that volunteering can do double duty: you’ll give back while gaining the transferable skills that Brigola mentioned. “Selecting volunteer opportunities or projects that will allow you to gain a new skill is a great idea and can add to your resume,” Walden says. “For example, if you are interested in pursuing a career in marketing, volunteer to create a nonprofit’s monthly online newsletter using Emma or Constant Contact. Interested in graphic design? Volunteer to create flyers for a nonprofit’s upcoming fundraising event using InDesign or Illustrator.”
When deciding how you’ll allocate your time to volunteer projects, think critically about how much time you’ll commit to an organization. “I recommend volunteering with the same organization over a period of time as it shows employers that you can commit to an organization or cause and see events or initiatives through to completion,” says Walden.
In addition to a steady time commitment, be sure to pick volunteering options that you’ll actually enjoy. “Students [should] choose volunteer opportunities that they are interested in--whether it relates to your major or not,” Brigola says. “You will have a more meaningful experience if you are interested in what you are doing or the cause, rather than simply volunteering to check it off a list.”
3. Take an industry-specific class
These days, “Experience with Microsoft Word” doesn’t exactly count as a resume skill. However, “experience using Photoshop” or “working knowledge of HTML” will certainly be worth a second look. If your academic schedule is light this semester, consider adding a skills-based course to your schedule that will benefit you in your career, or taking a course online.
“I recommend doing research into the industries or professions [students] are interested in exploring and choosing classes that will help them build skills specific to their chosen interest area,” says Brigola. “For example, if you are interested in exploring marketing or public relations, you might look into courses that could help you gain a better understanding of media analytics. If you are interested in careers in cinema or entertainment industries, you might consider taking a specific editing course that will give you some familiarity with editing equipment and software.”
If you’re not sure where to start, tech skills are always good to have. “Lynda.com is a great resource for students who want to learn new computer programs or software, or brush up on existing skills,” Walden says. “Being proficient in Microsoft Office, Mac programs, graphic design programs such as InDesign or Illustrator, Photoshop, HTML, CSS, e-mail marketing software such as Emma or Constant Contact, WordPress or Blogger are all great skills to have.”
4. Continue working for a previous employer in a smaller capacity
If you just finished an internship, it may seem counterintuitive to keep putting in work for them. But there are a lot of benefits to doing small projects for a previous employer without being an intern. Not only will your schedule be more in your control, you’ll gain resume longevity by having an employer on your resume for an extended period of time. You’ll also stay in the front of the employer’s mind should any openings become available.
To ask a previous employer if you could contribute to a project they’re working on, call or send a quick email to your supervisor. For example:
How are things going at the museum? I hope the exhibition planning is going well for the traveling show in November. School is starting up again here so things are all over the place, but it’s nice to be back!
I’m writing today because I have a little free time in my schedule this semester and I wondered if you might need help with any small projects in the department. My Monday afternoons are free after 2 p.m., so I could come in for some envelope stuffing, filing, or event set-up for the evening lectures if you like. I’m also happy to do some small research projects remotely and brainstorm ideas for any new programs coming up, if you’d find that helpful.
These are just some ideas, but I’d love to talk about it some more if you think we could work this out. I hope to speak with you soon!
When asking about potential projects, make your availability clear so that you don’t overcommit yourself. Give suggestions about the work you’d like to do as is appropriate for your industry. If those turn out to be areas where your previous employer needs help, perfect. If not, be open to some other options that he or she may have in mind for you to contribute in a different way.
5. Link Up!
Use this time to strengthen your professional connections. Regular contact with these individuals while you're not working will demonstrate your interest and help them remember you for the future. “LinkedIn is the best website for professional networking, and it’s a great way [for students] to showcase their skills and experience, research career paths, connect with individuals working in their industry and stay on top of industry and hiring trends,” Walden says. If you keep in touch with your former internship supervisors, you can use them as references for your resume. If you don’t keep in touch with them, it will be hard for them to remember how awesome of an intern you were when a potential employer asks them about you!
Take your connections to the next stage by setting up informational interviews. “One of the best things students can do to prepare for their future career is to set up informational interviews or even shadow individuals working in their field of interest to learn about career progression in their chosen occupation,” Walden says. “It’s also helpful if they are not sure where they want to end up after graduation.”
Being a diligent networker even when you’re not working ensures that you don’t miss any upcoming opportunities, that you continue to learn about your industry and that you build relationships little by little with influential people in your field. This will certainly help when it comes time to find your next internship!
Do you have any tricks for boosting your resume during the semester? Let us know in the comments!