As a recent graduate, I feel the compulsion to tally every ten minutes of experience, like I’m trying to scrape enough peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar to make a decent sandwich. The sandwich, of course, being a job. So, how do you accurately represent your experience if much of it is student or part-time? Here are a few tips for representing your experience in the best light, without getting yourself into an ethical pickle.
An easy way to avoid making mistakes in counting your experience is to not do it. If you’re struggling to piece together even a few years, simply avoid advertising how much experience you have. Resumes should highlight your best qualities, and if your career is just beginning, experience isn’t going to be very highlight-able.
Instead, focus on your skills. You probably have many marketable skills that don’t depend on experience. For example, it doesn’t matter very much how long you’ve used Adobe InDesign. Either you know how to use the program or you don’t.
So, what happens when you are finally faced with those lovely check-boxes on a job application?
Do you have 5-7 years of relevant experience?
These are slightly trickier. If you have 5-7 years of full-time, professional experience, great! If you have some full-time, professional experience, but you would need to count student or part-time experience to flesh out the full 5-7, carefully consider the way the question is phrased. The above example— one I encountered recently— is vague enough that you could probably check “yes,” even if not all of that experience is full-time. I passed up the opportunity, because 5-7 years ago I hadn’t even graduated from high school yet.
This brings us back to the question, “How do you count experience?” I’ve spent the last week or so scouring articles and forums, and have found that there is little-to-no consensus on how to tally your professional experience, besides using common sense and the honor system. Is this confusing? Sure. Can it be helpful? Definitely.
With this in mind, if there is any way at all that you can claim the experience required on a job application, check “yes.” If you check “no,” in this job market it’s likely that you’ll never get your resume in front of a real person. Specify in your cover letter, “I have 5-7 years of student and professional experience,” and at that point the lovely HR folks can decide whether or not you’ll advance to the next step. At least your resume will make it to the lovely HR folks. If it comes up in an interview later, you can explain that you feel that all of your experience is relevant. You can then detail the skills you have and how they are valuable. And hey, you will have gotten an interview.
What advice do you have? Tweet your thoughts to me @ithinkther4iamb, or leave them in the comments below!