When you’re faced with finding a job out of college, it may seem like even entry-level jobs require two to three years of experience. While your education is always a part of your resume, does it count as work experience? Yes, if you do it strategically. Anything you do in life can count as experience.
The key is to take volunteering, internships and other experience and relate it meaningfully to what recruiters are looking for so they see why you qualify for the job. Here we’ll show you what you can count as work experience and how to highlight your experience.
Why education counts as experience
Recruiters are looking for people who meet certain basic criteria and show the ability to adapt to a company’s needs. A list of qualities or attributes is often more of a wish list of the ideal candidate than absolute criteria. That’s good for you.
While education itself is not professional work experience, other activities you do during your education may add years of experience to your resume. In the course of your education, you’ll have ample opportunity to gain skills that employers value: teamwork and collaboration, research skills, meeting deadlines, internships, communication and management skills.
Even coursework can count if you do or build something relevant to the job, like building an app or making a financial report.
What counts as work experience
How do you know what to count? If you can parlay your experience into relevant, demonstrable or quantifiable skills that meet a recruiter’s criteria, it’s worth counting. Here is a list of what to consider for professional work experience. You may find that you have more years of experience than you realized.
Coursework can be important to highlight on your resume, especially coursework relevant to the job. If you’re applying for a tech job, you’ll want to showcase the programming languages you’ve mastered and other relevant coding courses.
Keep in mind that coursework should usually appear under education on your resume in the section on relevant coursework. What does relevant coursework mean? Generally, this will include courses for your major or the career you’re pursuing.
You can make an exception for something specific and demonstrable and put it higher in your resume. If you built an app, worked for a company creating sustainability reports, worked as a nurse or created something, you can report that under relevant experience.
If you won an award, like a national accountant’s competition award, you’d list that under awards and recognition.
Volunteering is a great way to gain valuable experience. It can add years of experience if you’ve been volunteering regularly. Just because you’re not being paid doesn’t mean you’re not working.
Volunteer at non-profits you’re passionate about or volunteer at companies you’d like to work for someday. Building relevant experience can enhance your resume while building your professional network.
Internships allow you to get a taste of a work environment or a position you may hold after graduation. Internships are generally considered professional work experience. You’ll get the inside scoop on company dynamics. Internships can be highlighted on your resume as relevant experience. Be sure to mention what you did, how you helped or what position you were working in.
Participation in research is a relevant experience for many positions. Be sure to describe the research and the results. Highlight your role in the research. Be sure to include research design, such as whether you collected data or conducted experiments. You’ll want to mention if the research was published and any other accomplishments related to the research.
Hobbies will generally fall under a separate category unless the hobby offers an experience for the job you’re applying for. For example, if you’re applying for a tech job and have been building apps since you were a teenager, you can include it as work experience.
On the other hand, if you have a unique hobby or skill, showcasing it can help you stand out.
Depending on the activity, extracurricular activities offer important, relevant experience. If you were the editor of your college’s newspaper or captain of the debate team, you can highlight it.
You’ll want to be specific. If you organized special business training for 300 students, it’s important to state that. Many extracurricular activities require teamwork and collaboration, skills that most workplaces can benefit from.
One-off projects that build skills or relevant experience are worth highlighting on your resume. This kind of experience includes one-off freelance projects or research with a professor. If you’ve written a blog, published a book or developed a course, these can also count as professional work experience.
Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you can’t pick up a part-time job in your relevant field. Even side jobs like working as a shift manager at a fast food restaurant can highlight leadership or team-building skills.
How to highlight your experience
Many people miss job opportunities because they fail to highlight the relevant experience or realize that they already have years of experience. Make sure to highlight specific, quantifiable accomplishments and professional work experience. Anything you’ve done can be written in terms of results. Here’s what else to remember to make your resume stand out:
Emphasize transferable skills
Transferable skills are overall qualifications you may have gained in an unrelated job. Professional work experience in many fields can build essential skills that will serve a professional well throughout their career. Leadership, communication, team building, collaboration, creativity and problem-solving are all transferable skills applicable to many jobs.
Here are more transferable skills to consider:
- Collaboration skills
- Time management
- Analytical reasoning
- Critical thinking
- Attention to detail
- Project management
- Relationship building
- Computer skills
Match your skills to the job description
An impressive resume means nothing if it doesn’t resonate with the job you’re interested in. Think of the recruiter as a potential customer and tailor your resume to fulfill their needs. You need to demonstrate why you qualify for this job. If they’re looking for someone good at problem-solving and teamwork, highlight those skills over others.
Carefully read the job description to pick out key qualifications and skills and show the employer how you qualify.
It’s easy to get off-track. Try to stay as concise and as close to the required skills as possible to avoid overwhelming the recruiter with too much information. Read what they’re looking for and stay close to that. Be sure to update your resume with new skills and relevant qualifications.
Summary of whether college count as work experience
Yes, college can count as work experience, but the key is to look beyond coursework into the vast life experiences you can gain during your college years. Professional work experience is valuable, and you may have more than you realize.
After going through this list, you may find you have more years of experience than you realize. Remember to highlight specific, quantifiable experience, qualifications and accomplishments so the recruiter is excited to speak with you about why you qualify for this job. Be open to learning and adapting, and the recruiter may see you bring more value than what’s on your resume.
What is considered professional experience?
Professional experience is usually any experience for which you are paid for your work. This can include freelance jobs, temporary work, internships, and independent projects.
What should I put on my resume for my first job?
For your first job, you can include relevant educational experience, as well internships, side jobs, research, projects and even coursework on your resume.
Does babysitting count as a job?
Yes! Babysitting counts as a job and can add years of work experience. Babysitting is generally considered self-employment unless you are an employee at a babysitting company.