Filling out a job application when you lack experience can be overwhelming. Whether you are looking for your first job, or you are breaking into a career, learn how you can make your application stand out despite your lack of professional experience.
When filling out a job application with little or no experience, showcase the skills, volunteer positions, experience with academic projects, or unofficial work that has been completed. Provide a cover letter or resume and be specific and positive when listing skills and accomplishments.
Now that you know what you should do when you have no job experience and are filling out job applications, you might be wondering what a cover letter is and what other types of experience you should add to your resume. Keep reading to find out.
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If you are physically going to businesses to apply, make sure you bring a list of any important dates or information you may need. If applying online to multiple jobs, you can have a document with all of the information on it that you can copy and paste into the application. If you make a resume, it will serve as the document from which you can copy. You will need to be able to provide the following:
- Phone number
- Social security number
- Availability date
- Graduation date or other school-related information
You will also need to provide information regarding previous work experience including:
- Company name
- Company address
- Company phone number
- Responsibilities at job
- Start dates and end dates
Most applications have room for three references and could require the following:
- Reference name
- Reference phone number
- Reference email
- Relationship to you
- Number of years acquainted
Bringing this information with you will save you time and headaches, but you can also ask to take the physical application home to fill it out. Most businesses offer online applications. If you take the application home, you will have more time to think about it and verify that all of the information you are putting down is correct. Bringing home applications also provides you with the opportunity to fill out multiple applications at once.
Read the Instructions Carefully
If you don’t have work experience, you can’t let anything else hold you back. Try to look professional by doing your best in everything you can. Some applications will ask you to fill them out a certain way. For example, some ask you to use a black or blue pen when filling it out. Some applications may specify that no family members can be used as references.
Reading the instructions will help you avoid any embarrassing mistakes, but it’s also good to follow proper etiquette for professional documents. Avoid filling applications out using a pencil or brightly colored pens.
Write in legible print, not cursive, so your application is easy to read. Use correct formats for phone numbers and social security numbers. Keep in mind spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Having errors in grammar and spelling lowers your chances of getting hired. Especially if you are applying for a job where you need to be good at English!
Accentuate the Experience You Have
If you haven’t held a job or if you haven’t had experience in the position you’re applying for, you still have a chance of being hired. There are many things you can provide in place of official work experience on a job application.
Volunteering isn’t just working, it’s impressive to a hiring manager because it says something about your character. If you have any experience with a food bank, soup kitchen, animal shelters, or church responsibilities, these are great in place of other experiences. Make sure you note if it was a consistent effort and commitment or if it was only an occasional opportunity.
If you have some professional work experience, but the job wasn’t in a relevant field, consider your volunteer experience. For example, you may be looking at a marketing position, but you haven’t held a job like that before. Even though you have never had an official job, you used to help out at the local school by making posters and advertisements for their theater productions. Adding this to an application can give you more credibility, and it tells the HR department that you are passionate about what you do.
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If you have participated heavily in school and school activities, this is an excellent opportunity to adorn your job application. You may have been a part of a group project that involved a lot of hard work, research, or leadership skills, and companies look for that kind of experience.
If you participated in sports, drama, or other extracurricular activities, include what your role was and how long you did that activity or sport. Participation in activities like these shows that you have the motivation and can keep a schedule. You can highlight certain skills you developed to perform your duties in these extracurriculars. If you were in a club, especially if you were a leader of that club, putting this on an application will highlight your work ethic, leadership, and ability to work with a team.
If you want to break into your career, you can use experiences from your schooling to highlight your studies in the field and to show your dedication. You may have worked on research papers or completed term projects that hold a lot of significance to the field you’re pursuing.
While these experiences are good, something more than the regular school assignments can be even more impressive. For example, you may be looking at a career as a software developer. Maybe in college, you were the president of the coding club or you organized a study group for a tech class.
While you may not have been officially hired on with a company or held a job that took out taxes, you’ve probably done some things that qualify you to work a job. Many kids have participated in mowing lawns or shoveling snow around the neighborhood, either as a service or in exchange for money. Others have worked with younger kids in positions like babysitting or tutoring. If you participated in activities like these for some consistent duration, you should add them to your application. Adding these will show that you are motivated and can work on your own with little management.
If you are a little more experienced, you may have bigger non-work experiences to add. If you ever interned somewhere that helped you build skills, this should always go on an application. Internships are nearly as good as solid work experience. They show that you’ve had real-world experience using the skills you’ve learned. It shows that you will be able to jump right into a professional setting.
Another thing you could put on an application or resume is community involvement. If you are involved in your community through clubs, volunteering, or preparedness, this should go on your application. The Kiwanis club is an excellent addition to a resume or application. Being involved in the community shows that you have a good team-player attitude and care about your social environment.
Now that you have ideas of what to include on your application instead of job experience, you want to make sure you only add your most relevant experiences. You may have a lot of experience with volunteer work, community involvement, or academic projects, but don’t include every experience you have had on your application.
It’s important to keep your application or resume focused and specific. List out all of your experience, then go through and label them as most to least relevant. Use the most relevant experience first, but fill in with the less relevant experience if you need to add more to the application.
When you are describing your experience on an application, be as specific as you can about skills and responsibilities. There may be lots of ways to write about your responsibilities at a given job, but the more specific you can be, the better.
For example, you could write, “I nannied for three kids,” or you could explain what that included: “I prepared and cooked meals, maintained a clean house, and disinfected surfaces. I watched children for long hours, keeping up with napping and feeding schedules. I kept the children entertained with planned physical activities, crafting, and educational projects. I got two kids ready for school and to the bus stop on time while caring for the youngest child.”
You often won’t have much room for job descriptions on job applications, so it’s important to only include the most relevant skills and responsibilities. You can follow the same process we detailed before.
What is the most relevant information?
While your type of job determines a large part of the answer to this question, there are still things almost all HR departments are looking for.
If you’re looking for your first job, you will want your employer to know that you are reliable, hard-working, and willing to learn. A first job won’t require a lot of specialized skills, but they want to know that you will show up for your shift and follow through with your commitments.
If you are looking for a first job in a career, even if you’re applying for an internship, your hiring manager will be looking for passion for the career, willingness to learn, and the ability to work with a team and take criticism. Another thing hiring managers are looking for is flexibility and creativity.
Build a Resume and Write a Cover Letter
Instead of filling out several applications with this information, you could create a resume that contains all of the same content. Some online job boards, such as Indeed, will use a resume as the application. Some in-person jobs will require an application whether or not you have a resume, but most will accept a resume in place of an application.
To build a resume, it’s easiest to start with a template. Put your name and contact info at the top, followed by a professional summary. The summary is a short, written section about you, your experience, and your skills. Some templates will have a separate spot for skills, usually in list form. After your summary and skills, you can add your education, then your experience. Some templates also add a section at the bottom for any certificates, awards, or achievements.
Having a resume could save you a lot of time and effort in the application process. A resume also gives you more flexibility. While application forms are typically very structured, a resume allows for some customization. While a resume can be made any way you want, make sure to keep it professional, simple, and straightforward.
Indeed offers some great tips and instructions for writing a cover letter.
Another important component to applying for jobs that is often overlooked is the cover letter. A cover letter is essentially an introduction to you. This is a chance for your employer to get to know you. An application or resume is more general, but a cover letter is written for a specific job. In a cover letter, you can speak directly to the hiring manager about your skills and experience, why you think you’re a good fit for the job, and how your passions will help you excel in the position.
A crucial element of a resume or application is the references section. If you don’t have a lot of impressive and relevant experience, providing references is a must. Some potential employers won’t even call any of your references, but the fact that you have someone they can call to verify your work ethic is impressive and adds credibility.
Listing your references is good, but that’s only one piece. Before you put down references, you should check with the people you intend to put down to make sure they are alright with vouching for you. If you have standing permission from somebody to put them down as a reference, you should alert them when you begin applying for jobs again, so they can be prepared to talk about you.
Review Your Work
Grammar and spelling errors are detrimental to your application. Paying attention to detail on the application shows that you can perform your tasks with precision. Whether you are applying to be a line cook, a general manager, or a space engineer, you want your application and resume to be free of mistakes and inconsistencies.
If you use a template for your resume, be sure that none of the old text is left behind and everything is filled out properly. Check dates, company names and addresses, and any other info you’ve provided.