Limited experience? Shape your resume and profile to highlight why you’re right for the job

Whether you’re new to the workforce, returning after a break, or changing your career focus, don’t let your lack of experience hold you back

Building your career is a journey filled with challenges, excitement, and forks in the road. And journeys are easier with maps. In this column, job experts answer your questions and deliver advice to help you take the next step.

Question: I don’t have a ton of work experience directly related to the jobs I want, but I know I’d be great in them. How can I frame my resume or LinkedIn profile to show I can do the job?

Answer: First, don’t worry. We all have to start (or restart) somewhere!

Whether you recently graduated from college, took a career break to care for a family member, or are pivoting into a new field or role, there are strategies you can use to highlight applicable experience. Your break or career swerve doesn’t mean you aren’t qualified. You simply must find ways to show that you are.

We reached out to Joel Havermans, a London-based Microsoft recruiter, to find ways to strengthen your LinkedIn profile and resume if you lack work experience.

The first step is to make sure you don’t skip—or skimp on—the Experience section just because your past jobs aren’t like the roles you seek.

“Almost any work you’ve undertaken can apply broadly in some way to the work you want to do now,” Havermans said. It’s all a matter of showing how it applies. It’s better to have a resume that connects the dots by showing what you’ve spent your time doing and learning than to leave off much of your experience because it’s not a perfect match.

Focus on transferable skills

When you’re listing previous jobs or activities, “be sure to call out relevant learnings,” Havermans said. “If you delivered newspapers, for instance, highlight your customers’ satisfaction and deadlines you met for deliveries. It shows you are customer obsessed, diligent, and passionate about the work you take on.”

Aside from jobs, consider other experiences you can include, such as organizations you’ve joined, sports you’ve played, boards you’ve sat on, or volunteer activities.

“It may seem odd but consider sports as an example. The corporate world is just like a big team; everyone has their part to play in getting to the end goal,” he said.

Think about how you helped organizations further their cause or reach their mission, and frame your involvement that way, he said. Have you racked up a lot of travel? Think about the skills you gained—resourcefulness, problem-solving, making connections with people—that you can parlay into your desired job.

If you led a group or team in a charitable undertaking, tout your leadership abilities, project management skills, and use of software such as Microsoft Project.

Also consider including academic projects or research you’ve worked on. Remember to highlight the transferable skills and expertise you gained and include your results or impact, Havermans said.

“Maybe even add a blog you run to your LinkedIn profile, which will show how passionate you are about the field you’re interested in. Think outside of the box,” he said. “Did you offer IT assistance to a local library? Add it.”

As you build your profile, don’t “force fit” non-work experience into LinkedIn’s Experience section, Havermans advises. Instead, include them in the Accomplishments or Skills & Endorsements sections, he said.

Garner attention with headline and bio

LinkedIn has more than 500 million users, so Havermans stresses the importance of not blending in.

This is the moment that you represent the “real you.”

“Adding an interesting but relatable headline and bio is key, but be careful not to use too many characters,” he said. “Be succinct and to the point.”

Let’s use the example of job seekers who took several years off to homeschool their children. They’d now like to find a role where they can use their computer science degree in a technical project management setting. Candidates can use their profile headline to explain what they could bring to the company. What type of role are they seeking? Which actions would they take to get their new team running smoothly? They could try something like:

“Project Management Leader | Creating organized, communicative, and deadline-oriented work spaces and teams.”

Also focus on your LinkedIn profile bio (on a resume, this information could go in a snapshot section at the top). Havermans encourages candidates to be succinct in their bio message yet keep it interesting and relatable. This is your opportunity to show why your background, interests, passions, and personal experiences make you a serious contender for a role, despite any shortage of recent or relevant work experience.

“Remember,” Havermans said, “content is king! This is about you. It’s all about who you are, what you love doing, and where your passions lie. We want to know about the strengths you have, where they can be applied, or where they have been applied already.”

Ultimately, your goal is to demonstrate why you are qualified to do the job. Your job history, personal activities, and skills and accomplishments are all part of the story.