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Resumes and cover letters

Should I list my “boring” summer job on my resume?

You can use any work experience to build out your resume—here's how.

If you didn’t have a fancy internship this summer, don’t worry. You can use any work experience to build out your resume, if you do it the right way. So if you spent your summer working in retail, scooping ice cream, or answering front desk calls, read on for the best way to add this experience to your resume.

First, a quick reframe

Any work experience is valuable. It can show you what you like and don’t like in a work environment. It teaches you soft skills like communication, compromise, and conflict resolution. And it pays the bills!

Now, let’s dig into how to make sure these jobs don’t sound boring on your resume.

Show off transferable skills

The best way to list any experience on your resume is to match it to the job description. Carefully read the whole job description and highlight all the required skills. Then, think about your summer job: what relevant skills did you learn? Highlight those in your bullet points.

If your summer role is completely unrelated—for example, you’re looking at data science roles but spent a summer babysitting—you can divide your resume into two sections. List the most relevant experience first, under “Work Experience.” And list that summer role in a separate section titled “Additional Work Experience.” That will make it much easier for a recruiter to scan your resume.

Spotlight soft skills

Soft skills, like communication and time management, are just as important to employers as hard skills. Highlight the soft skills you learned on the job—for example, working gracefully under pressure as a barista during the morning rush.

For some jobs, a background in customer service is a plus because it shows your ability to work with people from different backgrounds, and to manage interpersonal conflict. For example, when Adam Gross looks for Sales Development Representative (SDR) candidates for his company, Elastic, he specifically looks for experience in customer service.

Don’t list the obvious

Your resume shouldn’t sound like a job description. Megan Malcolm, an Early Career Recruiter at Handshake, says, “Focus on the impact you made in bullet points, not the day to day activities of the job.”

So if you worked in a restaurant, don’t say you “served food and bussed tables.” Go beyond that to showcase what skills you learned, what impact you made, or something unique you did that made you stand out. For example, “Honed my relationship-building skills and finished the summer with a consistent 20% tip rate from customers.”

Talk about it in your cover letter

Keep your cover letter short (2-3 paragraphs) and put your experience in context with your other work. For example, you could say, “As a member of the debate club, I thought I had great communication skills, but I didn’t learn to apply them at work until I worked as a summer camp counselor.” Keep these stories in mind for your interviews, too!

Need to update your resume or write a cover letter? Check out our expert tips and tricks here.

Photo courtesy of Los Muertos Crew on Pexels.

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