How to Make Your Resume Stand Out If You’ve Never Had an Internship Before

At the end of our all-too-short, but relaxing winter break lies a task that is on the mind of most college students: securing an internship for the upcoming year. Rather than spending our summers unwinding by the pool and hitting up our favorite local ice cream parlors with our BFFs, we’re searching for the best possible ways to advance our career after our way-too-fast undergraduate experience is over.

Having an internship during the school year or summer has innumerable benefits—not only are you getting valuable experience in your desired career field, you’re taught how to operate in an office environment and apply your classroom work to real-life. Plus, you may even get academic credit at the end of your internship.

However, looking for an internship can be incredibly intimidating if you’ve never had one before. Though everyone has to start somewhere, it can often feel that your peers are on their second, third or even fourth internship. Doubt inevitably starts to creep in—how can you stack up compared to that guy in your public relations class who claims to have had five internships and a ton of LinkedIn connections?

Self-doubt is the enemy that stops you from getting the internship you want. Trust in your own ability and remind yourself that everyone has to have a first internship. If you’re concerned about the lack of internships featured on your resume, there are some simple tips and tricks to ensure you still look like the badass career woman you aspire to be. Fine-tune your resume to reflect the best you that you can be, and soon, you’ll be editing it to feature your multiple internships! Follow these simple tricks below to adjust your resume before sending it out to your dream internships.

1. Highlight the leadership experience you do have.

If you're seeking an internship, chances are you’re a driven college woman. If that’s the case, you certainly participate in multiple student clubs and organizations on campus. If you’re worried about your lack of internship experience, leadership experience speaks volumes about your work ethic. Leadership experience can encompass many areas, and while you may not have interned in a 9-5 office or held a typical job, by emphasizing your leadership roles you can demonstrate that you are ready for your dream position. 

Additionally, a well-balanced resume showcases your best abilities, so ensure that you are prominently featuring the clubs that most pertain to the internship you're applying to. Adjust accordingly based on where you are applying. Drawing on personal experience, if you're applying for a communications internship, you would definitely want to feature your involvement with on-campus publications or advertising agencies first. However, if you're applying for a more office or business-oriented internship, you may want to feature a club that you were in charge of or had a largely administrative role in so you can showcase your organizational skills.

College senior Zoe agreed, saying it's important to use "any other leadership experience you may have [...] whether it's in your community or at your religious organization. Don't be afraid to list your relevant skills at the bottom!" 

Leadership experience can also apply to volunteer work. If you're applying for an internship in the non-profit or public health sectors, highlight the volunteering you have done in order to show your commitment to the cause. Overall, your resume should have you looking like the dedicated college student you are.

Related: 6 Ways to Stay Motivated While Job Searching

2. Squeeze ANYTHING you can out of your prior work experience.

If you held a weekend job during high school—such as working as a cashier or being a summer camp counselor—those still count as positive ways to elevate yourself as an internship candidate. You shouldn’t forgo those high school jobs because you don’t think they're important to your resume, especially if you’re a freshman in college. You learn something valuable from any work experience—ensure that you’re drawing everything you can out of those experiences by making them visible on your resume.

For any bullet point on your resume, action verbs are your best friend. Captivating verbs will make any experience stand out. For example, working as a summer camp counselor or tutor can seem like a relatively simple job—but if you find the right action words to describe your daily tasks, your resume will be infinitely stronger.

For example, instead of using basic verbs such as “help” or “watch,” you could use phrases such as “established a nurturing environment” or “devised problem-solving strategies,” both of which are true of any job you worked in high school, but wouldn’t necessarily come to mind when writing out your first resume draft. College senior Zoe again emphasized plumping up your resume by saying that "if you were a babysitter in high school, you can say that you were a nanny." 

The moral is: Don’t sleep on your high school jobs when applying for your first internship! 

3. Find a creative alternative to submitting your resume.

If you’re struggling to figure out how to stand out in a sea of resumes, you may want to forgo the traditional route. Resume inspiration is everywhere online, and with platforms such as Photoshop and Canva at your disposal, you can easily find a way to make a basic one-sheet of your accomplishments pop. Business Insider even compiled a list of their favorite spins on resumes, including a resume made on a candy bar and a programmer’s resume that acted as an interactive game.

Simply adding these creative touches to your resume will ensure that it stands out. Boston University junior Margo decided to go the creative route for her internship application to Birchbox, drawing inspiration from the company's image and mission in order to craft her resume. 

She had a few words of advice for any college student seeking to go off the beaten path in terms of creating their resume:

“Don’t be afraid to look at the branding of a company and put your spin on that branding in your resume and cover letter. What colors does the company use? What is their voice and their vernacular? Can you find a way to put a spin on it in your copy? By showing them that you understand that brand, it will show your passion and set you apart for the future.”

Much like Margo emphasized, being detail-oriented to the company’s mission and voice will demonstrate your strengths and make you stand out to that individual company.

Related: A Recruiter’s Top Tips for Landing the Internship of Your Dreams

4. Work on your online presence.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

So relatable 🤦🏻‍♀️ Trying to get it all done before the holidays! ⠀ #Repost @trueinfluential

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An additional part of your resume package that you can strengthen is your personal website or online presence. In a world that increasingly focuses on our ability to use social media to our advantage, ensure that your online presence reflects the best of you.

If you're a communications major, it is essential that you have your own website. Don’t worry—while you’re searching for an internship, you can use free website hosts such as Wix or WordPress. Upload your best work from your classes, such as well-written articles or well-produced videos, and create your portfolio for potential employers to browse through. If you write for an on-campus publication, link to your author page. Basically, just give your employer as many resources as possible.

If you’re not in communications, simply make sure your other social media is clean. Be professional on your Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, because anything can come back to haunt you.

5. Explore your university’s career center.   

If you’re feeling lost as to how to even build up your resume or start looking for an internship, your school’s career center is an indispensable resource. Career centers are always hosting one-on-one resume-building sessions, LinkedIn tutorials and career fairs so you can explore your options. Additionally, your university will likely have internship connections around your college’s location, so glean any personal connection you can get. Your school is only there to help you. They want you to graduate on time and be successful in your post-graduate career.

Many universities also utilize their own version of LinkedIn for their students to explore job opportunities that are specifically searching for students from your university. Career opportunities like this are advantageous because you already have a leg up in terms of competition from other schools. Cultivating local connections, whether it be through your university's website, a career counselor or your favorite professor, could earn you your first work experience. 

6. Stop comparing yourself.

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On your long list of important stuff to take care of, you're number 1! ☝️

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After all these tips and tricks to strengthen your resume, it's most important to remember one thing: Do not compare yourself to others. Your most important priority in finding an internship is finding one that works for you and your interests—not the internship that’s best for someone else. It’s also important to remember that rejection will happen, but that doesn’t mean you are incapable of getting an internship. It may be tempting to snuggle with an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s and watch your favorite tear-jerker, but if you keep your nose to the grindstone, you will find a successful internship.

Keep your head down and stay humble, but also be proud of your accomplishments! You’re heading for a successful year—and an amazing first internship.