Resume Building for First-time Jobseekers: Tips for Service Providers

Resume building is a vital part of offering effective employment services. When newcomer clients have never worked outside the home or have only held informal jobs, service providers may feel uncertain about how to fill the traditional sections of resumes. However, in nearly every case, these newcomers have relied on a particular set of proficiencies and skills to survive and navigate a complex world. When creating resumes for these clients, service providers should tease out these skills and frame them in a way that demonstrates their value to local employers. This blog post provides tips and tricks to help service providers identify transferable skills for clients who have worked in the most common forms of informal work and present their experience in a functional resume format.

Framing the Conversation and Asking the Right Questions

To draw out the experiences and talents of newcomers, service providers should rely on an interpreter when possible to ensure effective communication and help the client feel more at ease. In cases when an interpreter is not available, consider sending the client questions in their native language via text or email prior to the resume-building session to give them time to write their answers in their native language. If a client indicates they have never worked in traditional employment, ask straightforward yet thoughtful questions to understand the ways in which they may have contributed to household labor and caretaking or provided unpaid support to their community. Examples of these questions are as follows:

  1. What activities do you do that support your family?
  2. What tasks are you good at? 
  3. How did your family earn money?
  4. How did your family get food to feed themselves? Did you rely on farming?
  5. Who took care of any children in your family?
  6. Did you take care of neighbors’ children?
  7. Who took care of animals in your family?
  8. Do you know how to fix things that are broken?
  9. Do you know how to build things?
  10. Do you know how to sew clothing?
  11. Do you know how to cook?
  12. Do you know how to clean a home? What items were you responsible for cleaning?
  13. Did you stay at a refugee camp before you came to the United States? Did you provide interpretation? Distribute supplies?
  14. Have you ever volunteered?
  15. Did your family have a business? Did you support this business? If so, how?
  16. What kind of things did you do to help your neighbors in your country? 
  17. Were you ever paid for small jobs?

When listening to answers, emphasize that many individuals contribute to their families and communities in significant ways outside of formal employment, and affirm that these contributions are relevant and attractive to potential employers in the United States.

Teasing Out Transferable Skills

After gathering a client’s stories and experiences, assign job titles that best fit the client’s experience, and consider the broad skill categories (e.g., interpersonal, managerial, agricultural, technical, administrative, community management, etc.) that the client has demonstrated throughout their life. From there, consider providing color or context for each skill with a specific activity that highlights the client’s most relevant accomplishments related to that skill. Service providers should also remind clients to quantify their skills with metrics whenever possible to provide a tangible measure of their abilities, making their skills more concrete and impactful to potential employers.

Listed below are examples of three common nontraditional employment roles, along with skillset groupings, individual example skills, and example activities for each. While service providers can rely on many types of resume templates to highlight this expertise, learning how to identify and emphasize a client’s strengths positions the client for success with potential employer partners and helps the client gather the necessary language for self-advocacy in future interviews. For more information on how to utilize a strengths-based approach in conversation with employer partners, check out Switchboard’s video on 4 Tips for Effective Employer Conversations.

Example Job Title: Homemaker/Home Manager

Example Skillset Category: Domestic Management and Organizational Skills

Example Individual Skills and Activities

  • Budget Management: Oversaw household budget, reducing expenses by 20% through strategic planning.
  • Child Care and Education: Provided daily care and educational activities for three children, fostering a nurturing and stimulating environment.
  • Meal Preparation: Planned and prepared nutritious meals for a family of five, ensuring dietary balance and variety.
  • Community Engagement: Organized and participated in community events, increasing participation by 30%.

Example Job Title: Volunteer in Camps

Example Skillset Category: Community Service and Crisis Management Skills

Example Individual Skills and Activities:

  • Supply Distribution: Coordinated the distribution of supplies to 200+ individuals daily, ensuring equitable access.
  • Community Engagement: Led community meetings and workshops, improving community participation by 40%.
  • Language Services: Provided interpretation services in three languages, bridging communication gaps for non-English speakers.
  • Emergency Response: Actively participated in crisis response, providing immediate aid in 10+ emergency situations.
  • Team Coordination: Collaborated with a team of 15 volunteers to manage large-scale projects effectively.

Example Job Title: Agricultural Worker

Example Skillset Category: Agricultural and Marketing Skills

Example Individual Skills and Activities:

  • Crop Cultivation: Managed a five-acre farm, resulting in a 30% increase in crop yield through improved cultivation techniques.
  • Animal Husbandry: Cared for a herd of 20 livestock, ensuring optimal health and productivity.
  • Land Management: Implemented sustainable farming practices, enhancing soil quality and long-term productivity.
  • Product Marketing: Sold produce at local markets, increasing sales by 25% through effective customer engagement.
  • Machinery Operation: Operated and maintained farming machinery, reducing equipment downtime by 20%.

Working Transferable Skills into a Functional Resume Format

After collecting and grouping information from a client, the service provider should then prepare a summary of the client’s work experience and begin to slot the client’s skills and accomplishments into a functional resume format. This format is ideal for those who want to position themselves as desirable candidates because of their skills, competencies, and experiences rather than their chronological work history. The key elements of a functional resume are as follows: 


  1. Summary: A brief introduction focusing on the most relevant key skills and experiences (ideally tailored to each position).
  2. Skills Section: Detailed listing of transferable skills, often categorized by type (e.g., technical skills, interpersonal skills, home management skills).
  3. Experience Section: Brief description of job titles (both formal and informal) and work history dates. This section can also include notable projects completed or roles undertaken.
  4. Education and Training Section: Include all forms of education, formal and informal, such as workshops, community classes, or any relevant training. It is fine to not include this section if the client has not participated in any of the above.


For a more detailed explanation of the functional resume format and templates, refer to How to Write a Functional Resume: Example and Template, which offers step-by-step guidance and examples.


When assisting newcomer adults in resume building, recognizing the value in their distinct experiences and effectively presenting these in a functional resume can significantly enhance their employment prospects. Each experience—whether as a homemaker, maintenance person, child care provider, volunteer, or farmer—carries valuable skills that are highly relevant in the job market. By highlighting these transferable skills and using the right resume format, service providers can play a pivotal role in facilitating newcomers’ successful entry into the workforce.

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