How To Figure Out If Your Experience Counts As Work Experience (+ Examples)

Not all experience is created equal — but what counts as work experience and what doesn’t? This detailed guide will answer that question and more.

3 months ago   •   10 min read

By Resume Worded Editorial Team
Table of contents

Entry level position … requires 3 years of experience.

If you’ve ever noticed a similar phrase on a job ad and seen red, you aren’t alone. Most jobs — even some entry-level positions — ask for at least some experience in a similar role. The problem is, it’s increasingly hard to tell what counts as ‘experience’ and what doesn’t. Is an internship work experience? Volunteering? Hobbies? The answer is, yes and no — here’s exactly what does count, what doesn’t, and how to tell the difference.

What counts as work experience (and what doesn’t)

Here’s a short list of things that can — but don’t necessarily — belong on your resume:

So, how do you work out what counts as work experience and whether to list it on your resume? Follow this simple rule of thumb: If it’s the most relevant experience you have, include it on your resume. If you have enough other experience to fill up a one-page resume, leave it off.

If you’re looking for a longer answer, let’s go into a little more detail about how to include each of these on your resume (and when to leave them off). You can also skip ahead to the most relevant section — using the table of contents on the right if you're on your desktop, or at the top if you're on your mobile!

Does volunteering count as work experience?

Volunteering is a pretty safe bet to include on your resume. Even though it’s not paid experience, most volunteer roles usually have similar requirements to traditional workplaces — things like requiring volunteers to be committed, on time, and perform their set tasks — which makes it one of the best things to include on your resume if you don’t have a lot of paid work experience.

Here's an example:

List volunteer work on your resume in the same way as traditional work experience
List volunteer work on your resume in the same way as traditional work experience
  • When to include it: If you don’t have more relevant work experience.
  • When to leave it off: If you have enough paid experience to fill at least one page on your resume.

Do internships count as work experience?

Not exactly — most companies won’t count internships toward the number of years’ required experience, but this can depend on the company. Regardless, internships are still a great way to demonstrate accomplishments in a professional setting, especially if they’re in the same industry as the jobs you’re applying for.

Here's an example:

Internships may not count as work experience, but they’re still a great way to show off your accomplishments if you’re just starting out
Internships may not count as work experience, but they’re still a great way to show off your accomplishments if you’re just starting out
  • When to include it: If the internship was in your field or you can use it to demonstrate transferable skills.
  • When to leave it off: If it’s been a few years since the internship(s) and you’ve racked up more experience since then.

Does research count as work experience?

Post-graduate research definitely counts as work experience. If you held a graduate research assistant position, you can list that in your regular work experience section, including the employer, dates, and relevant accomplishments.

List graduate research in the work experience section of your resume
List graduate research in the work experience section of your resume

Undergraduate research doesn’t officially count as work experience, but you can still list in on your resume. Include your involvement in research projects in a projects, education, or publications section, depending on how you choose to format your resume.

Or here's an example of including a university project on your resume:

List your involvement in undergraduate university projects in a separate section of your resume
List your involvement in undergraduate university projects in a separate section of your resume
  • When to include it: If you held a graduate research position or participated in significant undergraduate research.
  • When to leave it off: If you were only marginally involved in the research and it doesn’t demonstrate relevant skills or experience.

Does college count as work experience?

No. While the education section is an important part of your resume — especially if you’re still in school or have only recently graduated — it’s not the same thing as work experience. Regardless of how relevant it is, it would look naïve and out of touch to include things like coursework as part of your work experience. List these in your education section instead — if this is your most relevant experience, it can still go at the top of your resume.

If you’re a current student or recent graduate, list relevant coursework in the education section at the top of your resume
If you’re a current student or recent graduate, list relevant coursework in the education section at the top of your resume
  • When to include it: If you graduated recently and your degree is the most relevant experience you have.
  • When to leave it off: If you graduated more than a few years ago, your coursework is less relevant than more recent work experience.

Do hobbies and activities count as work experience?

Generally, no — which doesn’t mean you can never list them on your resume. Private hobbies aren’t particularly relevant to most jobs, with some exceptions (for example, if you want to use your involvement in team sports to highlight your teamwork skills). More organized activities, like involvement in extracurricular clubs and organizations, are a better way to showcase accomplishments.

Use clubs and activities to highlight transferable skills
Use clubs and activities to highlight transferable skills
  • When to include it: If you can demonstrate relevant accomplishment or transferable skills.
  • When to leave it off: If it’s a personal hobby without any notable accomplishments, like reading or taking long walks.

Do projects count as work experience?

Work experience, not necessarily. A valuable addition to your resume, yes. Personal or educational projects can be a great way of demonstrating how you’ve used your hard skills in action, which is far more persuasive than simply sticking them on a skills list at the end of your resume. If you can, link directly to a GitHub or portfolio so potential employers can judge your work for themselves.

When listing projects on your resume, list 1-2 key skills or accomplishments and include a link to your portfolio
When listing projects on your resume, list 1-2 key skills or accomplishments and include a link to your portfolio‌‌
  • When to include it: If you want to demonstrate relevant hard skills that you haven’t used in a traditional work environment.
  • When to leave it off: If it was more of a casual hobby or it’s still unfinished — completed projects make a better impression.

Does babysitting count as work experience?

Yes! Especially if you’re still in school, part-time gigs like babysitting, retail, or food service are a great way to show that you have a good work ethic and some kind of experience.

Use babysitting or other part-time jobs to demonstrate work ethic and transferable skills
Use babysitting or other part-time jobs to demonstrate work ethic and transferable skills
  • When to include it: If you don’t have more relevant paid work experience in your field or industry.
  • When to leave it off: If it was a once-off or very occasional thing.

Does fast food count as sales experience?

Yes, if you can demonstrate relevant accomplishments. Again, use common sense when talking about part-time jobs — if a job posting calls for 5+ years’ experience as an account manager and you spent a summer as an assistant manager at a restaurant, you’ll look a bit out of touch if you try to try to claim it’s the same thing.

But if the ad simply asks for “sales experience,” you can absolutely list appropriate accomplishments from a part-time job.

Use action verbs and hard numbers to emphasize sales experience from a part-time job
  • When to include it: If you can include hard numbers or metrics to quantify your accomplishments.
  • When to leave it off: If you only spend a few months in the job — especially if it wasn't particularly recent — you might be hard-pressed to list any real accomplishments from that position.

What to do if you don’t have enough experience

The age-old conundrum: How do you get more experience if you need experience just to get a job? Here’s how to job search for an entry-level role without any experience:

Get more experience

It might sound glib, but the best thing to do if you don’t have any experience is to get some. Instead of waiting around for someone to hire you, why not take advantage of the gig economy and do it yourself? Create a freelance profile on sites like Upwork, Fiverr, or Reddit and advertise your services directly. It might not exactly be your dream job, but it’ll get your foot in the door and allow you to list some actual work experience.

Contact recent startups

Recently funded startups are more likely to take a chance on less experienced hires, since they’re an unknown quantity themselves. They often don’t have strict hiring processes in place, which makes it easier to get your foot in the door. You can then use that experience as a springboard to bigger and better opportunities — or you might decide you enjoy helping to build something from the ground up.

Network

It’s a cliché for a reason: Who you know really is more important than what you know. Reach out to people in your chosen industry on LinkedIn to ask for an informational interview, ask people you know if they have any job leads or if they can connect you with people who might, use your college’s alumni network, and reach out directly to second or even third-degree connections for advice.

Focus your search on graduate schemes

Plenty of employers offer dedicated graduate schemes to target promising entry-level candidates. If you’re in an industry where graduate schemes are common (think fields like finance, management, law, marketing, and even retail), it’s worth searching for these in addition to applying directly for jobs.

An entry-level resume template

Here’s a sample entry-level resume template that looks impressive — without including any paid work experience:

Example of an entry-level resume listing volunteer work and activities to make up for a lack of paid experience
Example of an entry-level resume listing volunteer work and activities to make up for a lack of paid experience

For more entry-level resume examples, check out our professional ATS resume templates.

Want your resume to look like this? Here’s how:

  1. List accomplishments in bullet points.
  2. Stick to relevant experience.
  3. Highlight transferable skills.
  4. List key technical skills.
  5. Create appropriate section titles.
  6. Get feedback on your resume.

List accomplishments in bullet points

No matter what you choose to include on your resume, always list at least 1-3 relevant accomplishments in bullet point format. You should start each bullet point with an action verb (led, organized, revamped, etc.), clearly state what you did, and include the result or some sort of measurable success.

Stick to relevant experience

If an experience a) isn’t directly relevant to the job you’re applying for, and b) doesn’t showcase any relevant skills or accomplishments, it doesn’t belong on your resume. The same rule applies if you already have enough other experience — entry-level resumes in particular shouldn’t be more than one page long, so don’t feel the need to include every single thing on your resume just to pad it out.

Highlight transferable skills

You don’t need experience to highlight transferable skills that are relevant to the job you're applying for. Soft skills like teamwork, communication, time management, and attention to detail are in demand no matter the industry or role, so choose accomplishments that illustrate them.

List key technical skills

If you have hard skills — things like proficiency with specific software, programming languages, hardware, or certifications — list them directly in a skills or additional information section. To get a feel for what technical skills are required, scan the job description and browse our database of top industry-specific hard skills and keywords.

Create appropriate section titles

Listing other types of experience on your resume doesn’t mean hiding the fact that it wasn’t official work experience. Especially if you’re a recent graduate or applying for an entry-level position, hiring managers understand that you may not have a lot of paid work experience.

Instead of trying to be sneaky about it, be upfront about what kind of experience it really was and let your accomplishments speak for themselves. Some appropriate section titles to use on your resume include:

  • Volunteering
  • Internships
  • Activities
  • Community Involvement
  • Projects
  • Education
  • Hobbies and Interests

Get feedback on your resume

The best way to check if your resume is on the right track is with a free online resume checker. Upload your resume to Score My Resume for personalized feedback and suggestions for how to improve your resume and make your experience stand out.

Frequently asked questions

Should I apply for a job if I don’t have the required experience?

Regardless of whether or not your experience is official work experience: Yes.

Obviously, there’s some common sense involved; if a senior or mid-level position is asking for 7-10 years of work experience and you have maybe one, don’t apply. But if it’s an entry-level position asking for 1-3 years, or a job asking for 5 years and you have a solid 3 or 4, go ahead!

Job ads often exaggerate how much experience is really needed or describe their ideal candidate when they aren’t realistically expecting to hire someone who ticks every single box. If you have a reasonable level of experience and meet most of the criteria in the job description, go ahead and apply — you won’t look silly or out of touch, and you might even land the job.

Why do job ads ask for more experience than they need?

You should think of the requirements in a job posting more as more of a wish list: In the best possible situation, this is what the ideal candidate would look like. But hiring managers understand that the perfect candidate isn’t always out there, so any reasonable recruiter is going to expect people to apply who don’t meet every single criteria. Just make sure you can tell the difference between a ‘nice to have’ and a true ‘must have,’ like basic qualifications or key skills.

How do I find out how much experience is really needed?

The job ad is the most obvious way, but it isn’t the only way. Search LinkedIn for people with the same job title and look up the company on Glassdoor. This should give you a good idea of how much experience people in that role realistically need and whether the company routinely hires candidates with fewer qualifications than they’re asking for.

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