You’ve never had a resume before.
And you have no experience to put on your resume. At least, it seems that way.
Maybe you are one of the approximately one million high school graduates this year who decided to enter the U.S. workforce rather than go on to college. Or maybe you are one of the four million new college graduates this year and are looking for your first professional job.
Whatever the reason, you don’t have a resume, and you haven’t needed one before.
But now you do.
And you have absolutely no idea where to start writing one.
Making A Resume with No Experience? The Classic Catch-22
It is the classic catch-22. You need a resume to get work experience. But you can’t (or, at least, you think you can’t) write a resume with no experience to put on it.
However, this simply isn’t true. You just need to remember that your resume is a marketing document.
A resume isn’t an autobiography, as many think of it.
It isn’t a laundry list of everything you’ve done in the past. And, it isn’t a backward-looking career obituary.
Instead, a resume is a forward-looking document that promotes how you are the best-choice new hire for a particular job opening.
Employers want to know that you can do the job and do it better than your competitors for the same position. They want to know that you can help them solve their problems, overcome their challenges, and meet their goals.
Most employers want to know how you can help them make money, save money, improve productivity or efficiency, attract new customers, strengthen relationships, etc.
When you reflect on it, you will realize that your ability to do these things comes from more than past work experience. Other life experiences give you the knowledge and skill to contribute to your employer. Whether or not you received pay for that experience (employment) doesn’t matter.
Your education, volunteer experience, extracurricular activities, internships, and sometimes even hobbies, all count too. These unpaid experiences provide you with valuable transferable skills you can call out on your resume.
Once you realize this truth – that you have value to add to an employer even if you gained that ability outside of employment experience – it makes the conundrum of how to write your first resume with no “experience” much easier. Here are some tips:
Start With the Focus
As the late resume guru Yana Parker used to say, “a resume without a job target is like a book without a title.”
Your resume needs to be targeted to be effective. If you don’t know what you want, and your target isn’t made clear in your resume, your reader won’t know what you want either, and they definitely won’t take the time and go to the trouble to figure it out.
The first step to writing your resume is to decide what type of job you will be targeting with the resume, as specifically as possible.
Your second step is to learn what skills, experience, and education are needed for this type of job.
Remember. Your resume isn’t about you. It is about what you can offer the employer.
The primary goal of your resume is to get you an interview for the type of job you are targeting. For this reason, everything you include in your resume should focus on this goal.
Your resume should NOT include everything you’ve done. Instead, it should include everything you’ve done that is relevant to your target position.
Here’s a pro tip for you. Type “jobs: ” into a Google search box. When you search, it will return a list of job openings related to your target job. Read through the job announcements for jobs that might interest you and note the required and desired qualifications.
How has your education and other unpaid activities allowed you to develop the skills employers seek?
When you write your resume, these are the skills and experiences you will want to focus on.
Try to put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes for your target job. What will be interesting to them? What will convince them you have value to offer? If you get stuck on whether or not to include something in your resume, just come back to these questions and let your answers guide you.
Don’t Forget About Eye Appeal
Remember that first impressions matter, and how your resume looks plays a big role in that first impression. Although, of course, the content of your resume is what will ultimately convince the employer to call you, if your resume doesn’t catch attention in the first place, they may never see that content.
If you have no employment experience to put on your resume, you are relying 100% on your education, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work to make your case. If you present that using an eye-catching resume design, you will make an unbeatable first impression.
Just because it is your first resume doesn’t mean it needs to look generic and boring to read.
While working with a professional resume writer is always the best option, if you decide to go it alone, choose a professionally designed resume template created specifically for students and other entry-level workers.
Choose the Best Format
Imagine your resume as a pyramid. The most important experience should be at the top (beginning), and this should work down to the least important experience (bottom).
If you are writing a resume with no experience this might seem difficult, but go back to the last tip and remember that it doesn’t matter whether you gained your experience in a paid job. What matters is just that you’ve gained it.
How Many Pages?
Typically, the first resume you write as a graduating student or other entry-level applicant will be one page. This isn’t an unbreakable rule if you have relevant experience that will fill two pages. But in almost all cases, you should start with one page.
At the top of your resume include your name and contact information, followed by all the content that will prove to the employer you are the best person for the job.
Education Near the Top
For someone with no experience, this often means that your education is one of your most important qualifications. For this reason, you will want to list your education near the top of the resume.
Other Paid or Unpaid Experience
Follow your education listing with any other experience, such as volunteer jobs or part-time jobs. As you gain more work experience you will reverse this resume format and list your education at the end of the resume.
Studying the resume templates in this infographic will give you a good idea of the typical format for your first resume. Often this would include the following sections:
- Your Name & Contact Info
- A Headline Focus Statement
- Summary of Qualifications
- Experience (Paid or Unpaid)
All Experience, Paid or Unpaid, Is Important
As you write your first resume, remember that what matters most is that you have the ability to be valuable to your next employer. The skills that will allow you to be valuable may have been developed outside of a paid job. If you have employment experience, include it. If not, include other unpaid experience. Some ideas of what to put on your resume include:
Focus on Accomplishments
Also, always write your resume to focus on accomplishments. It’s often said that “past performance is the best predictor of future results.” Hiring managers can get a sense of what you can do for them by what you’ve accomplished in the past. So, as you write your resume, phrase it to focus on the results and benefits you have produced. Begin each bullet point with an action verb.
Here is an example excerpt from the resume written for a graduating student. Notice how everything is written in terms that emphasize the value and benefit of her work.
Make Sure It Is ATS-Friendly
Most large employers and many smaller ones use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to store resumes and track applicants through the hiring process.
No matter how you conduct your job search, the odds are that an employer will enter your resume into an ATS. Therefore, you must ensure your resume is ATS-friendly so that it can be entered properly and then later searched by keywords to recall it.
This is another good reason NOT to go it alone. ATS standards are constantly advancing and are hard to keep up with. You might read a blog post just a couple of years old explaining ATS requirements that are already outdated. However, our writing team at Distinctive Career Services is trained continuously to understand and adhere to ATS standards.
Include the Right Keywords
The performance of your resume in an ATS has as much to do with how keyword-rich the content is as with the structure of your resume. After your resume is entered into an ATS, it will be pulled out only when it includes the keywords in the keyword search.
Earlier, we suggested reviewing job announcements to learn what employers were looking for in job applicants. Reviewing job ads like this is also a great way to learn the keywords the recruiter might use when searching the ATS. You will want to include these words and phrases in your resume.
This excerpt of an example resume for a recent graduate applying for HR positions shows a technique for using education experiences to boost the number of keywords you can include in your first resume.
This HR management candidate would have had few HR-related keywords if we’d relied on just her Apple store part-time work experience. However, by listing courses she had taken in her field (in the blue section) and emphasizing her education in the qualifications summary (the keywords are highlighted in yellow), her resume performed well in keyword searches.
Proofread Carefully, Then Proofread Again
Last but not least, print your resume, set it aside for at least a day, and then come back and read it with a fresh set of eyes. During this second-day review, look for misspellings, inaccuracies in job titles and dates of employment, and grammatical errors.
If you are overwhelmed by the idea of how to put these principles into action and write your first resume, our best advice is to work with one of the certified professional resume writers on the Distinctive Career Services team. We are here to help you! Just schedule a free resume writing consultation to learn more and get all your questions answered.
The time and money you invest in having your resume professionally prepared may not only shorten your job search and help you land the interview. It can give you confidence by arming you with a powerful job search tool that can help the interviewer discover you’re exactly what the company needs!