It can be a tricky thing. Every job seeker knows the importance of the resume in the job-hunting process. The resume is your calling card, your professional life on a sheet of paper. Coupled with your cover letter and application, it’s what gets your foot in the door, your place in the interview room, and ultimately, your next job.
When you are just beginning your professional life, however, this can be very frustrating. You know you need a good resume to be considered for jobs, but without job experience to craft a resume from, it can feel like a losing battle.
So how do you write a resume with no work experience?
There is good news, so don’t be discouraged! Hiring managers understand that your experience is limited when you are young. Additionally, you likely have more experience than you think you do. The key is expanding your thought process to include skills and experiences you have that may not fall into the “job” category proper, but are relevant nevertheless.
Before we dig into the content of the resume, let’s take a look at the basic structural and formatting rules you should be aware of.
Writing a Resume With No Work Experience
Include a Summary Statement
Opt for foregoing the traditional resume “objective” and instead begin your resume with a summary.
If you aren’t familiar with what a resume summary is, it’s a short paragraph statement at the beginning of your resume that highlights your greatest qualifications.
Beginning your resume with a summary gives the hiring manager a reason to believe you’re a good candidate for the job straight away without having to mine your resume for relevant information.
You can include key skills to ensure that nobody misses them — and you can customize these for different jobs to give yourself the best possible odds of getting past the gatekeepers.
The easier you make it to view your qualifications, the better your chances will be of moving on to the next step in the hiring process.
For an in-depth overview for writing a killer resume summary, see our Art of Writing a Great Resume Summary Statement blog post.
Display Your Academic Achievements
As a new graduate or someone with entry-level experience, your academic achievements are going to be front and center on your resume. You want to convey that–though your experience may be limited–you are educated, eager to learn, and have already gained competency in skills that will be required on the job.
Emphasize transferable skills you have gained through your course work (time management, lab research, organization, teacher’s assistant, etc.), internships, extracurricular activities, or any summer or part-time work you have done while in school. You probably have a lot more to offer here than you realize, so think carefully and don’t be too quick to dismiss something that may give you an edge over your competition.
Highlight Any Special Skills
Are you a tech nerd who built your own computer and taught yourself to code? Are you a whiz at video and photo editing software? Can you take apart an engine and put it back together with your eyes closed? This is all golden content for your resume!
Having fun while you do something doesn’t disqualify it from being work experience, though work is probably the furthest thing from your mind while pursuing your hobbies. It’s a wonderful advantage to bring specialized skills to the table, ESPECIALLY if you enjoy what you do; passion is the spice of life, and having a job you enjoy will greatly add to your overall workplace satisfaction.
Include Relevant Clubs & Organizations
Sometimes the extracurriculars you are involved in can be a big help to you when building a resume.
If you were an editor for your school paper, for instance, it will be great to have clips for a portfolio and relevant experience if you are trying to get work as a junior editor or copywriter.
Being the president of a club also shows a great deal of initiative, organization, and drive, which are all valued in the workplace. Really take some time to think through the activities you’ve been involved in and how they are relevant to the position you are applying for.
Include Volunteering Experience
Often volunteer work involves the same kind of skills you need in the workplace, so be sure to include any that might be relevant.
You can put your volunteer experience in its own section on your resume after your education and work history. You can gradually phase it off of your resume as you gain experience in the workplace and need to free up the space for newer accomplishments.
As you can see, there are many, many different kinds of experience you can highlight that will directly translate into marketable skills. You do have a lot to offer, even if you don’t have much traditional workplace experience under your belt yet.
If you are drafting a resume for the first time, you’ll want to pay special attention to how you are formatting your resume. There are many rules specific to resume writing and you don’t want to draw negative attention to your resume by overlooking something crucial in how you present your professional qualifications.
To help you avoid this, keep these things in mind when drafting your resume:
Though it is now considered permissible to extend your resume to two pages if you have enough quality content to warrant it, as a new graduate or someone with a limited amount of work experience, you shouldn’t need to exceed one page.
Be aware of how valuable the space on our resume becomes when you only have one page to use and be sure that everything you list is relevant and has value.
Eye-tracking studies have been conducted that analyze how recruiters review resumes. The resulting heat maps show heavy attention being shown to the upper left part of the document; this is where you will want to put your most important information because it is what will be seen first.
Resume writing is different from most writing you have likely done before. One of the key differences in “voice” for a resume is the standard practice of avoiding the words “I,” “me” and “my.”
For instance, instead of saying, “I increased social media engagement by 30%,” you would simply say, “Increased social media engagement by 30%.”
There is no hard-and-fast rule when it comes to resume design. There are many templates available online that should work fine for your purposes. If you are trying to enter a field of design however, your resume will also serve as an example of your design skills and style, so you should pay closer attention to the layout.
In general, a few good things to implement are:
Subheadings are great for neatly setting apart different sections of your resume, (Education, Work History, Volunteering, etc.) and drawing the eye towards certain areas. The downside is they do take up valuable space, so use them wisely.
Bullet points are great for making clean, concise lists and consolidating useful information. Additionally, bullet-point lists are easily scannable, and therefore easy to read, making life easier for the hiring manager and increasing the odds of your key competencies being read.
Your font should be something easy to read like Calibri, Garamond or Arial. Avoid fonts that are strange or outdated, like, Courier, Brush Script or the dreaded Comic Sans. Remember, your goal is good readability, so use a 10-12 point font and create new paragraphs whenever it’s necessary (and you can afford to use the space.) Whatever font or layout you choose, remember to be consistent. Nothing looks sloppier than an uncommitted, inconsistent layout.
Of course education and hard skills are essential, but increasing awareness has been given to the importance of soft skills in an employee as well.
According to a study conducted by Google, employees who scored higher on soft skills were better at leadership, communication, and collaboration; all essential skills to thriving on the job.
Consider how you can communicate soft skills on your resume through highlighting achievements and projects.
Lastly, make sure you proof your finished draft carefully. Don’t rely solely on spell-check. Sometimes a word may be spelled correctly, but it’s not the word you intended to use.
Check for grammar and consistent formatting. If possible, get a trusted, detail-oriented friend or mentor to proof it too and make sure everything looks as polished and professional as possible.
We have written extensively on all aspects of job preparation here on the Big Interview blog, and have created resources to walk you through crafting everything you need, from the cover letter, to your resume, to your post-interview thank you note.
To take advantage of these resources, feel free to explore any of the links below:
· Creating Really Good Resumes
· How Long Should a Resume Be?
· 6 Tricks to Make Over Your Resume…Fast
· How to Get the Applicant Tracking System to Pick Your Resume
· How to Write a Cover Letter
· Resume Makeover — College Grad Resume Examples and Advice
· How to Write an Interview Thank You Email