Writing your first resume when you have little experience is a common challenge that nearly everyone faces. When you’re starting your career, you need a resume to apply for your first job–but you don’t have any jobs to include on your resume! Everyone starting out in their career has the same question: how do you write a resume when you have little work experience?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered!
Remember that almost everyone you know was in your shoes at one point.
There are several sections you can add to your resume besides professional work experiences, such as skills, education, and a professional summary. Bonus: you may have work experience you haven’t considered!
By the end of this article, you will be able to write an effective one-page resume–from scratch–with no experience or very little experience.
How to start writing your first resume (with no work experience)
We are going to outline the process of creating a resume from top to bottom. To make it easier to follow along, we’ll be creating a resume for our fictional example, Tom.
To start, let’s assume Tom has a simple Word doc open with his name and contact information at the top. He doesn’t have a fancy resume template, and he isn’t using a resume builder tool. Let’s begin!
1. Start with your professional summary
The first section on your resume directly below your name and contact info should be your professional resume summary. This is something many experienced job seekers can benefit from as well!
A professional summary is the modern answer to the resume objective. However, instead of stating how the company can further your goals, this section answers how you can further the company’s goals. The summary is a great place to convey your benefits to the employer.
Since you don’t have work experience, it’s vital that you make the most of this section. In this case, your summary won’t really be about what you’ve done, but rather what skills and characteristics you offer. Many employers look for entry-level employees they can train quickly and effectively. In your resume summary, you can include soft skills, interests, talents, and accomplishments.
Professional summary example:
Tom recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Tom also completed an internship while he was still in school.
“Dedicated “do anything” professional with a passion for business. Knowledgeable across many different areas in regards to business and business management. Ambitious and dedicated team player with a love for learning new concepts. Commended and proven ability to respond to challenges and succeed across a wide range of environments.”
As you can see, we can craft a summary that conveys an image of professionalism and work ethic without even dwelling on work experience. A solid summary is crucial for any resume, but it is even more vital for someone without much experience.
2. List your skills or relevant coursework
If, like Tom, you have some college education, you can list your courses on your resume. A skills section should be separate and include only the skills you’ve used in practice. For example, you may have taken a course in business management, but if you haven’t managed a business, you don’t have this skill.
Note that we suggest “relevant” coursework. You can tell it’s relevant because the job description will mention it. You can find out from the job description exactly what kind of person the company is looking to hire. The most important qualifications are the keywords you want to incorporate in your resume.
You should list both skills and coursework in keyword-optimized bullet points. Bullet points are easy for employers to skim through quickly. Including these short lists also allows you to narrow in on those keywords from the job description, which will make your bullet point keyword-optimized.
Pay attention to the exact phrase from the job description: managing budgets and budget management seem like they’re the same, but a computer might be looking for an exact match. Use the exact wording from the job description whenever it makes sense!
These tricks will help you pass the Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). More than 90% of employers use this type of software to process all the resumes they receive, and more than 75% of resumes get rejected by the ATS before a human ever sees them. At the end of this article, we’ll tell you about a free tool to check if your resume will pass the ATS test.
Resume skills example:
Tom is applying for a business administrative position. Tom can pull many keywords from the job description and plug them into the skills section.
- Analyze financial statements
- Proven problem solving and issue resolution skills
- Exceptional attention to detail
Most of the skills listed here were pulled from a job description. You can easily swap skills in and out for each position you apply for, as long as you have some knowledge or background in those areas. Your exposure can come from school, internships, volunteer work, part-time jobs, online courses, certifications, or other similar experiences.
Tip: Check out the most in-demand skills employers are looking for in 2020
Resume coursework example:
You can also include relevant coursework if you have any that related to this position. This allows you to show that you’ve been educated in whatever field you’re going into, even when you haven’t applied your coursework to a job.
For example, Tom can list:
- Business Management
- Marketing Principles
- Basic Accounting Principles
- Business Law
- Computer Information Systems
The coursework can be its own section or part of an education section. If you recently graduated, put your education information above your work experience section. After your degree, you can list your coursework followed by your skills section.
With the skills and relevant coursework section, you can take up a good amount of resume real estate with highly relevant and targeted information and keywords. This is especially useful for someone without much work experience.
3. List your work experience (+ what counts as work experience?)
If you have an internship or any professional work from your field, be sure to list it!
If you don’t have formal experience, here are some other ideas of what employers would like to see in the experience section:
Work experience resume example:
In Tom’s case, he has an internship that is relevant to any new business administrative position he might seek. He should include the fact that this position was an internship in his job title, and use bullet points to describe his value for the content. This is another great place to use keywords from the job description.
Here is an example of how Tom can write his experience section:
IDT Marketing Analyst Internship 11/2015 – 5/2016
- Researched and analyzed marketing trends in telecom.
- Analyzed and tracked a marketing budget of $500,000.
- Assisted marketing team of 15 with deploying new marketing campaigns.
- Utilized Excel to migrate and organize data from various sources.
- Contributed to the IDT internship program guide for 2016.
If your work experience is not as relevant, work on highlighting your transferable skills. With a bit of strategic thinking, you can make your experience useful to an employer. Focus on soft skills, accomplishments, and added value whenever possible.
For example, if you worked as an office assistant and are now trying to get a position as a program coordinator, your previous job almost certainly included some relevant skills that either match the job for which you’re applying or demonstrate leadership and work ethic.
- Organizing data and customer leads in Excel.
- Tracking and implementing marketing campaigns.
- Scheduling and coordinating meetings and events.
4. List your interests and activities
This section should include all extracurricular activities and interests that relate to the position you seek. This section is also very useful when you do not have much experience to work with.
However, since interests and activities tend to be less relevant, this section should only be included if you’ve used the other tips on this page and filled up as much room as you can. We’ll talk about unnecessary information in the next tip.
Interests and activities on a resume example:
So let’s say Tom was part of his university’s entrepreneur program, volunteered to organize food delivery to the city’s homeless population. and blogged about new business startups in the local area while in school.
Tom can list this section as:
Interests and Activities
- Member of Queens College entrepreneur program
- Organized and managed routes for the Meals-on-Wheels, a non-profit which delivers food for the homeless and other vulnerable populations.
- Blogged on various new startups in the New York City area.
Not everyone has relevant activities and interests and that’s just fine. If you need some more help coming up with some relevant activities or interests, check out this guide we published. Otherwise, you can definitely skip this section without fear of losing out on opportunities.
5. Don’t include unnecessary information on your resume
Many people who don’t have a lot of work experience resort to placing unnecessary information on their resume. Unfortunately, that does more harm than good. The following should not be included on your resume:
- Objective statements: A thing of the past. Often, they are limiting and even more often they are perceived as stale and uninspired. You should replace objective statements with a summary section that concisely explains who you are, what you have done, and what you’re targeting. Go back to tip #1 for more information.
- “References available upon request” statements. As with objective statements, a references section or the statement “references available upon request” is outdated. Irrespective of this statement, employers will ask for professional and personal references if that is part of their hiring process. Check out Forbes top ten resume red flags for more on this.
- General knowledge. Do not include general knowledge such as “Microsoft Word” or “typing.” This is a turnoff for many employers. If you are an expert in Microsoft Word and the rest of the Microsoft Office suite, then by all means specify as much, or include it as a bullet point with context under the corresponding position. Also, please don’t list social media you’re familiar with using. Your future employer probably assumes that you can navigate around Facebook and Instagram!
Bonus: Check if your resume will pass the ATS test
Zipjob offers a free resume review tool that will tell you if your resume will pass an ATS test. As we mentioned above, the ATS is a software used by most employers and it can make or break your application. Once you have your first resume ready, send it through our in-house ATS to make sure you won’t be missing out on opportunities!
It can be a real challenge to write a resume when you don’t have much work experience, but it can be done! We hope this guide provided you with some much-needed direction.
Thank you and good luck with your job search!