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 has the same question: how do you write a resume when you have no work experience?
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered with a few expert tips!
Remember that almost everyone you know was in your shoes at one point.
There are several sections you can add to your first job resume besides professional work experiences such as skills, education, and a professional summary. Bonus: you may have work experience relevant to the position that you haven’t considered yet!
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 job 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 information 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 statement is a great place to convey your benefits to the employer or hiring manager. What do you bring to the company as an applicant?
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 and hiring managers 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 was a college student that 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 job experience. A solid summary is crucial for any resume, but it is even more vital for someone without much experience.
The trick is to draw from your other experiences, such as academic or athletic. Think about what you did well in that environment, or what feedback you got from educators, coaches, classmates, or teammates. This can help you identify your specific strengths and skills.
2. List your skills and relevant coursework
Even if you don’t have paid or full-time work experience, you likely have skills and knowledge that employers value. If, like Tom, you have some college education, you can even list your relevant courses on your resume. This will likely be part of your education section, not your resume’s skills section. Save your skills section for hard skills and core competencies you can actually put into action: computer software, language fluency, and innate talents can all fit there.
List your skills
A skills section should only 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. Generally, this is the difference between studying the theory of something and actually using those skills. There is often some overlap, especially when it comes to math or computer classes.
List your relevant coursework
Note that we suggest including only 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 that are relevant to the job you’re applying for.
Use the job description
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 simple tricks will help you pass the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) test. 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 reads them. This means you have to write your resume for a computer first and a human second. 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 an entry-level business administrative position. Tom can pull many keywords from the job description and plug them into his skills section and his education 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. Tom can claim to have these skills because he used them in his classes (like Excel and marketing research) or had exposure to them during his internship (such as analyzing financial statements). Problem solving, issue resolution and attention to detail are personal attributes that will benefit him in professional work environments; he may have gained these skills as a student, a team captain, or a club leader.
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.
Check out the most in-demand skills employers are looking for in 2021.
Resume coursework example:
You can also include relevant coursework and academic achievements if you have any that related to this position. This allows you to show that you have the education in whatever field you’re going into, even when you haven’t applied your coursework to a job.
For example, Tom can make a list like this:
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration | Queens College, City University of New York
Concentration in Business Marketing
Management 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 11/2019 – 5/2020
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 2021.
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 and 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, we have a related guide about how to include hobbies and interests on a resume. 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 resumes. 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's 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 cover letter and resume with no 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!
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.