No work experience? No problem.
The ol' catch-22: I need a job to get experience, but I need experience to get a job. Either way, you need a resume, and what you don't need is to panic. Just because you don't have existing skills that are relevant to the job or experience in a traditional work setting doesn't mean you can't craft a convincing first job resume. Whether you're a high school or college student, you may be wondering: How do you write a resume with no work experience? Well, we'll tell you with these expert tips.
1. Include a summary statement
Resume objective statements, where you state exactly what career goals you wish to achieve, have mostly fallen out of fashion. This is largely because you want to focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. A resume summary statement, on the other hand, sums up who you are professionally at the top of the page in a sentence or two and serves as the first impression you give a hiring manager to entice them to keep reading.
2. Decide on a resume format
There are a few dominant resume templates in use today: chronological, functional, and hybrid, which is a combination of the two. A chronological resume format lists a candidate's work experience in reverse-chronological order. A functional resume format focuses on highlighting the candidate's skills and achievements, rather than work experience. While the functional resume format can be an attractive option for job seekers with little experience, most employers prefer a chronological or hybrid resume format. Whatever resume format you decide to use, be sure that your format remains consistent throughout the job resume.
3. Pay attention to technical details
When editing your resume, make sure there are no punctuation, grammatical, spelling, or other errors that will make your resume look unprofessional. Then, have a friend or family member read it again to catch any mistakes you might have missed — you can't afford a typo or missing word as a candidate with no prior work experience. Also, be sure to vary your language and utilize action verbs throughout your resume to keep your reader engaged.
4. Take stock of your achievements and activities
Make a list of absolutely everything you've done that might be useful on a resume. From this list, you'll then need to narrow down what to actually include on your resume. Different things might be relevant to different jobs you apply for, so keep a full list and pick the most relevant things from it to include on your resume when you send it out.
5. Focus on your education and skills
In lieu of a work experience section, it's best to expand and focus on an education section on your resume to highlight the skills you've developed. What can you do well that this job requires? What will be useful to the hiring company? What have you done in school and what have you studied that has prepared you for assuming this job? This is generally a little easier if you're a college graduate with specialized education, but even a high school graduate can talk about their electives and relevant coursework, why they wanted to take them, and what they learned from the class.
6. Internships, internships, internships
Landing paid and unpaid college internships are one of the best weapons you have against "experience required." Not only do they give you some real-world work experience, they also allow you to network and make connections that can put you in a job later. When applying for a job without experience, be sure to list any internships you completed. If you haven't had one, consider applying as a step before an entry-level job.
7. Include any extracurricular activities or volunteer work
When surveyed, the majority of employers say that they take volunteer experience listed on your resume, such as being a soup kitchen volunteer, into consideration alongside paid work experience. So any volunteer work that highlights your talents or where you learned a new skill should be put on your resume. Only include extracurricular activities and hobbies if they are relevant to the position and have equipped you with transferable skills that would be useful for the job role.
8. Never include these certain elements
While there are many elements you should consider adding to your resume, there are a few things you should never include on your resume because they waste space, don't tell the employer anything relevant, or could damage your personal brand. This list includes, but is not limited to great employment references, writing samples, and photos of yourself. Do not add this information to your resume unless an employer or recruiter asks you to provide them. In addition, make sure you're not using an unprofessional email address. “Kegmaster2017@email.com” may have sounded great when you were younger, but it's not the right message to send to prospective employers. It's easy to create a free, professional-looking email address for your job-search activities with platforms like Gmail.
9. Keywords, keywords, keywords
Most employers use some form of an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan and sort resumes. This may seem unfair, but it is the reality of modern-day hiring. To combat this, you will want to come up with and include a list of keywords in your resume when applying for any job. The best place to find these keywords is in the job ad itself, or in ads for similar jobs. One caveat: Don't use meaningless, annoying "buzzwords," such as "go-getter," "team player," and “detail-oriented." Unfortunately, sometimes these buzzwords are the only keywords listed in the ad. If that's the case, you'll need to sneak them in alongside your detailed accomplishments.
10. Add a cover letter
Even if one is not required, it's generally a good idea to send a short cover letter along with your resume. Cover letters are where your personality comes out, and you need to use them to make the case for why you're the perfect candidate for this job. A standout cover letter can convince an employer to bring you in for an interview, even if your resume itself doesn't have all the things they'd like to see.
11. Customize your resume for each job you apply to
The last and most important thing to remember when creating a good resume is to customize it for every job to which you apply. Different job postings are going to have different keywords, different job duties listed, and so on. Appealing to each individual employer's needs and job requirements is the best strategy for getting your application noticed and hopefully landing your first job.
At the end of the day, there's no magical formula for how to write a winning resume — the only perfect resume is the one that gets you the job. Be prepared to tweak and update your resume, even when you're comfortably employed. Utilize a hybrid resume format and focus on your skills and education when you don't have any work experience to show. Sooner or later, you'll land that job — and gain that much-coveted experience.
Tackling this kind of resume isn't easy. If you've recently graduated or are in an entry-level job search, a professional resume writer can prepare you for success. Learn more.