No one starts with job experience. At the same time, companies expect you to have experience to apply to their jobs. So, as a first-time job seeker, how do you write a resume with no work experience?
Although you might not have traditional work experience, there are other ways to showcase your qualifications on your resume and get noticed by recruiters.
When writing your first resume, highlight the skills you do have using these tips:
Pick the right no experience resume format
Before writing your resume, think about how you want to write your resume. There are several different types of resume formats: chronological, functional, hybrid/combination. When you have little-to-no work experience, consider using a functional resume format. This resume type highlights your skills over your experience.
Why is this a great resume for beginning job seekers? Right from the start, you have a chance to wow potential recruiters not with your experience, but with the skills you have to offer.
Be careful though. A functional resume should only be used if you lack job experience because it forces recruiters to draw their own conclusions about your experience. This requires more work on their part and, as a result, will likely chuck your resume in the bin. If you have any form of relevant experience, use a hybrid resume format. It combines both a combination and chronological resume.
Include resume keywords
Before writing your first resume, let’s discuss resume keywords. Research shows that virtually all Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems (ATS), software that searches and filters resumes based on keywords. The rise of ATS means you can no longer write one resume and blast it to several different companies because, more often than not, they won’t get to a recruiter.
This is why you need to write with an ATS in mind:
- Keep referring back to the job posting. What resume keywords do you think this company is looking for?
- Copy and paste a few job descriptions relating to your field of interest into a word-cloud generator like Word Clouds or Monkey Learn. What words are popping up frequently? Which words are the largest? Those are probably the skills you should focus on.
- Don’t keyword stuff! A good rule of thumb is to only include specific keywords two or three times throughout your resume.
- Don’t put the most important keywords near the bottom of the resume. Some ATS won’t value those keywords as much as others near more important areas.
Take it one step further and use Jobscan’s resume optimization tool. Jobscan is designed to help you match up your keywords—and more:
- It rates your resume’s compatibility to the desired job
- It helps identify which resume keywords you should prioritize
- It tells you how to format resume keywords (for example, “MSW” vs. “Master of Social Work”)
In today’s job force, resume keywords are key in landing your first interview.
Write a skills summary or career profile
The first section of your resume should be devoted to your skills summary. There are several names that a skills summary goes by. You might know them as a career profile, professional summary, personal statement, or as a summary of experience. When used correctly, this can be a powerful section showcasing your relevant skills and how they apply to a particular job.
Think of your summary as an elevator pitch where you only have 30 seconds to grab a recruiter’s attention. What do you want them to know within that time frame? How do your work history, skills and accomplishments relate to the job? Once you have that figured out, combine this information into a statement.
Your skills summary should only contain a couple sentences — remember, this isn’t your cover letter — listing any potential and relevant hard and soft skills you have developed throughout your life.
Don’t feel like writing sentences? That’s cool. You can get the job done using bullet points in a few different ways:
- Write a bulleted list of resume skills
- Write an expanded bulleted list providing context
- Add a short list of skills after each section within your work history
- Segment your resume based on your list of skills (not ideal if you have no experience)
What’s important is to incorporate keywords a recruiter or an ATS may be looking for.
This is what recruiters don’t want to see:
“As a stay-at-home parent for the past five years, I’m ready to get back into the job force. I am motivated and would love some experience within this particular field.”
Instead, tailor your past experiences to fit a job posting. Perhaps you’re a stay at home parent looking to get a job as an office assistant. Here’s one such example of an administrative job posting:
As a stay-at-home parent, there’s a good chance you have these skills. Did you volunteer at school events? Did you contact healthcare professionals for your children? These are skills you can put on your first resume.
Here’s an example of how you can leverage your parental experience for this particular job:
“Provided support to ensure the home ran smoothly through a diligent work ethic as I made crucial decisions regarding my children. Oversaw, coordinated, and organized several events via phone or through in-person inquiries to healthcare professionals, daycares, and schools.”
Some tips to keep in mind while writing a skills summary:
- It should be no longer than two sentences
- Be direct and specific (don’t use the same buzzwords everyone else uses. What sets you apart?)
- Keep it focused outward—not on your wants as a job seeker, but on the needs of the company
Remember: A company that’s hiring is a company that has a problem. Maybe someone left, maybe they have more orders than they can handle, maybe they’re expanding to a new market. The point is, applying for a job is your chance to show a company how you can solve whatever problem they’re facing.
The education section is important when you don’t have work experience
It might be tempting to keep your education section simple by including your highest level of education and leaving it at that. This is a mistake! According to research, most companies require their applicants to have some form of education. So, as you can imagine, your education section matters quite a bit to recruiters.
Take, for example, job postings requiring a bachelor’s degree. Chances are, everyone applying to a job requiring four years of higher education has at least a bachelor’s degree. Your resume needs to stick out from theirs.
Leverage your education and include things like:
- Your highest level of education
- Your GPA if it’s higher than a 3.5
- Relevant coursework
Even if you dropped out of college after two or three years, still mention that you have some college experience. Education is education, after all.
And, in this case, any form of education can prove to be an invaluable source for keywords, especially relevant coursework. What skills did you learn and develop in school that are relevant to the job? Without work experience, your education will prove to be one of your strongest selling points on your resume.
Add achievements, awards, and skills when you have no experience
The functional resume format also leaves room for employment, achievements, awards, and skills near the bottom.
If you have some work experience that simply isn’t relevant to the job for which you’re applying, it’s still worth including on a functional resume to illustrate that you’ve been working. That said, you don’t want to waste too much resume space on jobs with few transferable skills. Instead of detailed listings for each employment role, include only the company name, job titles, and dates. (Note that some employers may see non-traditional formatting as an indicator that you’re trying to hide something in your work history.)
Keep in mind: you aren’t limited to paid, professional roles. Clubs, committees, and volunteer work all count. The point of a resume is to show you have developed the right skills for a particular job. It doesn’t matter if you were paid for that experience.
Let’s go back to the earlier assistant job example. They require data entry experience. There are several ways you can show you have this skill. Maybe you have a certificate in Excel. Perhaps you were on a committee in high school or college which required you to use Excel. Include it!
Need to show you have interpersonal skills? That’s simple. If you were part of a club, fraternity, sorority, or the PTA; then you definitely have those skills. Find a way to showcase them.
There are several ways you can spin non-paid work into usable resume points.
Use active voice
We can’t stress this enough. Using the active voice elevates your resume and cuts out unnecessary filler words (“have been,” “was,” “the”). Hiring managers don’t want to waste time sifting through wordy sentences.
What is the difference between active voice and passive voice?
Active voice: the subject acts upon the verb.
Passive voice: the subject receives the action.
What does that look like on a resume?
Passive voice: Was given the opportunity to exercise research and communication skills by publishing work in a quarterly journal.
Active voice: Sharpened research and communication skills by publishing original work in a quarterly journal.
Can you spot the difference? The second one sounds much better compared to the first one.
For more powerful resume points, use action and power verbs.
It can be a little daunting to write a resume when you don’t have a lot of experience. But by choosing the right format, the right skills and the right keywords, your resume will be noticed. and Jobscan is here to help you every step of the way!