Writing your first resume can be tricky. You may have no job experience or a degree. How can you sell yourself before you get relevant experience? And how can you avoid overdoing it and turning off potential employers?
Consider Your Soft Skills
Resumes aren’t all about previous experience and technical skills. That’s good news, because you lack both early in your career. What you do have are relevant skills.
In the workplace, there are soft and hard skills.
- Hard skills are abilities to do what a job requires. A hard skill for a mechanic is the ability to change oil, patch tires, and troubleshoot engine problems. Potential employers love when applicants have these, but they’re not the only thing that matters. Because in many industries, those skills can be learned on the job.
- Soft skills are what everyone has. These are personality traits that make you the right person for the job, even if you have no relevant experience. Are you a hard worker who is dedicated and focused on details? Do you have time management and organizational skills? Are your people skills, leadership skills, and conflict resolution abilities off the charts? Those are soft skills, and they matter to prospective employers.
Make Your First Resume Simple
With your first job resume, you may be tempted to add some razzle dazzle. Don’t.
Leave the fancy resume formats to tenured graphic designers. Your resume should be simple, straight forward, and easy to understand. (Tip: The same goes even when you have years of professional experience and hard skills.)
Some resume templates use lots of colors and fonts. A few leave space for your photo. Why shouldn’t you use these job resume templates?
1. Your photo is only important if you’re going into modeling, acting, or another career in which your face has bearing on your ability to perform a job.
2. Today, you’re most likely to email your resume to a potential future employer. If your first-time resume draws attention, it may get printed out. If the employer doesn’t have a color printer, your resume will lose its appeal. Even worse, some of the colors may be so light that the text disappears. Big mistake!
Along with simple, your resume should be short. Some encourage one or two pages (1-2 pages). I recommend no more than one page. In fact, I recommend keeping resumes as short as possible to anyone on the job hunt. As the internet has made applying to jobs so easy, HR folks are drowning in resumes. If you can condense all your skills and still use all the right resume keywords, you’ll stand out.
While you don’t have formal work experience, your entry-level resume should be strong. State your resume objective upfront. Then talk about your transferable skills you’ve accumulated through the years.
Transferable skills are abilities that you learned in one area of life that help reach your career goals.
Whether you’re an adult or a college or high school student, you have skills. You also have previous experience. Examples:
- In the classroom, things don’t always come easy. When things get tough, you learned perseverance and problem-solving. Perhaps you even led an afterschool study session to help others improve their math skills. It may not be job experience, but those problem-solving and training skills probably match the job listing you’re eyeing.
- During extracurricular activities, you played sports and volunteered. As you did, you learned how to interact with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. You also mastered organizational skills when you planned a game day at the local nursing home. And when you promoted yourself for student council, you were growing your marketing skills. Again, this isn’t professional experience, but extracurricular activities develop critical skills that help meet your resume objective of landing a job.
Keywords for Your First Resume
Today, many resumes get run through applicant-tracking software. It’s looking for specific language, also known as resume keywords. You want to create an ATS-friendly resume.
Using these keywords can be difficult when you lack relevant work experience. But remember—you have skills to show off on your beginner resume. Some of these skills make use of resume keywords.
Look through your educational background and other life experience and highlight the following:
- Leadership positions and leadership roles
- Project management experience
- Community activities you’ve participated in
- Example of critical thinking skills helping you find solutions
- Additional skills
When you note these, you’ll likely hit some of the keywords that the best job candidates add to their resumes. To find keywords to include in your first resume, perform job searches wisely. Whether looking for your dream job or an entry-level position, review each job posting carefully. Look at what skills and experience they’re looking for. Then incorporate this into your resume. Just do it honestly. If you lie about your skills and experience, you’ll get caught.
Extra Tips for Your First Resume
There are books written to help create the perfect resume. With that in mind, a single blog entry can’t touch on every aspect of creating an entry-level resume. But I want to help as much as possible. So, I leave you with a few bonus tips when creating your first resume.
- Fonts and margins matter. Use plain fonts, such as Times New Roman, and stick to font size between 10 and 12. Margins should be no larger than one inch and no less than 0.8 inch. Go smaller, and the page may not print in full.
- Foreign language skills. Know how to speak or write Spanish, Italian, German, or another language? This skill pushes your entry-level resume to the top of the stack. Be sure to mention it.
- Presentation skills background. Mentoring and coaching are sought-after skills in any occupation, including entry-level jobs. Teaching anyone anything shows you have valuable skills that are in demand. Talk about it!
- Use active verbs. Check out this list of action verbs from the University of Tennessee if you need help getting started.
When building your first resume, you’ve got options. You may want to do the following:
- Use a resume builder. A beginner resume template can help you determine how to lay out your resume, including education level and more. With a template, you don’t have to build your resume from scratch.
- Write a cover letter. As with resumes, there are cover letter templates that help explain your career objective in a way that a resume doesn’t.
- Hire a resume writer. That’s what I do. Over the years, I’ve helped craft resumes for many people who want a little help putting their best foot forward. Once finished, I send the resume in a file format that allows you to update it as you master new skills, so you can take the next step in your career. Interested? Learn how to partner with me to build your new resume.