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Securing that first job, whether the start of a new career or simply something to pay the bills, can feel like a mountain to climb. You don't have any experience, and when it comes to writing a resume, you don't know where to start.
You probably already know that a resume is an overview of previous job roles, professional achievements, and skills. However, it would be best to have a resume still because you're at the bottom of a career ladder or have never worked.
This comprehensive guide will look at how to make a resume to help you stand out from the crowd and get your foot in the door for the first time.
We've got a pretty surprising stat for you: a job recruiter will spend just 5-10 seconds giving your resume an initial scan before deciding whether to discard it or read it in more detail.
One of the first things they will notice is the resume layout. Is it easy to read and organize, or cluttered with long paragraphs of text?
If you're about to apply for jobs for the first time, here are some top tips for how to lay out a resume:
Your resume will probably stretch to two pages when you're super-experienced and have years of job roles and achievements. For right now, though, stick to a single page. Employers often receive dozens of applications for job roles, and they value brevity.
Breaking your resume down into sections makes it much easier to digest. The headings can also help summarize your resume, which makes it much easier to skim.
Too much text crammed into a page looks harder to read and understand. Make sure you're using white spaces in the margins too.
Whatever you do, don't use an 'interesting' font as a way of demonstrating your creativity or personality.
Stick to a web-safe font that's clear and easy to read. This includes the likes of Raleway, Roboto, Montserrat, and Latin.
You also need to think about font size. We'd recommend 11-12 for the main body of your resume and 14-16 for headings. Avoid playing with font sizes to cram more into a single page or make your resume look more full than it is.
There's no hard-and-fast rule regarding the best layout for a resume, but if you're applying for a role in a more traditional industry, you should opt for a more conventional resume layout.
There are three primary resume formats that you'll need to consider. These are:
Reverse-chronological — this is the most common resume format and is used worldwide. It starts with your recent job, other roles, and educational achievements. The benefit of reverse-chronological resumes is that they're clear and organized, but they're not necessarily ideal for your first application as they emphasize employment history.
Functional (skills-based) — this is arguably the best format for a resume for inexperienced job seekers as it doesn't have to lead with job roles. Instead, it emphasizes your skills. They should still include references to any job roles you have had, but it makes it easier to excuse gaps in your work history.
Hybrid — a combination of reverse-chronological and functional formats, the hybrid resume format is mainly used by applicants with a lot of work experience but also want to highlight their knowledge and expertise. As such, this format is unlikely valid for people new to the job market.
Remember that although functional resumes could fit you, reverse-chronological is most common and, therefore, most familiar to hiring managers.
We go into more detail about how to format a resume and your options here.
Now that you've chosen your layout and format, let's look at what specific details to include on a resume.
This section won't secure you an interview, but it's arguably the most critical resume information to include. After all, no matter how incredible your skill set is, if an employer can't get in touch to invite you for an interview, it's all for nothing!
Check, check, and check again that your email address and phone number are correct.
The absolute must-have contact details for your resume are:
Full name (your title is optional)
Location — it doesn't have to be your exact address, but the employer will want to know roughly where you're based.
Optional personal details you can add to your resume include:
Website URL — if you have a website or blog relevant to the role, this will help your application and be particularly useful if you have a limited job history.
You might also be considering including a headshot on your resume. Whether or not you should depends on where you live. This isn't necessary in the US and UK and might harm your chances of getting the job, but it's much more standard practice in Europe.
Your resume summary is essential if you're starting your career. With limited real-world experience or job history, the summary must explain who you are and what you want to achieve. It's also where a recruiter will get a first impression of your application, and you don't need us to tell you how important they are.
Your summary should be concise and clear — ideally, not more than three sentences — and be tailored to the job you're applying for. Repeat the keywords in the job description and use them in your summary.
Even if you don't have any work experience, you should highlight any traits or soft skills you've picked up.
If you've got a limited employment history or you're trying to move into a new field, the skills section will arguably secure an interview.
There are two types of skills to think about when writing a resume:
Soft skills — social skills, communication, and leadership are all examples of soft skills. They're personal skills that can't necessarily be measured with a qualification.
It's best to split hard and soft skills into two distinct sections. You could refer to them as 'Technical' and 'Personal' skills rather than hard and soft. It's also worth highlighting your ability level for each point, for example, 'Beginner,' 'Intermediate,' 'Advanced,' and 'Expert.' This will help the hiring manager to see where you're strongest.
When starting, it can be tempting to exaggerate your skills to secure an interview, but this always becomes apparent at the interview stage. Even if you can lie to a job, you'll be fired quickly when it's clear you don't have the skills you've claimed.
Finally, constantly tailor your skills for the job you're applying for. Read the job description closely and align the skills section of your resume with the required competencies section of the ad.
If you are fortunate enough to have some work experience already, then fantastic because this section is what hiring managers will be looking for.
If your previous experience isn't relevant to the role you're applying for due to a career change, or you're looking for your first full-time role and have only had part-time jobs in the past, you should still include this when writing a resume.
So what do you include in a resume job experience section? The following format is most common:
This should be included at the top of each job entry, giving the hiring manager an idea of your role.
Follow up the job title with the name of the company. Note that it's common for the company name to be listed first, with the job title coming afterward.
What were the highlights of your time in the role? Achievements are preferable to responsibilities because they show genuine, tangible benefits you could bring to your last company.
If you're changing careers, they're even more important to highlight. If you could increase lead generation by 100% or were responsible for X dollars of revenue during a calendar year, this would impress employers from any sector.
However, for young job seekers only able to lean on low-skilled experience, responsibilities will be satisfactory.
How long you worked for a company is vital as it shows a hiring manager how important a particular job is to your employment history.
You don't have to know the exact day you started, but you'll want to ensure it's at least close, as a new employer may ask the question if they request a reference from them.
Regardless of your resume format, the employment history section should always follow the reverse-chronological format.
The further you progress in your career, the less critical the education section of your resume will become. However, it's one of the most important if you have next-to-no job history. If you're a young job seeker, the good news is that the employer will know that the knowledge and skills you picked up will still be fresh in your mind. If this sounds like you, it's worth listing your education section first.
Like the employment history section, your qualifications should be listed in reverse-chronological order. The ideal format for this section is as follows:
Years attended (again, you only need to be specific down to the month, not the day)
If you want to (and you have the space to fill), you can include your GPA (if it's impressive), honors, academic achievements, and if you studied for a Minor.
Note that if you have a university degree, there's no need to mention your high school.
An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a piece of software that recruiters and employers use to scan resumes for critical bits of information. Any resumes that don't mention specific keywords (or close synonyms) will be discarded immediately and never reach the desk of a human hiring manager.
These are common, so you must know how to make a resume ATS-compliant.
The most important thing is to use an ATS-friendly resume template and file type. Although functional (skills-based) resume formats can be helpful for applicants without an employment history, ATS is most familiar with reverse-chronological.
You will also need to submit your resume as either a PDF or DOCX file but bear in mind that older systems might not be able to read PDFs. However, the job ad should state this. If you're unsure and want to ensure you send in the right one, contact the recruiter and ask.
Because an ATS will scan your resume for mentions of specific keywords, make sure you tailor each resume to the ad. Include the ad's phraseology and industry terms wherever possible to avoid falling at the first hurdle.
So what do you include in a resume when you've got no work experience? It can seem impossible, but you're not alone, and remember: everyone was where you were once.
We've touched on this throughout the guide, but these are the key things you need to be hitting on when you've got no employment history:
Before you get your first job in any career, your qualifications are your ticket through the door. They demonstrate a passion for the industry and, hopefully, an aptitude for the subject. Include any academic achievements, for example, papers you have published.
List out all of the hard and soft skills you've developed during your education and general life. For example, if you worked at a summer camp, you probably developed leadership and communication skills.
Ordinarily, you don't have to provide a reference until one is requested, but you must ensure everything works for you when you don't have an employment history. With this in mind, include any personal references from teachers, organizations you volunteered for, or anyone in a leadership position you think might vouch for you.
Not strictly speaking a part of your resume, a cover letter is essential for first-time job seekers. It introduces your resume and lets you go into further detail about why you're passionate about the role. Check out our blog, 'Write a Winning Cover Letter.'
If you're not confident about how to write a professional resume, follow these simple tips below:
Be concise — hiring managers don't have much time, so avoid using filler words and try to get your point across as simply as possible. Hemingway App is a free-to-use, browser-based application that will tell you how to reduce the reading age and complexity of sentences and paragraphs and be more concise.
Be consistent — don't mix and match ways of saying things. If you've said '35%' in one section, don't say '50 percent' in another.
Read it out loud — if you're not confident with your grammar, reading what you've written aloud can be incredibly useful. Does it make sense? Have you put commas (pauses) in the right place? All of this becomes much clearer when you can hear the words.
Proof, proof, and proof some more — even the best writers will make mistakes, so you must proofread your resume at least twice before submitting it. Also, word processor spell checks are not a substitute for thorough proofreading.
Get someone else to read it — even if you think you've caught all of the typos and grammar errors, it's worth asking someone else to read it through too. It can be hard to pick up on your writing mistakes, especially when you've already read something a few times.
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