Congratulations! The time has come for you to get your first job. Let’s celebrate. This is a rite of passage. This is as good as it gets. (KIDDING. It probably gets better.)
All joking aside, with many entry-level positions, you need a resume to get in the door and past the recruiters. The best resumes are bullet-point summaries of jobs worked that highlight successes and relate a skillset likely to make someone triumphant in the job for which they’re applying. How, you’re asking, does one write a good resume without a prior job? It’s not as hard as you think.
Let’s start here: what belongs on your first resume?
Highlight Internships and Paid Gigs, Even If They Weren’t Official Jobs
Maybe you didn’t have a W-2 from the family who left their kids in your charge for four summers straight, but you still got paid to perform a service, and that work belongs on your resume (and babysitters might also highlight their time management, creativity, and ability to keep other humans alive). Likewise, if you spent a summer shadowing someone in a professional setting or working as an intern, list that experience like you would a job.
Highlight Volunteer Experience
Skills gained during volunteer experiences can be good proxies for how you’d perform tasks required of a first job. Maybe you ran social media for a local homeless shelter — that gives a manager a sense of your ability to manage projects, communicate, and market. Or maybe you tutored middle schoolers in math — that shows an interest in training and skill with numbers. Canvassed for a local politician? That conveys good presentation skills. Even if you’re stumped on how to translate an volunteer gig’s skillset, adding these experiences to your resume is a good idea: they show commitment, time management, and experience working with a team.
Entry-level jobs often look at academic performance to get a sense of a candidate’s potential. Have an impressive GPA? Graduate with honors? Graduate at all? Note it, along with other academic awards or achievements you’ve got under your belt. And if you have a specialized certification of some sort — say, a culinary degree or an English Language Training certificate — call that out, too, especially if you’re applying to a job in a relevant field.
Highlight Awards and Honors and Leadership Experience
Like academics, awards and honors or leadership experience can be a good indicator of your potential, because they denote you work hard and lead your peers. And it’s not just academic honors that belong here — other notable achievements might include a sports scholarship or becoming a team captain, becoming an Eagle Scout or earning the Girl Scout Gold Award, serving as class president, or winning regional speech and debate recognition.
Highlight Activities Whose Skills Match the Job You’re Trying to Land
Re-read that job description, and contemplate the skills that would make you successful. What have you done that might prove you’ll be able to do the job? For example: let’s say you’re applying to a content-writing position. Were you an editor of the yearbook? School newspaper writer? Those can be useful data points for a hiring manager. You should also note special skills, like fluency in a foreign language or expertise with specialized software or code.
Okay, now how do I put it all together?
Keep It Short
Even late-career professionals work to keep their resume under a couple of pages — early in your career, consider one page a hard rule. Likewise, keep your writing articulate and to-the-point: a manager is going to skim this thing for metrics and successes, and that’s about it. So this is not the forum for your life story.
Keep It Professional
You may think your clever tone is an eye-catcher, but in virtually all cases, it’s a bad look. Save your stylish prose for the cover letter, and keep your resume succinct and to-the-point. And for God’s sake, no exclamation points.
Choose a Nice, Simple Design
Nice design conveys attention to detail and tech savvy. But keep it simple -- busy color schemes, flowery bullet points, or weird fonts (we’re looking at you, comic sans) convey a lack of professionalism. Good rule of thumb: Does it look like your technologically illiterate grandfather or 10-year-old cousin made it? Then it’s probably not going to pass the managerial smell test.
Get Some Feedback
Have a guidance counselor, parent, or mentor read your resume and give some feedback — they might come up with a better way to convey your skills, and they can help you cut the info that’s not going to get you hired. It’s a good practice to get feedback on your resume throughout your career, by the way — sometimes the people closest to you see qualities worth highlighting that you don’t see yourself.
And have someone else with a firm grasp of grammar and spelling proofread, too. Resumes full of typos often go straight on the rejection pile.
Need more help? Check out this fill-in-the-blank template for a first resume. And good luck! Here’s to a fulfilling job search.