How to write your first resume
Learn how to create a resume from scratch—even when you have limited job experience.
You’re staring at a blank page willing it to become a resume.
You get up, get coffee, sit back down, type your name, but then you’re tempted to take a break because you have no clue how to turn your work experience (or lack thereof!) into something that will entice someone to hire you.
Writing your first resume can seem overwhelming, especially when there’s so much on the line—like paying rent and having an answer every time you’re your mom calls to ask if you’ve found a job yet.
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression and your resume is your introduction to your hopefully-soon-to-be employer. (No pressure though…)
But don’t panic. This super-easy guide makes it easy. TBH, you’ve got this.
Get familiar with the basics:
Let’s start at the beginning. Every resume has the same elements: name, contact information, education, experience, and skills. Most entry-level resumes also have a short objective statement and an activities section.
If you don’t have a lot of work experience, you might choose to start with your name and contact information then your education, activities, experience, and skills section.
Each job should include the company name, your title, the city and state, and the dates you worked there. Organize the information in each section chronologically, so if you were a waitress in 2015 and a teacher’s assistant from 2016 to 2018, your TA job would come before your waitressing job.
Your education section should include your college or university name, your major, your degree, and your anticipated graduation date.
Include academic honors such as dean's list, distinctions like summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, scholarships and other awards.
Kim Isaacs, Monster’s resume expert, recommends including your GPA if it's at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. But if you have a GPA that’s lower than a 3.0, you can use your major GPA if it's higher than your overall GPA. Oh and keep your entire resume to one page, please.
Help the robots read it:
The robot will see you now. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration.
Your first phone interview and IRL interview will be with a full-fledged human (hopefully)...but before getting to that step, you have to get past the robots who read your resume when you apply online.
What we mean by that is that most online job applications (like on Monster) use software that scans resumes to help recruiters who are searching for specific candidates. If your resume has the right words, you’ll be found more easily by the “robots”—and the recruiters.
Isaacs shares two all-star strategies for impressing the robots and their human counterparts.
The second is to use the exact words and phrases from the job description, because the robots and hiring managers can filter through all the applications by searching for relevant terms such as important skills or experiences. (Ahem, this is where an objective can be helpful because even if you aren’t a content strategist (yet!)
You can say that your goal is to become a content strategist to help clients connect with potential customers using the skills you learned from majoring in marketing and minoring in literature.)
Tailor your resume for each application:
We get it. It seems like a lot of work to customize your resume for each and every job you apply to, but it will make you more successful.
And it doesn’t have to take a long time to customize your resume. You can make a few tweaks to your original resume to include the skills and experiences the hiring managers want you to have.
“The best starting point is to review job ads for your desired position, and look for skills and qualifications that employers want in their ideal candidates. If you have matching qualifications, find ways to weave those key terms into the resume,” says Isaacs, adding that your end game is to show your potential employer that you can meet or exceed the job requirements.
Think of the job description as a hidden treasure map that tells you the exact skills they are looking for. Then, show you’ve got the skills.
Let’s say they are looking for someone who understands SEO and can work well in a fast-paced, deadline-driven workplace. You can mention that you managed your school newspaper’s digital site and used SEO best-practices to double site traffic while also contributing breaking news and feature stories. Boom!
Show what you know:
You don’t have to have three years of experience and an Olympic gold medal to land an entry-level job. Hiring managers aren’t expecting you to have lots and lots of work experience early in your career, but they are expecting you to show that you have the skills it takes to be successful. This is where your school activities and education come in handy!
“It’s a plus if you held a leadership role, but participation as a regular member in a club, sorority or fraternity, or team could also look great on the resume,” says Isaacs noting that it shows that you are committed and community-minded.
“Instead of just listing the activity, include relevant accomplishments, giving credit to the team if you didn’t do it on your own,” she says.
Let’s say you didn’t have a role on the executive committee of your sorority or fraternity, but you led philanthropic events. You could say that as a member of Phi Sigma Sigma, you organized and managed fundraising events that raised $20,000 for the National Kidney Foundation in 2018.
When listing jobs unrelated to your objective, Isaacs advises keeping your descriptions to a minimum while still showing the relevant skills you picked up.
For instance, if you waited tables to help pay for college but your goal is software engineering, you don't need to provide a description of your day-to-day responsibilities taking orders and clearing tables.
Instead, she recommends focusing on the most important aspects of your work experience and going into detail about projects you were involved in that show leadership, drive, and determination such as helping to cut costs or being promoted to host or hostess after regulars mentioned how excellent your service was.
Call in the reinforcements:
One of the most common mistakes recruiters notice is typos, so give it a second or third read before hitting “send.”
Better yet, have someone else read it to catch those pesky typos or point out ways that your language can be stronger. (Hint: Use action verbs!)
Even better: Work with one of our resume experts to customize your resume for your industry, career goals, and specific jobs. We’ll also help you get past the robots, craft your cover letter, and showcase why you’ll be a smashing success on day one.
Just want to see if it’s likely that hiring managers would metaphorically swipe right? Upload your resume to our free assessment tool and our resume-scanning technology will generate feedback on your formatting and content as well as a prediction of a recruiter’s first impression.