How to write your first resume

Learn how to create a resume from scratch—even when you have limited job experience.

How to write your first resume

Even with zero or little experience, you can still write a killer first resume.

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 make a resume and turn your work experience (or lack thereof!) into something that will entice someone to hire you.

It's true that many employers prefer to hire workers with a demonstrated track record of success rather than someone who's young and inexperienced. Employers may view older workers as more stable, mature, reliable, and skilled than younger workers, but that doesn't mean you're out of luck. You just need to learn how to properly present your strengths in a way that makes your age irrelevant—or even beneficial.

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…) Your goal is to convince employers that they would benefit by hiring you. But don’t panic. These tips will help your resume stand out from the crowd.

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 or qualifications summary. What you lack in experience, you make up for in passion, desire, and motivation to succeed. Let this passion shine through in your objective or summary; employers want to hire workers who are enthusiastic about their career choice. Here's an example of a qualifications summary for a photographer's assistant:

Talented photographer's assistant with a strong background in both theory and practical applications with hands-on experience as a photo assistant for magazine shoots and professional studios. Adept in a wide range of professional photo equipment, with access to a state-of-the-art darkroom, enabling work to be completed during regular and extended evening/weekend hours. Possess a variety of cameras, lenses and tools; willing to purchase additional equipment at own expense. Knowledgeable and keenly interested in all aspects of the field, including still life, fashion, printing and stock photography.

In the above example, the assistant used his summary to overcome possible objections to his youth and lack of experience. An employer might assume a young person lacks equipment, but his summary overcomes the objection by stating that he has equipment and is willing to buy more at his own expense.

The employer might also assume that he wouldn't have access to a darkroom, but his summary states that he does and is willing to work extended hours to get the job done. Although he has no work history in photography, he emphasizes unpaid experiences to show practical experience in the field.

If you don’t have a lot of work experience, you might choose to start with your name and contact information then your education, extracurricular 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 cashier in 2017 and a teacher’s assistant from 2018 to 2019, your TA job would come before your cashier 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. 

Isaacs shares two all-star strategies for impressing the robots and their human counterparts. The first is to use standard fonts and simple formatting because the robots can’t read the fancy stuff.

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. “Review job ads for your desired position, and look for skills and qualifications that employers want in their ideal candidates,” says Isaacs. "If you have matching qualifications, find ways to weave those keywords and terms into your resume." Let’s say the ad says the job requires someone who understands SEO and can work well in a fast-paced, deadline-driven workplace. Use those exact phrases in your resume.

Naturally, this means each resume you send out should be customized to each job ad. 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 keywords, plus the skills and experiences the hiring managers want.

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.

If you've ever been in a position of responsibility, provide details and examples on your resume to show you are reliable and trustworthy. These examples could be from work experience, volunteer activities, school projects, internships, hobbies, and sports. Write about leadership responsibilities that you've had and completion of assignments for which you were selected over your peers. For example, you can include 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. If you have work experience, you can mention your perfect attendance record, additional duties assigned to you because of your excellent performance, and experience training new employees. 

“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."

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 after regulars mentioned how excellent your service was. Tip: Action verbs can be particularly useful here.

Call in the reinforcements

Writing your first resume is nerve-racking, but your attention to detail and the time you spend working to get it just right can pay off in the long run. Not sure your resume is hitting the mark? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. The experts at Monster can help you customize your resume for your industry, career goals, and specific jobs. Think of it as part of your continuing education.