No work experience? No problem.
The ol' catch-22: I need a job to get experience, but I need experience to get a job. Either way, you need a resume. What you don’t need, is to panic. Just because you don’t have existing skills or experience doesn’t mean you can’t craft a perfectly convincing resume. How? Well, I’ll tell you.
1. Include a summary statement.
Resume objective statements, where you state exactly what career goals you wish to achieve, have mostly fallen out of fashion. This is largely because you want to focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you. Having a resume summary statement, however, sums up who you are professionally at the top of the page in a sentence or two and serves as the first impression you give a hiring manager to entice them to keep reading.
2. Decide on a format.
There are two dominant resume formats in use today: chronological and functional, and a final option, which is a combination of the two. Employers tend to prefer chronological resumes, where work experience is listed in reverse-chronological order, but functional resumes are geared towards job seekers with little experience and focus on skills and achievements rather than work experience. So, you may want to go with the latter. Whatever format you decide on, be sure that everything is consistent throughout the document.
3. Pay attention to technical details.
When editing your own writing, make sure there are no punctuation, grammatical, spelling or other errors that will make your resume look unprofessional. You can’t afford a typo or missing word. Also, be sure to vary your language and utilize action verbs.
4. Take stock of your achievements and activities.
Make a list of absolutely everything you've done that might be useful on a resume. From this list, you'll then need to narrow down what to actually include on your resume. Different things might be relevant to different jobs you apply for, so keep a full list and pick the most relevant things from it to include on your resume when you send it out.
5. Focus on your education and skills.
In lieu of work experience, it's best to expand and focus on your education and skills on your resume. What can you do well that this job requires or will be useful to the hiring company? What have you done in school and what have you studied that has prepared you for assuming this job? This is generally a little easier if you're a college graduate with specialized education, but even a high school graduate can talk about their electives, why they wanted to take them and what they learned in them.
6. Internships, internships, internships.
Internships while in school are one of the best weapons you have against "experience required." Not only do they give you some real-world work experience, they also allow you to network and make connections that can put you in a job later. When applying for a job without experience, be sure to list any internships you completed. If you haven’t had one, consider applying as a step before an entry-level job.
7. Include any extracurricular activities or volunteer work.
When surveyed, employers usually say that they consider volunteer experience alongside paid work experience. So any volunteer work that utilized your talents or where you learned a new skill should be put on your resume. Only include hobbies if they are relevant to the job and have equipped you with transferable skills that would be useful in the job. Including hobbies can make you more relatable to hiring managers and allow your personality to shine through a little bit in your resume.
8. Never include certain elements.
While there's a lot you should consider adding to your resume, there are a few things you shouldn't even be considering - largely because they waste space, don't tell the employer anything irrelevant or could even hurt your image. Never include references, writing samples or photos of yourself without being asked to provide them. Another thing you should look out for is an unprofessional email address. It's easy to create a free, more professional email address to provide during your job search.
9. Keywords, keywords, keywords.
Most employers use some form of an applicant tracking system (ATS) to scan and sort resumes. This may seem unfair, but it is the reality of hiring at this time. To combat this, you will want to come up with and include a list of keywords in your resume when applying to any job. The best place to find these keywords is in the job ad itself, or in ads for similar jobs. One caveat: don't use meaningless, annoying "buzzwords," such as "go-getter," "team player" and detail-oriented." Unfortunately, sometimes these buzzwords are the only keywords listed in the ad. If that's the case, you'll need to sneak them in alongside more detailed accomplishments.
10. Add a cover letter.
Even if one is not required, it's generally a good idea to send a short cover letter along with your resume. Cover letters are where your personality comes out, and you need to use them to make the case for why you're the one perfect for this job. A standout cover letter can convince an employer to bring you in for an interview even if your resume itself doesn't have all the things they'd like to see.
11. Customize your resume for each job you apply to.
The last and most important thing to remember when creating a good resume is to alter it for every job you apply to. Different job postings are going to have different keywords, different job duties listed and so on. Appealing to each individual employer is the best strategy for getting your application noticed.
At the end of the day, there's no magical formula for how to write a winning resume - the only perfect resume is the one that gets you the job. Always be tweaking and updating your resume, even when you're comfortably employed. Utilize a functional resume format and focus on your skills and education when you don't have any experience to show. Sooner or later, you'll land that job.