Every job description — even those for entry-level business jobs — seems to demand that you already have work experience. But how do you gain experience if you can't find a job without it? Instead of getting overwhelmed by the conundrum, take a deep breath and know that your experiences in college (and life) can help you land your first job. You can use your degree, the clubs you've joined, activities and summer internships to create a story that will pique the interest of a hiring manager.
Here's how to craft a business resume that will land you that first job.
1. Know your audience
Imagine who will be reading your application materials and be sure to customize each time to pique their interest. First, an ATS (applicant tracking system) will likely review your resume and cover letter for keywords and relevance to the position. Including words directly from the job description will help you pass this automated step.
Once you get to human review, remember that your readers are trying to find candidates that will fit the role they're describing. Those keywords still matter, but make sure to also include your personality and make sure it's clear exactly why you are the right choice to interview. Check out our article on ATS for more about this topic.
2. Use powerful action words
When crafting your first resume, the last thing you want is to be boring. Sure, you have to include all the keywords and skills the company is looking for — all of which you can find in the job description. But those are usually nouns.
Look at your verbs. Are they low energy? Are your sentences passive? Livening up your language will make your resume more interesting to read.
Make yourself the actor in every description. Rethink boring, passively constructed phrases like "responsibilities included" and opt for more active verbs.
Consider these options instead:
- "I initiated change"
- "I inspired my team"
- "I reorganized my club"
Creative rewording will make it easier for you to find relevant experiences in your background, and it will certainly make your resume and cover letter more interesting. You might find yourself saying something like, "I organized a music event that tested all the social media, marketing, project management and accounting skills I've studied." Check out our article on action verbs for more information.
3. Find experience in your experiences
Maybe you don't have two years of experience at a marketing firm or investment bank. But have you learned some of the required skills through your coursework, activities or hobbies? Perhaps you had an internship where you handled social media for a summer, or maybe you managed the budget for a student organization on your campus.
Break these experiences down into clear, compelling descriptions and use the keywords from the job description — as well as strong verbs — to describe them. Be sure to put them into context. What did you learn? What actions did you take? What was the result? Who was pleased with the outcome?
Note that relevant coursework, activities and hobbies can appear in an Activities or Additional Experience section of your resume, and that internships can appear in the Work Experience section of your resume.
4. Play up your academics
Rather than apologize for your lack of work experience, play up what you have done.
"Make a list of relevant classes and pull the descriptions from the textbook's table of contents, course descriptions, or syllabi into a list," says Laura DeCarlo, author of Resumes for Dummies, 8th Edition (John Wiley & Sons, 2019). This is not only a great way to include some — or all — of the keywords from the job description, it's a great way to talk about your successes. Did you get a great grade? Did you learn something important? Was there teamwork involved? Did you use software that's relevant to the job you're applying for?
Avoid weighing down your business school resume with your entire list of classes. Instead, highlight the most relevant classes or class projects that will help your potential employer get a sense of your knowledge base. If you received any academic honors, make sure to include those as well.
5. Eliminate mistakes
A resume that's riddled with errors creates more problems than solutions. Companies will be looking at your resume for any reason to screen you out. "Mistakes will stick out like a sore thumb. Bad spelling, bad grammar and bad composition will all be seen as good reasons to rule you out as a candidate," explains Paul Smith, senior vice president of PEAK Technical Staffing. "Don't make the mistake of sending a poorly written document."
Use spell check. Use grammar check. Get a second opinion; if you're still in school, a career center will be invaluable. You can also enlist the help of friends, family and mentors to review. You don't want to skimp on this important step — a resume with spelling errors will almost certainly disqualify you from the job.
A hiring manager might only spend a few minutes looking at your materials, so you want them to be as strong as possible. Consider our Resume Builder and get help creating a business resume that will help you stand out from the crowd. You can also check out our Business Resume Examples page, and find resume writing tips geared toward business professionals.