First-time job seekers applying for a full-time position are often faced with a similar challenge: they have no work experience to prove they're qualified, yet most recruiters and hiring managers view an applicant's work history as one of the best ways to predict future job performance.
So naturally, the first place a recruiter or hiring manager's eyes will go to is the Work Experience section of an applicant's resume. What can you, as a first-time job seeker, do to present a standout resume when you have no significant work experience?
What Do You Need In a First-time Resume?
Build up your Work Experience section with relevant info from your life experiences – volunteer work, extracurricular activities, and school projects are worth including if they helped you develop skills and gain knowledge related to the job you're applying to.
Focus on transferable skills you've acquired from these work-like experiences, like communication skills, time management skills, or customer service skills. Emphasize your education.
This expertise in your area of study is a major part of what you'll bring to the table. Be sure to mention any academic honors, fellowships, or awards you've won.
Study tips and tricks on how to write a resume.
Other Resume-writing Tips for First-time Jobseekers
1. Only apply for jobs for which you are qualified
Save yourself a lot of trouble and frustration by only applying for jobs where you can clearly show that you have what it takes. While it's true that most job postings/descriptions don't include every qualification or requirement that the employer cares about, at the very least make sure you meet the large majority of qualifications/requirements that are included in the job posting/description before you do all the work involved with applying.
When there are many other candidates vying a job, the easiest filter for a recruiter or hiring manager is by qualification. If "proficiency with Microsoft Office" is listed as a qualification or required skill and you have no experience whatsoever with Microsoft Office, you should probably consider skipping over applying for this particular job. (Also, acquire experience with Microsoft Office—you will almost certainly need it at some point in your career).
To put it a bit differently, aim your job search at entry-level jobs—recruiters and hiring managers won't expect you to have too much experience in the first place.
2. Include Work-Like Experience
Even if you have no actual work experience, you may have experience from volunteering, school activities, or relevant hobbies that can show employers achievements and transferable skills that meet their requirements. Start your resume with an Education or Academic Experience section. As long as it relates to the job, school projects are acceptable and absolutely should be mentioned when you have no work experience.
School projects involve deliverables, deadlines, and often times, team work—just like in a work environment. For example, does the employer seek someone with strong customer service skills? Perhaps the three years you spent raising money for a school organization or sports team qualifies you for the position.
You'll want to quantify each phrase to emphasize how your participation added value to the organization or event, and mention any awards, promotions, or other honors that mark you as a good performer. For example, let's say you participated in a drive to recruit volunteers for a community service event. Let's also say you recruited 35 volunteers—more than anyone else involved in the recruiting drive. Note that number when describing the experience in your resume. Also note that that number put you on top as the number one recruiter!
If you've done any volunteering in a related or adjacent industry to the one you're trying to get into, or in a role that had a similar work-like environment, a Volunteer Experience or Volunteer Work section with that information can speak volumes to potential employers about what they can expect from you in their workplace. (It also puts you in a nice light, and gives the impression that you're someone who cares about the good of society.)
When you have no work experience, any relevant experience is fair game.
3. Show Your Skills
The bottom of your resume is a great place to list any skills you have developed that help qualify you for the job. A simple Skills section can include a list of skills and talents related to the job you're considering, such as the hours you've spent selling t-shirts on a beach, fixing computers at retirement community rec center, designing in Photoshop, or editing social media videos.
Speaking of social media, there are a number of ways you can use your online activity to show off your knowledge to impress recruiters: Do you have any social profiles where you post mainly about work or career advancement-related topics? If you don't, start one ASAP and begin networking regularly with others who are doing the same. Are you active in any professional or industry-related Yahoo! groups, Facebook pages, or web forums? If your most popular (by number of views, likes, etc.) posts are ones where you helped or educated other members of a community, this can show employers that you know your stuff.
If you're not active in any such groups, find one or create one, and make it a habit to visit and post or react daily. Better than social media are the sites where you can directly demonstrate your knowledge, such as a personal blog that chronicles your experiences learning a new topic, or making opinion or how-to videos on YouTube, or creating a podcast where you interview experts and other people in the industry you're trying to break into.
Once you have a work-related online footprint of some kind, include links and short descriptions of the most relevant sites in a dedicated section of your resume too.
4. Aim to Appear Professional
Having no work experience does not mean you are unqualified. Let's repeat that—having no work experience does not mean you are unqualified!
Maintain consistent tense, style, and font when writing resumes that are tailored to specific positions, and take the time to proofread your writing for typos. Ask a friend—maybe one who is or was an English major—to read your resume as well. A second set of eyes can really come in handy when it comes to spotting typos or errors in a resume.
Use a resume building service like LiveCareer's Resume Builder to develop a strong, professional resume that communicates enthusiasm and competence to employers. By promoting your skills and achievements, employers will be sure to see you as a perfect fit for their company, even with no work experience.