Getting your first job is an exciting milestone, but writing your first job resume can feel like a challenge. Even if you don’t have much full-time work experience, you can write a resume that focuses on your education, past work, volunteer jobs, extracurriculars and community activities — all of which can make you qualified for many entry-level positions.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to write a well-formatted resume that includes the right keywords, presents your most relevant skills and qualifications and provides an objective to help employers understand why you’re a good fit for the job.
1. Research resume keywords
Because of the large number of applications they receive, employers don’t necessarily have a lot of time to review each resume they receive. One tool that many employers use to record and sort applications is software called an applicant tracking system (ATS).
Often, an ATS will sort applications based on keywords to surface resumes that are best aligned with the requirements of the position. This means that when you use the same keywords from the job description in your resume, you may increase your chances of being noticed.
To find the right words to include in your resume, start by carefully reviewing the job descriptions that appeal to you. Pay special attention to sections that may be labeled “Key Qualifications,” “Minimum Requirements” or “Job Responsibilities.”
Write down these words and then, reflect on the proven skills and abilities you have that could fit these requirements. Those may be leadership positions you’ve held, skills you’ve gained in your education, projects you’ve completed or clubs you’ve contributed to.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as an administrative assistant, the employer’s job description might include desired traits such as:
- Cooperative, easily gains trust and support of customers and peers
- Encourages collaboration
- Interested in self-development and is committed to continuous self improvement
They may also look for someone to take on roles such as:
- Answer all incoming calls in a professional manner
- Attention to detail with note taking and accurate information gathering
- Manage and maintain accurate inventory
As you focus in on the job description, recall specific experiences that align with their ideal candidate and record them on your resume. Include metrics when possible to provide employers with a data-driven view of the value you’ll bring to their company. Here’s an example of what this might look like specifically on a resume. In this example, we’ll focus on communication skills:
Skills and Experiences
Clearwater Art Museum, Volunteer | Aug 2014 — Dec 2015
- Greeted and proactively assisted visitors in a timely, professional manner
- Guaranteed prompt delivery of incoming mail to appropriate recipients
- Streamlined processes to effectively track, order, and maintain inventory
- Collaborated with peers to write communications for email and social media on new exhibits
These experiences reflect the applicant’s ability to successfully complete the tasks that will be required in the role, as well as some traits the employer is looking for. Even for employers that aren’t using an ATS, those who review your resume are more likely to respond positively if it includes the same language used in the job posting.
2. Feature your skills and education
When applying for your first job, choose a resume format that puts skills and education at or near the top. One good option might be a functional resume format, if you have gaps in your work experience.
To ensure relevant information is the first thing employers read, consider structuring your resume in sections as follows:
- Skills and relevant experiences or coursework
- Education and achievements
- Volunteer work and extracurriculars
Organizing your information this way highlights key aspects of your background, giving employers the opportunity to quickly understand why you’re a good fit for the job.
Though you may not have professional experience, putting other important activities or coursework in a primary position on your resume gives you a better chance at moving forward in the hiring process.
3. Write a resume objective
The resume objective, also called a career objective, resume summary or objective statement, is usually composed of one to two sentences that summarize your relevant skills. Often it’s placed at the top of your resume to capture the hiring manager’s attention.
Writing a clear, concise resume objective can quickly give employers context around where you are in your career, what you’re looking for and the strengths and experiences you have that make you a great fit for the job.
Here are several examples of objective statements you can use for reference as you develop your own statement:
4. Include your skills
When listing skills on your resume, you should include both soft and hard skills. While there are exceptions, soft skills tend to be parts of your personality while hard skills are things you may have learned to do.
Soft skills are intangible personality traits that are often difficult to teach, and therefore of great value. Some examples of soft skills to put on a resume include:
- Effective communication skills
- Decision making
- Time management
- Dealing with ambiguity
- Ability to work under pressure
If you’re uncertain what your soft skills are, you may want to ask friends, teachers or family members to describe you. They may say things like, “You’re a great listener,” or “You have excellent attention to detail.” Alternatively, think about your proudest accomplishments, what instincts and abilities made it possible for you to do those things? These are likely a combination of soft skills.
Technical or “hard” skills
The technical skills you should include depend largely on the field you’re planning to enter. Refer to the job description for clues on what the employer requires. Technical skills could include anything from knowledge of specific programming languages or software, or speaking a foreign language.
When listing technical skills, be as specific as possible. If an employer lists certain technical skills as desired, place them in a prominent position on your resume and include your level of proficiency. For example, if you have extensive experience using spreadsheets, you might write “Advanced in MS Excel, including pivot tables and v-lookup.” If you’re just beginning to learn a new hard skill, you can indicate that as well. For example, if you’re learning to use a CRM system you could write, “Familiar with Salesforce CRM.”
5. List your relevant education and certificates
On a resume for your first job, the education section may be of more important to the employer than other experience. Understanding your area(s) of study, degree level, concentrations, coursework and sometimes GPA can help provide context around the value you may bring to the company.
For education, you may want to include:
- Coursework relevant to the job(s) receiving the resume
- Academic achievements
- Overall GPA (if it is a 3.5 or higher)
- Major-specific GPA (if higher than a 3.5, and if your college provides one)
Researching the companies you’re applying to can be helpful in selecting what information about your education background to include. While some companies might value a holistic approach to displaying your skills, experiences, education and certificates, others may prefer applicants only list what’s directly relevant to the posted job description.
Include volunteer work and extracurriculars
Highlighting extracurricular activities and volunteer experiences can help add context to value you’ll bring as an employee. These activities provide a wealth of real-world experience that is valuable to employers, building both soft and hard skills in candidates.
Align any traits and skills listed in the job description with the volunteer work and extracurriculars you’ve participated in. For example, volunteering with a food bank organization might have helped you develop the problem solving, flexibility and time management skills employers are seeking.
6. Include a tailored cover letter
While not always required, a cover letter can be especially helpful context for employers when applying to your first job. A thoughtful cover letter can demonstrate that you’ve put significant effort into preparing your application and gives you extra space to describe your qualifications for the role.
Your cover letter should include:
- Who you are
- Relevant skills and experiences to the job
- Your interest in the position
- Knowledge of what the job entails and how you effectively fill the role
- Proof that you’ve researched the company and understand their mission
Use your cover letter to elaborate on how you experiences (like volunteer work or extracurriculars) have helped shape the soft and technical skills the employer wants. The cover letter should focus less on self-promotion and more on what you can bring to the company in a way that aligns with their missions and objectives.
Your cover letter should fit on one page and contain around 300 words.
Every working professional has made a resume for their first job at some point. Employers expect and are accustomed to reviewing these types of resumes. Drawing attention to the accomplishments and valuable traits that make you the best person for the job will help you stand out among the competition.