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Creating an Effective Resume with Little to No Work Experience

This post was originally published by Firsthand and was written by Rob Porter.

Person holding a cup of coffee that reads "Busy Introverting"
Credit: Unsplash via Firsthand

When you’re ready to start your job search for the first time, you might feel as though the deck is stacked against you. With limited work experience, or perhaps none at all, you’ll need to craft your resume so that it effectively applies your education and life experiences in such a way that they are relevant to the job you are looking for. Let’s go over some tips and tricks that will help give you the edge you need to be successful in your job search, even if you have no prior work experience.

Your Summary Statement

This section is typically featured first on your resume. Your summary statement should be a small paragraph, around three to four sentences, and it should act as a sort of “hook” that summarizes your experience and how it can bring value to an employer.

If you have no work experience, your summary statement should include a bit about your education, along with any skills you gained that you feel are relevant. For example, you could say you have excellent written and verbal communication skills, or that you are skilled in managing your time. These are called “transferable skills,” and will show an employer that you will be confident in speaking with customers or dealing with a fast-paced environment. Below is an example of a typical summary statement.

Graphic Design major with a BFA from the Pratt Institute. 4+ years experience in using Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design, and After Effects. Excellent written and verbal communication skills, adept at managing time while working on several projects simultaneously.

The above format can be reworked to show experience in just about any field, as long as your education is relevant to the job you are applying to. You can also tailor your summary statement to be specific to each job you apply for. Take the above summary for example; if the job requires the applicant to perform web design, they may want to emphasize their experience with After Effects.

List Relevant Projects & Courses

Like everything else on your resume, projects and courses can help highlight experiences that qualify you for your next job. You may have used skills—hard or soft—in a certain project or course that are key for the role you want. And including a successful project is a great way to tie those skills directly to results, which employers want to see on every resume.

Be sure to include the projects and courses directly related to the position you are applying for. For example, if you're applying for work as a paralegal, list any classes you took related to law or politics. Carefully go over the job description for any role you’re interested in. Highlight any skills or qualifications the company is looking for that you have, as well as any job duties they list for the role that you’ve performed in the past. Then note any that can only be proven by including a certain project or course on your resume. If a project or course doesn’t meet this threshold, it probably doesn’t need to be called out.

List your projects wherever they’re most relevant, Goodfellow says. For recent grads, this often means your education section. If the project was part of a past job, freelance work, or volunteer work, it likely belongs under that specific entry in your experience section. If you’re thinking of a personal or side project or you have multiple projects that you want to include on your resume, you might consider adding a dedicated “Related Projects” or similarly titled section.

Regardless of where you list your project, you should follow these general tips:

  • Include important details. You should add enough information about each project that it can be easily understood by anyone who reads your resume. Depending on the specific project, consider listing a project title, a project description, and project dates, as well as who you did the project for and with, what your role was, and what the results and impact were.

  • Focus on your achievements. Whether your project description is contained to one bullet point or has several bullet points underneath it, employers want to see what results you’ve gotten with your skills so they can see how you might drive results for them. Use achievement-oriented, quantified bullet points to really put your accomplishments front and center.

  • Tailor your project description for every job application. You should only include projects that are relevant to the specific job you’re applying for and, even more than that, you should make sure your description of a project highlights the pieces of it that are most relevant. So if a company is looking for someone with website design experience, focus on the design aspect of your side project, not how you attracted customers to your site. And try to use the same language and keywords as the job description.

  • Include links to your work when possible. Almost everyone who reads your resume will do so for the first time on a computer, so links to work that’s live online are fair game. Just make sure you hyperlink an unimportant word like “Project” or even “Link” to avoid any applicant tracking system (ATS) issues.

This section about including projects and courses on your resume was originally published by The Muse and was written by Regina Borsellino.

Use Your Internship

This might go without saying, but an internship can do wonders if you have no prior work experience. Many companies offer internships to both students and recent graduates, so even if you’ve just completed your degree you could still get one. If you had an internship that was directly applicable to the job you are applying for, you may list it in your summary statement and include all the relevant skills in your experience section on your resume.

In the absence of any work history, an internship is the next best thing. It will show employers that you’ve got hands-on experience in your field, and it is very simple to determine and thus include your skills and accolades from said internship on your resume. In the event you are unable to get an internship, you could try using a different resume format known as a “Functional Resume,” which we have talked about previously. Just make certain that the functional format will work best for your unique situation if you’re going to try and use it.

Know Your Limits

In time you will gain experience and hone your skills, which will allow you more flexibility in the range of jobs you apply for; however, when you’re just starting out you should focus on entry-level positions that require little to no experience. The reason for this is simple: you want to apply to jobs you’re likely to get in order to mitigate rejection emails as a result of your limited experience, as receiving constant rejections from job postings you’re not qualified for will be very frustrating and can even deter you from working towards the career you really want.

Remember, this is your first rodeo. On your second and third rodeos, you’ll be able to say “this ain’t my first rodeo,” so, you know…well… I just wanted to say rodeo a bunch of times. The bottom line is to remain positive despite any rejections you might receive. This happens to the best of us, so try to see rejection as a stepping stone towards your goal; sort of a necessary evil, if you will.

Lastly, be professional. Take extra care when crafting your resume so that you come off as someone who is dependable, reliable, motivated, and driven. Take examples from others and use the above advice while making it your own. Even with a lack of experience, you should be able to find a great first job with a little bit of effort.

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